PLOT: Young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in a Parisian train station, where he poses as his drunken uncle- who's responsible for winding the station's clocks. He survives by stealing from the vendors, but is caught by an elderly toy maker- Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), and his precocious God-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). He's put to work in their toy shop, and he begins to realize that Papa Georges is somehow connected to an automaton machine that his late father (Jude Law) was in the process of rebuilding when he died. Now, Hugo must unravel the mystery of the automaton while staying one step ahead of the station master (Sasha Baron-Cohen), who delights in locking up young orphans.
REVIEW: HUGO is a kids movie for adults. Sure, it's good, family-friendly entertainment, but rather than try to make a big kiddie flick- Martin Scorsese has followed his own muse (thank God) and given us something much deeper. Imagine a Pixar film with real actors instead of CGI. To me, that's really what HUGO feels like.
A lot has been written about how HUGO is essentially Scorsese's love letter to the early days of cinema. Indeed, that's a HUGE part of it, with Ben Kingsley playing a past-his-prime Georges Méliès, a man all film buffs should know, with his film, UN VOYAGE A LA LUNE being the first example of narrative cinema- made way back in 1902. As much as HUGO is a story about an orphan in a Parisian train-station, it's also a film about Méliès and his early films- many of which are now lost. Through gorgeous flashbacks, Scorsese re-imagines Méliès' work, using both recreations and vintage clips, using the 3D to show them in ways Méliès could have never imagined (although given the respect Scorsese shows him, I'm certain he would have approved).
As Méliès, who, in the film, is a nearly forgotten figure cast aside for the likes of Harold Lloyd and Douglas Fairbanks, Ben Kingsley gives a performance that's so absolutely heartbreaking, you'll immediately forgive him for BLOODRAYNE, PRINCE OF PERSIA, and some of the other films he's slummed in (hey- a guy's gotta eat). This is him at the peak of his ability, and I really think this will go down as one of his great roles.
But wait, isn't the film called HUGO, and not Méliès? Yes, yes- young Hugo Cabaret is still our central figure, and Asa Butterfield is without a doubt a real find in the titular role. His adventures in the train station are exciting, and beautifully realized in 3D by Scorsese- with some very interesting 3D fx, There's a scene where Cohen's Peter Sellers-like station inspector harasses Hugo and Isabelle- and he's shot from a creepy low angle that really makes it seem like his head is coming right out of the screen. Scorsese really proves that 3D can be a very effective storytelling tool if used correctly, and, of course- nobody knows what works and what doesn't in cinema like him.
I should also note the gorgeous score by Howard Shore, which strikes me as his finest work in years- hitting some very strong emotional notes throughout. Heck, towards the end of the film, I even got a little misty-eyed, which is unusual for me. My only reservation about HUGO is that, as a kids film, I'm not sure that it's really something they'll latch onto. It really feels like Scorsese is trying to entertain the parents, and some of the kids I was surrounded with at the screening seemed to be shifting in their seats. That said, it could ignite a real love of cinema in older kids, so for more mature youngsters, this might be a really great experience.
That said, even if the kids don't like it, their parents will- and those of you who avoid family films like the plague ought to give it a go. It's really a worthwhile piece of work, and further evidence that Scorsese's as good as he's always been. As far as his canon goes- this ranks around AGE OF INNOCENCE-level, meaning just a notch below top-shelf. Not bad at all.
|Extra Tidbit:||My top 10 Scorsese: GOODFELLAS, TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, CASINO, MEANS STREETS, KING OF COMEDY, THE DEPARTED, AFTER HOURS, THE AVIATOR, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.|