Hugo is a film of firsts; it is Martin Scorsese’s first foray into the world of 3D, as well as his first “children’s movie.” Scorsese has created a film that serves as an homage to the world of movies through the work of pioneers, such renowned early filmmaker George Melies. Taking a very fantastical approach to storytelling, Scorsese creates a visually stunning world in which to capture all the wonder and splendor of films and their history.
The film, based off the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, follows Hugo (newcomer Asa Butterfield), a 12 year old orphan who lives within the walls of the Paris train station in 1930, as he secretly works keeping the clocks of the station in running. All the while, Hugo attempts to solve the mystery of the automaton, a mechanical man left to Hugo by his father (Jude Law) before his untimely death, which Hugo thinks holds a message for him. Abandoned by his drunken uncle (Ray Winston) in the train station, Hugo becomes determined to solve the mystery of the automaton, as he goes to any length in his attempt to find the necessary parts to fix this machine, stealing from a mysterious toy shop owner (Sir Ben Kingsley) in the station and running afoul of the severe and eccentric station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen).
When the toy shop owner finally catches onto him, Hugo begins to develop a complicated relationship with the old mysterious figure, as well as his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who longs for adventure of her own. This unlikely friendship blossoms as the two share their own adventures within the bowels of the bustling train station. In addition to the mystery of the automaton, Isabelle and Hugo begin to suspect there is more to her godfather than meets the eye, as they meet a film historian, Rene (Michael Stuhlbarg), who reminisces over the early days of cinema.
Hugo is a rich and affecting piece of cinema, which is as much a success in filmmaking itself as it is due to its nature as a love-letter to the magical history of this art form. Scorsese has created a visually stunning film, which will rival Avatar for the crown of most successful 3D use, as Scorsese utilizes the technology to create a depth and richness to Hugo’s world within the train station. That being said, 3D continues to be a gimmick I don’t quite understand or deem very necessary in any film, including Hugo or Avatar. Visuals, set design and story aside, Hugo is full of fascinating supporting characters, from an elderly bookshop owner (Christopher Lee) who befriends Isabelle and Hugo, to three other regulars within the train station, Lisette (Emily Mortimer) as the love interest for the station inspector, and two elderly shop owners within the station, played by Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths. Even Helen McCrory has a role as the godmother of Isabelle. In fact, one of the issues with the film is that with so many interesting side-characters, the narrative becomes easily distracted and spread-thin at times, as so many characters and their side-interestes are crammed into the 127 minute running time.
As a major activist for film restoration himself, it is not all that surprising that Scorsese would create such a film for his first foray into children’s movies. Although, one complaint about the film is that it isn’t likely to play very well for children. Hugo, while adventurous and exciting, plays at a rather slow pace and doesn’t feel all that accessible for non-cinephile’s, let alone children. There is just a little too much to chew on from a thematic and historical perspective for it to be successful as a children’s classic, but as a children’s film for adults, Hugo is masterful.
Rated: PG (For mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.)
Hugo opens nationwide November 23, 2011.
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