Martin Scorsese’s first foray into the realm of family drama is a peculiar piece about an orphan boy called Hugo who scrounges a living within the labyrinthine walls of a 1930s parisienne train station. Played with blue-eyed innocence by Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), Hugo maintains a nigh-invisible presence in the station, winding up clocks and fixing things with pilfered gears and gizmos. He survives on stolen food and spends time watching the denizens of the train station, an odd assortment of quirky characters, go about their daily business. It’s clockwork, and Hugo wonders what his purpose in life is.
But then he runs afoul of Georges (Ben Kingsley; Shutter Island), one of the station’s storekeepers, and Hugo’s safety net of routine and repetition is shattered. Dogged by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen channelling Inspector Clouseau) and his hound, Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz; Kick-Ass), Georges’ goddaughter, and the pair embark on an endearing adventure to fix what might just be the most broken thing of all.
Based on Brian Selznick’s best-selling book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, Hugo is the very definition of ‘movie magic’. It’s an entrancing story about searching out one’s purpose, and develops into an exploration of the origin of cinema. It turns out that Georges is based on the real life French pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès (who did end up working in a trinket shop in a train station in Paris) and we see several of his classic films throughout Hugo. Kingsley is excellent as Méliès and conveys all the depth of a bitter man who feels forgotten and unappreciated in a world that’s moved on without him.
Hugo is a celebration of cinema, of the art of film and of the imagination. It’s easy to see why Scorsese snatched the rights to make it so shortly after the book was published. While the cast is uniformly terrific the cinematography and production design are spot on, perfectly evoking the period and parisienne setting. Much credit must also go to composer Howard Shore’s dreamlike, surreal score – there are lengthy parts of the film without much dialogue at all, which is no bad thing. It’s a measured pace, and I came out of the film feeling like I’d just finished reading a thoroughly engrossing book.
And yet I must come back to Scorsese (Shutter Island, The Departed) who surely is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time – the opening shot here is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Hugo is thus a tribute to the history of cinema and is, particularly, a pleasure for film fans. Beyond that, Hugo remains a thumping good yarn and touching tale about discovery, friendship and healing.
I saw the movie in 3D and, for the first time ever, I have to say that if you have the option then see it in 3D! This is easily the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen; Scorsese uses the technology not as a gimmick but as an aid to cinematography and it stays impressive from beginning to end.