Friday, February 24, 2012


Hugo channeling Harold Lloyd
  Hugo (U.S., 2011) directed by Martin Scorsese, 128 minutes
Nominated for ten Oscars:
Best Art Direction
Best Picture
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Directing
Best Music (Original Score)
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

A film historian and enthusiast's dream ... this 3D film works on so many emotional levels and excels in every category it was nominated for. The book on which it was based is a creative, playful tribute to French film pioneer Georges Melies and the beginning of film. I know many adults are wearying of the 3D effect but it absolutely works here to enhance a beautifully told tale. I was enchanted, my friend was however ... bored.

Twelve year old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the Gare Montparnasse railway station, maintaining the clocks for which he has an amazing aptitude and toiling on repairing a broken automaton (which bears a striking resemblance to the robot in Metropolis) left to him by his father (Jude Law) who died in a museum fire sometime ago. Hugo's nemesis is an over zealous Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) with a limp and a nasty doberman who hunts down orphaned children and packs them off to the police. Hugo eludes him by quietly repairing the clocks in the station, impersonating the work of his alcoholic uncle Claude who has since disappeared.

Hugo's father tinkered with the mechanical man until the museum burnt down and his father perished. Hugo now steals mechanical parts from Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the toy store owner in the station, to repair the machine but he is soon caught by Melies. Seeing the beauty of Hugo's drawings and Hugo's mechanical genius, Melies vindictively takes Hugo's notebook from him. Hugo follows Melies to his house and meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), Georges' goddaughter, who promises to help retrieve the notebook. Moretz is a perfect 30s heroine ... still childlike in appearance, not overly pretty, but spunky, intelligent, and with a good heart. Upon further reflection, Melies grudgingly agrees that Hugo may obtain the notebook back by working for him in the toy store until he pays for all the things he stole.

Hugo works part-time in the toy shop to atone and also faint-heartedly tries to fix the automaton, yet he misses one part – a heart–shaped key. It turns out that Isabelle has a heart-shaped key that fits in the automaton. When they activate it, the automaton draws a still from a famous 1902 film by Melies called Voyage to the Moon. Hugo then introduces Isabelle to the movies (something that she has never seen as she has been forbidden by her godfather) and she introduces Hugo to her favourite bookstore and books.

When Hugo shows Georges' wife Maman Jeanne the drawing she is alarmed (she recognizes her husband's work) then asks them to hide when Georges comes home. Isabelle and Hugo accidentally find a secret cabinet that holds dozens of drawings from Georges' films. But Georges is discouraged and depressed by their find as much of his work has been destroyed and, sadly, forgotten by the French public.

Hugo and Isabelle search for a book on the history of film and Melies' role in cinema history. An author, Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), cites Melies having died in the Great War. Monsieur Tabard himself magically appears in the bookstore and the children tell him that Melies is very much alive. Tabard reveals that he owns a copy of Voyage to the Moon. The children return to the Melies home with a copy of the film that Georges reluctantly watches then begins to explain how he came to film, how he invented his special effects, and how he lost everything after the war. He also voices his regret that the the automaton was lost in the museum fire.

Hugo returns to the station to get the automaton for Melies, but is trapped by the Station Inspector and his dog. In the most spectacular scene in the film, Hugo escapes to the top of the clock tower and hangs from hands of the clock to elude the Station Inspector (in an overt homage to Harold Lloyd that you may view here).

Hugo grabs the automaton and runs but is cornered again by the Station Inspector and the automaton is thrown on to the railway tracks. Hugo tries to save it but instead the Station Inspector saves him and the automaton. Hugo pleads with the officer who is ready to take him away, but Georges appears and says that Hugo is in his care.

In the end, Georges gets an enormous cinematic tribute where Tabard announces that some eighty films of Melies' were recovered and restored. Hugo becomes Georges' apprentice and Isabelle decides to be a write Hugo's story.

It occurred to me during the film that just as the first film goers ducked the oncoming train they viewed in their first film - Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat shot by the Lumière Brothers in1895 - 3D has a similar effect on today's viewer. I felt as if the snowflakes of the many snow-filled scenes were falling on me. Navigating the workings of the clock with Hugo was both exciting and claustrophobic. The station is filled with lovely, whimsical figures as the camera zoom sin between their fleeting figures.

Scorsese, one of my personal heroes, uses 3D spectacularly and to great emotional effect. I could see how he might, as Wim Wenders has vowed to do after he made the documentary Pina, be unable to go back to conventional film making.

Voyage to the Moon

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