Martin Scorsese has dealt with social alienation in Taxi Driver, detestable boxers in Raging Bull and cold blooded killers in Goodfellas, so a family film is a whole new experience for Scorsese. Scorsese has left his mark on cinema, becoming one of the most influential, praised and celebrated directors of the industry. His early films dealt with the impact of male ego and violence, he now turns his attention to the family movie genre. I was interested to see what Scorsese would do in this genre; I never expected anything quite as special as this.
Based on the book entitled The invention of Hugo Cabret which tells the story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who is an orphan boy who works the clocks at the Paris Railway station all by himself due to the disappearance of his uncle. With him is a mechanical man called an automaton which Hugo is attempting to fix as he believes it may contain a message from his deceased father (who died in an accident when Hugo was younger). To pass the time Hugo runs around the station stealing food and equipment to fix his machine but he is soon caught by a stall owner (played by Ben Kingsley) who orders him to remove the contents of his pockets of which contains a notebook containing details of the blueprints for the automaton. He threatens to burn the book but if Hugo works off all the items he stole he may return it. Hugo meets Méliès’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) and the two embark on an adventure to find one key (in the shape of a heart) that will complete the automaton.
Hugo is a film about the wisdom, wonder and sheer escapism of cinema but never forgets to magical and perfect escapism itself. Hugo is a film that bleeds passion as Scorsese clearly displays his love for the medium of cinema and its fascinating history, from its early stages which includes the likes of The Arrival of a Train (there is one great scene in which we see the audience’s reaction to seeing such a film) and cinema in the dawn of the 20th century. He shows the early days of pioneering in filmmaking, the wonders that it presented and how it represented your dreams. It shows how at the dawn of the century moving images captured the imaginations of the people and that is also what Scorsese’s Hugo does, it captures your imagination and whisks you away on a wonderful and mythical adventure and yet becomes an educational tool about the wonders and importance of cinema. Cinema means a great deal to Scorsese, and Hugo is a film that is closest to the master craftsman’s heart. Hugo is a love story to cinema and remains a film with a massive spectacle and massive heart.
Not only is Hugo a love story to cinema but it also looks fantastic, the opening shot, the camera looms over Paris and then swoops into the railway station, gliding through the platform to the boy in the wall, is majestic. It is a glorious opening shot and cinematographer Robert Richardson retains much of this brilliance throughout as pre war 1930s Paris is lovingly and beautifully recreated. The film is a visual extravaganza and while the film, at a running time of 127 minutes, maybe slightly too long for children, they are likely to be amazed and mesmerised by the gorgeous visuals and a story that is endlessly entertaining. The story itself is immersive and it’s all down to the passion that Scorsese displays and how the adventure of Hugo and Isabelle is charming and wonderfully gripping. The 3D makes very little difference to the final result, adds no depth, even if some critics have applauded the 3D, it still adds nothing as Hugo would have been just as entertaining and visually stunning without the 3D. Hugo is a perfect visual treat, a perfect adventure story that contains a soul; a heart and a certain charm that so many films that are on a similar scale fail to have. It is enchanting, moving and works perfectly as escapist entertainment.
The journey is made so much more enchanting by the two charming central performances by the two decent leads of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz. Moretz is the better of the two as Butterfield’s range of emotions is limited but he is decent in the main role however the two young highly likeable leads do sparkle with chemistry. Sacha Baron Cohen (who plays a station guard) provides much of the comedy, while it does feel he was copy and pasted into the film to please the younger viewers he is still a rather amusing character; however there is possibility that this slapstick character may rile the older audience members. Ben Kingsley is mightily impressive as a filmmaker who is rather down on his luck as, after the Great War, the demand for magic tricks has decreased. He is a long and forgotten filmmaker, director of possibly the first Science Fiction film ever made, downhearted and depressed his talent has not been recognized. Even in the supporting cast we have the famous faces of Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths and Ray Winstone to name a few who all do a fine job.
A passionate, beautiful, exciting and informative film from one the greatest filmmakers alive today. The central performances may be impressive (but Butterfield’s range of emotions is slightly limited) and cinematography and visuals spellbinding but Hugo is undoubtedly a Scorsese film, one that he puts all his heart into. To see so much passion is rewarding to cinephiles.