Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by John Logan, adapted from the Brian Selznick’s book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Original music by Howard Shore
Running time: 127 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
Director Martin Scorsese brings us an enchanting Christmas gift — “Hugo,” a marvelously inventive and inspiring 3-D film about the eponymous Dickensian orphan, based on Brian Selznick’s 2008 Caldecott award winning book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”
Living in the secret clock tower attic of a Paris railroad station, Hugo must scrounge for food in order to survive and must elude the heartless station inspector (Sacha Barron Cohen) who yearns to send him to an orphanage.
Hugo’s father had found and was repairing a broken robot-like wind-up automaton machine, but died before its completion. Now Hugo, franticly seeking a continuing connection with his father, is determined to finish the project.
By stealing small parts for the automaton from the mean-spirited station toyshop owner with a secret past (Ben Kinglsey), Hugo meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), an unconventional girl who encourages him to solve the mystery of the automaton. Ultimately, with their quest completed, the lives of Hugo, Isabelle, the toyshop owner, the station inspector and peripheral characters are transformed.
The visual world presented in “Hugo” is an homage to a striking and beautiful Paris. The city in winter is lovingly portrayed. The station (looks like the old Gare d’Orsay to me) is created with exquisite detail. The film’s use of 3-D technology is the best I’ve seen. Rather than simply making objects or enemies seem to jump out at the audience, this film integrates 3-D into the entire story — viewing the beauty of snowflakes, the realism of the dust in the air, and adding depth to the ominous surroundings of the station, the trains and the clock.
What Hugo sees and feels is our perspective in the film. His train station world is permeated with oversized, heartless adults who chase him, mow him down, or at best, ignore him. Hugo’s clock-tower attic haunt, with its massive gears and wheels, is dark, dusty and forbidding.
Scorsese’s direction and vision is seen and felt throughout the film. From “Taxi Driver” (1976) to “Shutter Island” (2010), his films have exposed the dark, sordid streets and the underbelly of human behavior. “Hugo” is his first family and 3-D movie, which he carries off like the pro he is.
The acting in the film is spot on. Each actor brings life and personality to his or her role. Fourteen-year-old Asa Butterfield (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) is sympathetic and appealing as Hugo. Chloë Grace Moretz (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) plays Isabelle with pluck and intelligence. Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi,” “Sexy Beast”), as the toyshop owner, is both tragic and majestic. Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat,” “Brüno”) as the inspector, retains his spark, but reins in his slapstick and hyperbole.
Brian Selznick’s inspiration for his book is the life of the popular turn-of-the-19th-century filmmaker Georges Méliès. He was also a collector of automaton figures, a magician and a toymaker in a Paris railway station (hence the setting). At 533 pages, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” published by Scholastic Press, is gigantic for a children’s book, although more than 300 of the pages are Selznick’s black and white drawings. These drawings form storyboards for the film.
Without being saccharine, self-important, or schmaltzy, “Hugo” is a picture-perfect film for families and adults. It has a heartfelt holiday message — with love and determination, one can turn sour into sweet so all’s right with the world.
©Emily S. Mendel 2011 All Rights Reserved