I look to movies to transport me into an immersive experience of fantastic and whimsical worlds, so after having been disappointed by several overrated Oscar hopefuls recently, Hugo finally restored my faith in the magic of movies. You know when a movie is really good when it not only lives up to your expectations but exceeds them, and that is what Martin Scorsese’s latest movie has done. He has given us so much more in this film than you would expect from a children’s adventure story. It is a romantic love letter to the wonder of early cinema that’s both entertaining and educational, and can be fully enjoyed by all ages.
The story is an Oliver Twist tale about the son of a clockmaker and fixer who ends up living in a bustling Paris train station as a thieving orphan, and is set against multiple stories of love-at-first-sight and romance between, not only couples but also between people and the newly invented curiosity of the moving image. It starts out with a mystery provided by a mechanical puppet and eventually goes on to reveal the inspirational and amazing achievements of a French magician who created the first special effects fantasy movies, when movies were still just a novelty.
Like The Artist (2011) and films like Good Morning, Babylon (1988), it reveals the lost story of a pioneering artist who fell in love with the new medium of movies and went on to make his mark in the history of our now most beloved technology, and then as the world changed, quickly descended into obscurity. It’s actually two movies in one; a children’s adventure story blended with an adult story of redemption that’s rooted in real film history.
Visually, Hugo is a clockwork of moving gears and mechanisms with swooping, flying camera shots that take us through the misty maze of Parisian streets and the steamy Paris central train station of the 1920s, where most of the action takes place. Style wise, Hugo is more reminiscent of the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Tim Burton, with their romanticized, child’s-eye-view of the world. If you liked the imaginative, detailed worlds of Amélie (2001), Big Fish (2003), or MicMacs (2010), you will love this film.
I highly recommend you see this movie in 3D as Hugo takes excellent advantage of the 3D technology to fully immerse the audience in its captivating world. You really feel as if you are in the film. It’s the best 3D I’ve seen in any of the stereoscopic films so far and well worth the extra money.
This is an unlikely film for a director who is known mostly for his Gangster films and the seedy side of New York City life, like Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Color of Money (1986), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), Gangs of New York (2002), and The Departed (2006). But then again he has also been known to go totally off into new territory with movies like, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Kundun (1997) and The Aviator (2004). I would definitely put Hugo among the latter departures from his usual type of film. Many of Scorsese’s films are about influential people in history and Hugo is one of these films, which is about an influential and innovative inventor that history has forgotten.
Based on the award-winning illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the movie is told from the point of view of two children; the orphan boy and gadget fixer Hugo, and a book loving girl whose godfather sells toys in a train station booth where Hugo lives. The adult cast are played by Sacha Baron Cohen, previously from Madagascar 2 (2008), Borat (2006) and Brüno (2009), who plays a comic train station inspector. Ben Kingsley, from Gandhi (1982), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), who plays the godfather toy booth owner. Christopher Lee, recently from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), who plays a bookshop owner, and Jude Law, recently from the Sherlock Holmes (2009), Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows (2011), and Contagion (2011) who plays Hugo’s clockmaker father.