The protagonist of our tale is Hugo Cabaret, an orphaned boy living with his uncle and working as a clock smith inside the walls of a Paris train station. His drunken uncle disappeared some time ago and Hugo has been left to fend for himself, stealing food for hunger and toys for parts, as he tries to reassemble a robot he feels holds a message from his deceased father for him to discover. Along the way he meets a curmudgeon toy store owner and his adopted daughter, must avoid the station inspector and his dog at every turn, and observes the lives of some local shop owners as they go about their everyday life. As Hugo gets closer to assembling his robot, or “automaton”, he begins to uncover a world both he and the viewer couldn’t have imagined existed right under our noses.
First things first, this isn’t a “kids” movie.
It is perfectly appropriate for children to come and enjoy, they will surely find much of the film appealing, but this certainly isn’t the film the commercials are selling. The film dragged a bit for me in the latter part of the first act, but upon finishing the film I think this was solely due to my expectations of the film. This isn’t about kids finding an extraordinary fantastical adventure in a story book or unlocking it with their minds. It is about discovering the amazing fantasies that were always there for us to enjoy, we just didn’t know they were there. Without spoiling too much, the film divulges into the world of early cinema and this story’s roots in reality allow for Scorsese to teach about and recreate some lost magic of cinema.
As I mentioned in the intro, the 3D in this film is spectacular. The way Scorsese uses the format is a revelation and is a testament to what the format can do for the art form. Every shot is framed with the 3D camera in mind and the results are stunning. Hugo’s world between the walls is a visual playground and Scorsese uses the digital camera to create some truly spectacular shots. The opening sequence before the title card lets you know that you are in for something special and the subsequent film does not disappoint.
Scorsese really shines in the film’s third act as he gets to recreate the world of old school filmmaking and it is truly magical to watch how things were done back then. As someone who is rather unexposed to the work of George’s Méliès, the third act is just a treat that keeps on giving and features a cinema field trip of sorts as Scorsese displays his wonderful filmmaking that we have come to expect. Scorsese also calls upon his often collaborator, Howard Shore, to score the picture and his work doesn’t disappoint. Fittingly Parisian, the score carries the film along in a number of moments as Scorsese lets his visuals and the score tell the story. The effect is a joy to experience and I think you will find it hard to resist being sucked into this world.
Acting wise, things are quite good with some great work from its child stars. Asa Butterfield is a relative newcomer but he shows next to no weakness here. Complementing him nicely is the always great Chloë Moretz who continues to show us why she might be the next great female star. Ben Kingsley is wonderful as the toy shop owner and he gets to show some real youth and charisma in the film’s third act. Sacha Baron Cohen provides some nice laughs as the bumbling inspector, but sadly his character, along with all of the other train station workers, are severely marginalized and we don’t really get to know them. Helen McCroy is poignant in the third act, Ray Winstone is criminally under used, along with Jude Law and Emily Mortimer, and I just wish they all had something more to do. Lastly, Michael Stuhlbarg is a real treat as a film professor and he really helps the film’s third act come together.
In the end, Hugo is a film full of magical moments and constant visual wonder. Displaying fantastic visuals and excellent 3D the film is not to be missed in theaters. It might take a bit for the film to get where it really wants to go, but I imagine subsequent viewings will alleviate almost any problems I had pacing wise. A film appropriate for children, but meant to be adored by film fans, Hugo is a bit of a gem. It is also unlike almost anything you have ever seen in cinema. A mash up of old and new wonderfully sewn together by the master Scorsese. See it.
Hugo is an A-