(5 out of 5 Stars)“This is the place where your dreams come from,” says French filmmaker George Melies, portrayed by Ben Kinglsey. He peers down at a young boy, a fellow film lover, and in that moment they share something- an unabashed love for cinema, an ageless kind of magic. This scene best represents Martin Scorsese’s first family feature, Hugo; based on the Award Winning novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Hugo is a love letter to the early days of cinema- extravagant in visuals, gorgeous in set pieces,memorable in score, and boasting of cinematic rapture - the pure dazzle that the film so completely exudes is astounding. Martin Scorsese, famous for his violent gangster films such as The Departed, and Gangs of New York, as well as Taxi Driver and The Aviator would not be the first person you’d expect to helm a family- oriented film. But his evident care for the subject matter is what fuels his talent here, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) seeming to be a reincarnation of the famed director.
Hugo Cabret is a 13-year old boy living in a train station. His father (Jude Law), who was an inventor, one day, found an automaton abandoned in a museum storage closet. His drive to fix things sparks his curiosity of the old invention, bringing it home, where he and Hugo can find out how it works. But before they get too far in the invention, Hugo’s father dies in a museum fire. He is sent to live with his constantly drunken uncle (Ray Winstone), who takes him in as an apprentice to wind the clocks in the Paris train terminal every day. Disappearing one day, Hugo has to reset the clocks each day and evade the station inspector (Sacha Baran Coen) so he won’t get sent to an orphanage. Thinking that the automaton contains a message from his father, he steals parts from the toy store owner in the train station, George Meiles, who eventually catches him. He takes Hugo’s notes on the automaton, which he claims to be his own. His goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Mortez), tells him that he won’t burn the book, which he pretends to. Hugo
persists, and one day, Meiles has Hugo fix a small automaton for him, completing the task admirably, stunning the old man, who still won’t hand over the notes. Hugo finds out that Isabelle’s heart shaped necklace fits into the keyhole of the automaton, and causes it to draw a picture of a bottle rocket in the moon’s face- Hugo’s father’s favorite film. They slowly learn the George Meilies was the famed French film maker, who gave up on his dream of making films. As they try to get him to follow his dreams once more, Hugo struggles to find his own purpose, and finds that the key to finding it just may be found in the heart of an automaton.
I know now why Hugo is so well reviewed. It’s a movie about movies made by a man who knows a lot about movies. Being that most movie reviewers like movies, seeing the revelation of a small boy, lost and alone who finds comfort in watching movies, it may just bring each of us movie lovers who experience this film to feel something magical, so vibrantly expressed, something that precisely fits the definition of what art should be like. I also know why it’s a children’s film- not because it’s fantasy, or adventure, or whimsy, but because the best way to experience this film is with the purity, with the innocence of having an adventure. How sometimes the most perplexing of events can be best comprehended in such simple psychology. It’s also an excellent film because of Scorsese’s obvious love for movies. He handles this movie with care and affection, detailing the events of George Meiles’ life and his movies with an unadulterated platform, the scenes of Meiles’ movies taking a break from the 3D. The film is also excellently acted- Asa Butterfield, best known fror Merlin, is wonderfully childlike but also displays some fine emotional performances when such are due. Chloe Grace Mortez, who’s always been great, is obviously toned down a bit here. But the first scene when she appears on screen- she’s holding a book, she’s using a big word, and she’s looking at her male counterparts like they’re the lowest intellectual life forms possible- it is like the second coming of Hermione Granger herself. There’s not a flat note in the production, but unlike the rest, Ben Kingsley stands out among Scorsese’s understandably dominant direction. He has a twinkle in his eyes as he remembers his love for film- he shows anger and deep signs of age when he remembers he’s no longer a film maker. He shows sadness when the revelation of the loss of his life’s work comes back to haunt him- an award worthy performance.
Scorsese’s direction is transportive and dramatic. Gorgeously shot with elegant flair, his dark vision is vivid here, illuminating dark backdrops with dazzling imagery and camera shots. He has done his homework here on 3D films, masterfully adding dimension to several scenes. I personally don’t like 3D, but if there is one film this year that actually used it to fullest ability, it is this one. The cinematography is crisp and haunting; flashes of Meiles’ past and films are detailed and actually meld into the film, an evenly polished finish. The art direction is some of the best I’ve seen all year. Elaborate set pieces are carefully detailed and magnify the beautiful streets of Paris, the inner workings of a clock, a crowded train station, and even an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower are intricate and well-crafted.
This film is Scorsese’s gift to those who love film and still look fondly at its earliest days. It’s dually an introduction to those who know nothing about movies, and if nothing else, will help viewers appreciate anyone who ever had a dream. A truly magical, poignant adventure.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Rottentomatoes.com Rating: 93%
Commonsensemedia.org: 5 out of 5 Stars
Metacritic.com: 85 out of 100
IMDB.com: 8.6 out of 10
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic
material, some action/peril and smoking.