directed by Martin Scorsese
(Paramount, 2012)

Martin Scorsese has never brought anything but complete dedication to every picture he's ever made. Even the ones that didn't quite hit the target are still watchable because they are imbued with his ferocious energy.

This one is no different. Based on Brian Selznick's novel, The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese's first attempt at a children's film walks a fine line between respectful passion and sentimental nostalgia. His enthusiasm and dedication are infectious enough to help paper over the cracks in the pacing and plot. The art direction and costuming, not to mention the special effects, are astounding. Overall, this is one gorgeous flick that definitely occupies more than three dimensions.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) is a young orphan living in a Paris train station in the 1930s. His only companion is a broken automaton, a gift from his late father (Jude Law), who had rescued it from the attic of a museum. Once popular attractions in Vaudeville Theater, automatons were essentially human-shaped clockwork creations that were made to dance, perform simple magic tricks or, in the case of this particular one, write. Hugo, believing that it contains a message from his father, has made it his mission to get the automaton working again. His only other occupation is keeping the huge station clocks running and stealing just enough food to survive.

It's a fairly grim existence, until one day one of the shop owners (Ben Kingsley) catches him in the act. From that moment forward their fates are linked as Hugo becomes friends with his granddaughter (played by Chloe Moretz) and embarks on an adventure that involves the shopkeeper, Papa Georges, and the massive secret he's been hiding. Sascha Baron Cohen provides the right touch of comic relief in a role that is surprisingly decent and sensitive, as a station agent with a war wound and a secret of his own.

It's obvious Scorsese wanted to craft a visual ode to the cinema and the man who virtually invented the modern movie, Georges Melies. Indeed, the film is nearly ecclesiastical in its reverence for the architect of expressionistic filmmaking. Although slow to get started and frankly somewhat ham-fisted in terms of its morality, the latter acts of the movie should definitely capture the interest of true cinemaphiles. Scorsese's approach to 3-D is to use it not merely as a device for crafting stunning effects but to draw the viewer directly into the movie. The deliberately slow pacing and the delirium-inducing colors intentionally create the effect of being trapped in an entrancing, dreamy snowglobe world, which adds to the effect of actually being present within the story.

This intricate and romantic movie is not really for children but is intended to resonate with true movie lovers. Hugo is a true cinematic adventure and a wonderful experience.

review by
Mary Harvey

8 September 2012

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