When you hear the words “adapted from a children’s book,” the first name that pops into your head is probably not Martin Scorsese.
Not that Marin Scorsese is anything but a gifted filmmaker. He has the Oscar to prove that and his style and technique are legendary and easily recognizable. However his trademark long tracking shots are often used to portray brutal violence in films like The Departed, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Casino. What was R rated Marty doing directing in a PG world?
Based on the interviews I saw with him, he wanted to make a movie that his daughter could see and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick was one of her favorite books. At least I think that is what he said – Scorsese is also famous for speaking very, very quickly. That makes sense, since at twelve years old most of her father’s catalogue would not be suitable for her consumption.
But what I think also attracted him to the project is that while the story is about an orphan boy who sets the clocks in a Paris train station, it is also the story of the lost magic of early film making. Similar to The Artist, Hugo is also a bit of a love letter to the pioneers of early cinema – the trail blazers who experimented with the medium during the early 1900s. Hugo is as much a tribute to real-life filmmaker Georges Méliès as it is about the journey of the title character – except it does take a while to get there.
Hugo has been billed as a “tribute to film making,” but it takes until 30 minutes into the film for the first reference to movies to be made. Up to that point, the movie is the story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who spends his days making sure that all the clocks in the station are properly wound, avoiding capture by the Station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen, in a departure from his roles as Borat and Ali G), and stealing what he needs to get by from the shops in the station. It is during a foiled theft that he meets the owner of the station toy shop (Ben Kingsley), a hardened man who has no sympathy for young Hugo and who takes Hugo’s most cherished possession as punishment. In his quest to regain his treasure, Hugo is befriended by the toy shop owner’s ward Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz, aka “Hit-Girl” from Kick-Ass) and the two of them stumble upon a secret past that the toy shop owner has been hiding.
The movie is beautifully shot and I imagine is even more spectacular in 3-D. I saw the movie in 2-D and it was easy to imagine the places there Scorsese would have used 3-D technology to enhance the story. The scenes of Hugo scurrying through the inner workings of the clocks are particularly breathtaking and probably benefited the most from the 3-D upgrade. The acting is uniformly good, including a quick appearance by Jude Law, and Sacha Baron Cohen provides some comic relief with the slapstick of the Inspector.
Overall, Hugo is quite charming. Scorsese handled his first foray into family fare with aplomb. It is not the type of movie that I would typically seek out (nor am I probably the target audience) but I did enjoy it. I did not walk out the cinema feeling like I had just seen the year’s Best Picture, but I do understand why it appealed to members of the Academy with it romanticizing of the birth of film making. While I found parts of the story lacking, it is worth checking out simply for the beauty of the cinematography.