The magic man – Hugo review

Hugo – Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Ben Kingsley. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated PG. By Simon Miraudo.

Martin Scorsese is arguably cinema’s biggest fanboy. The cliché is that he’s only concerned with telling tales of gangsters getting by in his native New York. However, he’s spent more of his time saving legendary prints of classic and long-thought-lost films. Although it may seem a departure for him to direct a family flick like Hugo, its focus on cinematic restoration and the magical influence of the silver screen means it’s well and truly in his wheelhouse. There’s even an academic character (Michael Stuhlbarg) who waxes lyrical about the halcyon days of silent picture shows whilst adorned with a 70s-era Scorsese beard. Hugo is an enchanting celebration of the movies and the magic-men who create them. Perhaps what’s sweetest about it – what with its fawning over legendary directors – is that Scorsese doesn’t seem to realise he is among them.

Hugo moves to the rhythm of a different time, introducing us to the main players and Parisian train station setting with an overture by composer Howard Shore in a near-wordless prologue. We see young urchin Hugo Cabret (excellent newcomer Asa Butterfield) sneaking around the station, setting the clocks, and avoiding the gaze of war-wounded Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen). He spies the different characters carrying on with their lives just slightly out of his reach, including sad toy maker Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his erudite goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). Inside his tiny abode above the action, Hugo works on a broken automaton once discovered by his now-deceased father (Jude Law). By stealing nuts and bolts from Georges, he believes he will be able to figure out how to get the machine working once more, and receive a final message from his dad. Instead, the automaton reveals to him the true identity of its maker – Georges, or rather, legendary filmmaker and conjurer Georges Méliès – and offers Hugo the opportunity to reinspire the deflated director and escape into the movies once more.

Screenwriter John Logan had the thorny task of adapting Brian Selznick’s 533 page tome The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the screen, but Scorsese certainly suffered a similar uphill battle in recreating the experience of diving in to the much-loved book (I’ve not read it, but Selznick’s comic/flipbook approach sounds fairly novel, pun always intended). Although its two halves – a boy searching for his father’s message; an artist rediscovering his talents – don’t quite mesh into a cogent whole, Logan and Scorsese’s efforts are undeniably marvellous. When Méliès’ films begin to fuse with reality during a climactic projection of his back catalogue, you can practically feel time stop in sync with the audience’s halted breath. It’s nothing short of wizardry.

Marty’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and his right-hand-woman, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, aid greatly in putting together all the different parts and keeping track of all the moving pieces. Thanks also to the talented cast of Kingsley, Moretz, Butterfield, Stuhlbarg, Helen McCrory (as Georges’ wife) and, to a lesser degree, Baron-Cohen (he’s just a touch broader than those around him), Hugo is supremely moving and heart-warming.

(This is all I’ll say about the 3-D: though Scorsese always knows where to put the camera, and employs it in innovative and interesting ways, I still endured a couple brief bouts of vertigo and had to remove my glasses accordingly. There are numerous call-backs to the 1895 screening of the Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, where the crowd literally thought the locomotive was hurtling off the screen and into their laps. But even if the 3-D is artistically justified, it doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying or distracting to wear those silly glasses. When will this madness end!)


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Hugo is now showing in Australian cinemas.

2 Responses to “The magic man – Hugo review”

  1. Simon, I loved this movie, and I loved the 3D, may we get more and even better demonstrations of this fine art.

    Silly glasses? Come on, you’re sitting in the dark, who do you think is looking at you? Even id someone is looking at you, so what, if they think 3D glasses are silly that is their problem. Do you think a Jeweller using a loup is silly? Of course not he is just using one of the tools of his trade. 3D glasses are the equivalent of that loup but this time for the audience of the artist who created the3D images being viewed.

    Long live 3D!

  2. For the majority of movies, 3D doesn’t add any new dimension to the movie-viewing pleasure. It’s just a gimick. Appreciate 3D may be worthwhile for Hugo and for those movies in the hands of very skilled Directors. The concept of experiencing drowning and sinking with the Titanic will be interesting. Lucas bringing out Phantom Menace in 3D is so not worthy. Jar Jar Binks was a travesty in 2D let alone 3D. Lucas is cashing in (again). It’s directors like this who give 3D a bad name.

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