Rarely in this age of cinema where box offices are dominated by hulking great franchise films like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon do you expect to find a high-budget independently-spirited, world cinema-styled, family film...in 3D.
Cinema and films, when at their best can capture your imagination and bring life to your greatest dreams or nightmares, and it seems that nobody understands this better than Martin Scorsese. Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo is directed by the man more associated with Italian-American mafia films, but much like the man himself is a tribute piece to everything that is wonderful about the silver screen.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a boy who lives within the walls of a Paris train station. He keeps the clocks of the station running on time and survives by stealing food and avoiding the watchful eye of the station Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen). He regularly steals mechanical parts from toy shop owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), hoping to use the parts to fix an automata left to him be his now deceased father. After being caught by Georges, Hugo meets Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), who is in the care of the toy shop owner and the two develop an unlikely friendship that leads to the completion of the automata and the revelation of the message that he holds within him.
From Hugo's dazzling opening swoop through the Paris station it is clear that this is no ordinary film. The care and detail taken in every frame of the film shows just how passionate Scorsese is about the subject material. The film takes its time to establish the characters and the setting, which helps to create and atmosphere of magical realism, especially with the constant references to classic films of the past. However, it is not until Moretz's Isabelle enters Hugo's life that the film really gets going. The two child lead stars have wonderful chemistry and are a joy to watch on screen. It's also a rare treat that any romantic overtones are kept to an absolute bare minimum. The true romance of the Hugo is between a film and its audience.
Scorsese takes great care to create the sense of wonder that he himself clearly felt upon watching films for the first time. Hugo reads more like a love letter to the early pioneers of film than an actual children's film, but it is exactly this reason that makes it work. It focuses on the over-riding theme of 'broken' toys, machines and at its heart, people. Each of the main characters has a reason to feel broken and isolated from the 'working' people surrounding them, but they all discover ways to fix themselves.
Hugo is a film made by a cinema-lover for cinema-lovers. Every frame has a copper tint that evokes the mechanical man at its centre and a sense of sepia-toned nostalgia that continues throughout. The film slowly reveals its true intentions with a dream-like sense of wonder from the stellar acting cast and leaves you feeling warm inside. Just an utterly wonderful viewing experience.
Rating: * * * * *
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