Somewhere in the middle of Hugo, I could have sworn I heard Martin Scorsese giggle. Though the story is about a young orphaned boy living in a Paris train station, the underlying story is about the movies, and naturally, that’s where Scorsese seems to have the most fun.
Based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, a 550 page children’s book (I kid you not), Hugo follows the title character as he attempts to fix a mechanical robot in an effort to reconnect to his deceased father. It is Hugo’s quest that opens up a mystery larger than the automaton itself and a job much greater than just fixing a mechanical man.
Scorsese makes a departure with Hugo. Not only is it a film for the younger set, and as such does not contain his signature “stabbing victim in the trunk of a car” or “bloody street battle scene,” but it is also his first foray into the new world of 3D. To put it in perspective, remember that one-shot in Goodfellas when Henry Hill takes Karen into the club on their first date? Remember how it made you feel like you were there — following them into those backdoor alleys and kitchen entrances? Right. Now imagine it in 3D. In Hugo you will feel that you ARE in Paris, in 1930, in the train station, following Hugo as he fixes clocks and evades the station inspector. Scorsese is not just a phenomenal director here. He understands the medium and the effects in the film are so breathtaking that I am not so sure the film will survive the move to plain ole’ 2D disks.
That’s not to say that the story is weak. Asa Buterfield gives a particularly heartwarming performance as Hugo, and you can definitely see him on the road to an eventual Oscar somewhere in his career. His co-star on the other hand, Chloe Grace Moretz, is a bit irritating. In fact, at a certain point I just wanted to slap her (which, by the way, you actually CAN do in a 3D film). While the dramatic story line revolves around Hugo and Moritz’s character of Isabelle, it is definitely Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector who provides the action. As expected, his scenes are humorous, but he is no Borat here. His character, though at times reliant on slapstick and physical comedy is actually complex, and, believe it or not, quite moving.
The first half of the film trudges along in heavy exposition. With the exception of a short flashback involving Jude Law whom I never have a problem watching – especially leaping out of the screen onto my lap — most of the dialogue is slow and dragging. Younger viewers might find it hard to sit through, visuals notwithstanding. But when Hugo and Isabelle finally start to uncover the mystery of the automaton, the story takes off. It certainly helps that Georges Melies, the link between Hugo and Isabelle is played by Ben Kinsley. Beyond Kingsley’s acting, it is during the second part of the film that Scorsese begins his love letter to the movies. Melies’s movies, which he calls “glimpses into dreams” are Scorsese’s dreams, and it’s wonderful to watch.
Like I said, this is a film that must be seen on the screen. Don’t wait for the DVD. If you are going to see one 3D movie, this should be it. There were shots that had me wondering, “How did he do that?” Even with the slow start, the effects will dazzle you and seriously, it is what kept me enthralled. While the ending is a bit contrived, the film is beautiful and you will definitely find yourself smiling – no doubt along with Scorsese.