I saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo a few weeks ago and was struck by its touching story and beautiful visuals. Hugo is one of those rare family friendly movies that successfully avoids dumbing down its concept and the sadness and joy that exist at its core. That being said, while it is family friendly, its subject matter may not be something all children will appreciate. Hugo is an homage to the early days of cinema. It worships the work of film pioneers long forgotten and overlooked. Hugo itself references the iconic scenes of several classic films such as Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! and Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. While some of these references will pass viewers by, they are entertaining additions to an engaging story.
The film is about an orphan boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who runs the clocks in a Parisian train station. Hugo is a clever child with a flair for understanding machinery, and works to repair an automaton his father (Jude Law) discovered tucked away in a museum in the hopes it will give him one last message from his lost parent. While working in the station, Hugo finds a friend and ally in Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose Uncle Georges (Ben Kingsley), a sad toy shop owner, is more than he appears to be.
Hugo is made all the stronger by the lovely performances from its talented cast. The patrons and shopkeepers, played be the likes of Francis de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer and Christopher Lee, bring life to the station, and show us that Hugo’s adventures do not occur in a bubble. There is a whole world of activity buzzing around him; each character is a cog in the machine of station life. Sasha Baron Cohen is perfect as the Station Inspector who has a penchant for nabbing vulnerable children and shipping them off to the orphanage. His presence constantly keeps Hugo on his toes and though he is seemingly cold, he is still a sympathetic character. The stand out performances however are from Butterfield and Moretz. Both are charming and play some of the most thoughtful, emotive and intelligent children I’ve seen on film in quite some time.
As a film lover, the theme of this movie is what really got me. Scorsese displays his love of cinema and masterfully shows us the past with the technology of the future. His use of 3D is astounding, and its usage here highlights the topic of technical innovations in early cinema and the ability to do ‘magic’ in the eyes of audiences. This is one of the few films to actually use 3D technology effectively in a way which amplifys the images and improves our experience of the film. Like Avatar (the only other film I have seen use 3D this well), the effect enhances the film’s visual depth, adding texture and realism to shots, and made me feel like I was actually moving through a physical world. This creates a magical atmosphere in a film that looks simulataneously dreamy and hyper real. It is truly beautiful.
I highly recommend Hugo. It is without a doubt one of the year’s best films in regards to visual splendour, enthralling performances and a meaningful and heartfelt story. Do not miss out.