A boy out of time
Scorsese finds real movie magic with ‘Hugo’
By Carl Kozlowski 11/23/2011
After a four-decade career, in which he directed countless elaborate murders and double-crosses on film, Martin Scorsese could be expected to want a change of pace. But nearly everyone in Hollywood was surprised by his choice for a change-up: the 3D family film “Hugo,” based on a series of “Hugo Cabret” young-adult novels written by Brian Selznick.
The fact that the film is in 3D is also a landmark on this occasion, as “Hugo” marks the first time one of Hollywood’s elite elder statesmen (such as Coppola, Spielberg or Lucas) has opted to explore the genre in a full-length feature. The results are stunning, and Scorsese has created a living work of art that should enthrall fans of great works in any format.
“Hugo” follows the story of a young teen boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who secretly lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s. His mother died a long time ago, leaving him to be raised by his inventor father (Jude Law), whose work on a robot that can draw elaborate art is cut short when he’s killed in an accidental fire. Now orphaned, Hugo is taken under the wing of his implied-alcoholic uncle, who forces him to quit school and learn to work running the station’s giant and elaborate clock.
Eventually, his uncle abandons him, and Hugo is left to fend for himself, relying on stolen food to stay alive. Meanwhile, he attempts to re-build his father’s automaton by stealing small parts from an old man named Georges (Ben Kingsley), who runs a watch and toy repair shop. When the old man takes a beloved journal away from Hugo and threatens to burn it at his home, Hugo follows him there and winds up befriending a fellow orphan girl named Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), who is being raised by Georges and his wife.
Isabelle reveals that Georges did not burn up Hugo’s book of drawings and plans, as he had been misled to believe. Hugo and the girl team up to get the journal back, an adventure that reveals the secret roots of Georges’ anger and inspires them to give the old man a second chance at his life and legacy.
“Hugo” might prove to be a trendsetter by inspiring Scorsese’s top-tier director peers to take similar risks and elevate their works through the careful application of 3D and other new technologies. Yet, while it should be enthralling to anyone who appreciates great cinema, its sometimes-stately pace and century-old subject matter will likely prove to hold little, if any, interest among younger audiences. This would be a real shame, since the film has the potential to really open children’s eyes to the possibilities of great cinema from an early age.
The film has a richly complex story, filled with a childlike sense of wonder and fueled by a moving score and absolutely beautiful imagery. The 3D effects are on par with big-budget films like “Avatar,” particularly in a sequence where hundreds of sheets of paper fly out of control. But Scorsese still manages to keep the story’s humanity front and center, drawing moving performances from a great cast while teaching a message of forgiveness and redemption as Hugo and the girl find a shared purpose in helping Georges rediscover his.
For everyone else who gives this wonderful film a chance, “Hugo” stands a good chance at attaining classic status itself. Expect a raft of Oscar nominations come spring.