Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick
Martin Scorsese has created a 3-D fantasy, a tale resonating with reality, for adults. This exceptionally beautiful film is a homage to Georges Melies (1861-1938); a forgotten man, but pivotal in the archives of film. Children might be engrossed by the special effects and orphaned “Hugo”,( a bland Asa Butterfield ) living in a Paris train station, constantly pursued by the law (Sacha Baron Cohen; has yet to prove he has more than one dimension); their attention span will shrink with the subtleties of the scenario.
Ben Kingsley gives a quiet but powerfully empathetic performance as the disillusioned “Melies” ; a wizard who produced over five hundred films, some barely a minute in length; he starred in and directed every one; inspired by the Lumiere Brothers “Cinematograph” (1895), he built the first movie studio in 1896, was the first to actualize double exposure and employ nudity (“Apres le Bal”); he was a magician whose fascination with illusion led to the blurring of boundaries between life and death, fallacy and truth; his unrestrained vision, stratospheric imagination, resulting in the first science fiction film “Voyage to the Moon”; his genius recognized no parameters, but was cauterized in 1912; a tragedy that the majority of his films went into manufacturing shoes and boots. Also ironic because Melies’s family was in the footwear business.
“Hugo” is magical in depicting 1930’s Paris. Hugo, solitary, living in undiscovered crevices of the train station and clandestinely winding the station’s clock; trying desperately to piece together an automaton, the last vestige of his deceased father (a minimal role for Jude Law) a clock maker and restorer. The anthropomorphic automaton is the catalyst for discovery. Hugo is caught stealing, apprenticed to Melies, in order to retrieve a mysterious notebook; Hugo and Melies’s ward, “Isabelle” (winsome Chole Grace Moretz) struggle against daunting odds to unearth the enigma, the “key” of the automaton. Unfortunately, “Hugo” slips into a platitudinous morass; their quest, contrived and predictable.
Martin Scorsese has used his inimitable skills to ignite renewed interest in Georges Melies, a visionary, a century ahead of his time. Anyone who has ever made a film is in his debt; William Kentridge, a South African artist recently lionized Melies in one of his installations, a wondrous black and white film, recreating Melies’s “Voyage to the Moon”. Everyone who has ever experienced the transformative effects of film; the glamour, poignancy, joy, renewal will revel in the mastery, magical aphrodisiac that informs the movie “Hugo”.
Georges Melies, the first “Cinemagician” is brought to life, his luminous legacy lauded, applauded, lovingly by Martin Scorsese.