Scorsese’s Gorgeous Film Includes A History Lesson
I was unsure about “Hugo” when I first saw the previews–what on earth was Martin Scorsese doing making a children’s movie, in 3D no less! And while the critics have been almost universally in love with the picture (it just won the National Board of Review Best Picture for 2011), some online users have complained that it is slow and boring and not worth the extra 3D cost. Well, I’m here to say….it is completely absorbing, utterly charming and will sweep you up and keep you to the end. My advice is simple: head right out to the best 3D theater in your area, bring along your older kids (the ones who are not impatient and can sit still), and pay the money for those glasses—you are in for a BIG TREAT. Set in 1931 and based on the Caldecott-winning children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (cousin of David O. Selznick), the story revolves around young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, known best for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). Hugo is the orphaned son of a talented master clockmaker (Jude Law, in a brief but effective appearance) who lives in the back rooms and stairways of a Paris train station where he continues the work of his father and uncle by keeping all the clocks in the station working. Despite constant fear of capture by the station’s guard (Sasha Baron Cohen) and his ferocious Doberman, Hugo survives by stealing food from the various vendors inside the station. He also steals toys and mechanical parts from a small toy stand owned by none other than Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), an old man who seems rather cranky. Hugo’s most precious possession is an antique automaton which he and his father were repairing at the time of his father’s death and which needs a heart-shaped key to operate. Caught stealing by Méliès early in the film, Hugh loses the book of notes that his father had made concerning the automaton and seeks out the help of Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the young adopted daughter of “Papa Georges,” to get it back. The two young characters set out on a series of adventures which lead to a wonderful re-discovery of just who “Papa Georges” is and a history lesson for all of us on the earliest days of the movies, including the amazing works of the real-life Georges Méliès. The film also gives us a pitch for one of Scorsese’s personal passions—film preservation. Many critics have called this film a “love letter” from Scorsese to the movies. The sets and art direction are spectacular; the attention to detail—particularly all the mechanical parts of the clocks and the automaton—are worthy of awards; and even the use of 3D is remarkable, not because it causes the screen to jump out at you (though it does at times), but rather because it is so quietly utilized. I suspect the movie will be just fine in 2D also. Either way, be sure to catch it on the big screen. It’s definitely one to see.