A delightful surprise despite divergent script Who knew? The director who put the rage in “Raging Bull,” the fear in “Cape Fear,” and the mean in “Mean Streets” could make a family-friendly, dazzling 3D film filled with whimsy and enchantment? But that’s what 69-year-old director Martin Scorsese has done with “Hugo,” a wonderful film that is both the tale of a young orphan boy’s search for meaning as well as homage to the origins of filmmaking.
As opulent as the film looks and despite its PG rating, it can’t be recommended for all children simply because the film is a bit too subdued for long stretches, and storytelling is not its strength. But there is no denying the superb visual craft on display and the gentle spirit that belies Scorsese’s previous work.
From the opening shot, a glorious overview of early 1930s Paris, “Hugo” represents a new standard in digital filmmaking, as the camera pans the city of lights in all of its sparkling wonder. The adventure begins with 12-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield from “The Boy with Striped Pajamas”) who lives at the Monparnasse train station maintaining the elaborate clocks and menacing pendulums. He also steals the occasional croissant while trying to avoid the orphan-capturing but comically inept station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Left alone after the death of his father (Jude Law), and his only family being an inebriate uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo runs afoul of the station toy repair vendor Georges (Ben Kingsley) but finds an ally in his granddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). While the plot starts out as an adventure for the two to find the secret behind a cool looking automaton which Hugo is desperate to restore, the story digresses into a loving look at Georges’ (Melies) past as a pioneering filmmaker who had to destroy the majority of his magical, mostly sci-fi silent films.
Clearly dear to the heart of Scorsese, this part of the story is not without merit or artistry and film lovers off all ages will adore these sequences.
Unfortunately this segue diverts attention from the spectacularly filmed train environs with their endless catacombs, detailed machinations, and delightful personalities.
But credit the filmmakers for making a film that may challenge younger viewers a little—not an unworthy aspect—but nonetheless is a great combination of classic moviemaking and incredible modern technology. Indeed, “Hugo’s” 3D treatment is one of the finest to date. And it is another surprising triumph for a legendary filmmaker.