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  • TBC
  • Adventure, Family
  • 2011


Film4 Hugo


Martin Scorsese's first family film runs its period mystery adventure like clockwork, while celebrating the magic of cinema.

Critic's Review

You may think of Martin Scorsese as a chronicler of New York City, a fabulist of gangsters, and a documentarian of musicians, but he is also unquestionably a cinephile – and so, while Hugo is his first family film, and stands out (quite literally) as his first foray into 3D, its preoccupations with the history, preservation and mechanics of cinema itself can be seen as a continuation of the director's work with the Film Foundation, not to mention the metacinematic concerns of his more recent features, be it Howard Hughes' directorial career in The Aviator (2004) or the artificial masquerades and allusive melo-noir of Shutter Island (2010).

Hugo is as much about the way that cinema encodes our collective dreams and memories, as it is the tale of an imaginative and resourceful young boy desperate to fill the void left by his lost papa.

In the Parisian winter of 1931, young orphan Hugo Chabret (Asa Butterfield) haunts the Gare Montparnasse, winding the station clocks long since abandoned by his missing uncle, avoiding the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), and clinging to his only inheritance - a broken mechanical automaton that his clock-making, film-loving father had found hidden away in a museum.

As Hugo fixes the automaton with parts stolen from local toymaker Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), he discovers that the unique heart-shaped key required to start up the device is in the possession of Georges' daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). It is a mystery that will send both children delving into Georges' long-suppressed past, leading to a future of renewed purpose for all.

It is hardly a spoiler to say that the solution to this puzzle lies in the early history of cinema, charmingly (and painstakingly) recreated by Scorsese as a pioneering foundry for the twentieth-century imagination and beyond, with the locomotive shock tactics of the Lumière brothers, the inventive trickery of Méliès, and the gravity-defying antics of Harold Lloyd all paving the way for the kind of visual marvels on display in Hugo itself.

The film's narrative is somewhat stretched and schmaltzy – far more so, in fact, than Brian Selznick's 2007 source novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, whose characters, though less rounded, were also less straightforwardly sympathetic (and emerged altogether less unscathed).

Yet this is one to watch more for its exuberant artistry. For as stereoscopic cameras swoop on impossible trajectories over and through a crowded railway station, as illustrated pages scatter through the air to create a chaos of flipbook animation, as the famous 1895 photograph of a spectacular steamtrain derailment is brought crashing to life in a young boy's vivid nightmare, Scorsese's film swoons over the heady possibilities of cinemas old and new, conjoining Méliès' man in the moon to state-of-the-art 3D (a technology which the trailblazing 'cinemagician' would surely have embraced had it been available in the 1900s).

In a nutshell: The heart-shaped story may be the key that sets Hugo in motion, but this rediscovery of the cinéma de papa is most memorable for its technical wizardry and astonishing visual trickery.

By Anton Bitel

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Christoper Lee, Chloe Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Asa Butterfield, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Screen Writer: John Logan
  • Photographer: Robert Richardson
  • Composer: Howard Shore

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Martin Scorsese on Hugo and Cinema

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