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Zimbio Review - 'HUGO'

Martin+Scorsese in
Director Martin Scorsese attends the "Hugo" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre on November 21, 2011 in New York City. (Getty Images)more pics »
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?


One of the best "family films' to come out in ages, Hugo skips the melodrama and relies on a strong story to celebrate the magic of the movies.
"Thank you for the movie. It was a gift." These words are uttered by young Isabelle to her friend Hugo Cabret, who just snuck her in to see her first motion picture. Great films have little moments like this one that encapsulate the feeling the entire piece instills. Martin Scorsese's Hugo is one of these great films.

In his first real "family" film, Scorsese creates a love letter to the entire art of cinema. Written by John Logan and based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (a relative of David O. Selznick), Hugo captures the joy and wonder of going to the movies in a way American films have not. One would have to go back to Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso to find a film that does what Hugo does: it transports us back to a time when films tested the very limits of our imaginations and made us all marvel at what was possible.

The story of Hugo takes place in a hustling bustling Paris train station. The station itself is a wonderous place and a character unto itself. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives behind the walls of the station and winds the many clocks as his father (Jude Law) and drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) have taught him. Watching the world inside the station, one cannot help but recall Chaplain's Modern Times, picturing the Little Tramp caught in the gears: an image as synonymous with cinema as any other.

Scorsese opens the film with a panoramic view of Paris in wintertime and flies us into the station in a breathtaking sequence that may be the best use of 3D technology to date in one single shot. This sequence recalls Scorsese's famous tracking shot following Henry Hill arriving at the Copa in Goodfellas. The camera swoops and accelerates, through the snowflakes, through the Parisian travelers of the 1930's, and eventually into the guts of the station itself. We follow Hugo navigating the steampunk walls, up ladders, through narrow cracks, and down a twisting slide. This is movie-making at its absolute peak.

The first half of the film centers entirely on Hugo and we get to know his world. He is part of a society of people at the train station and Hugo watches them all from behind the walls. There is the intimidating station guard (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the object of his affection: the florist (Emily Mortimer), the old and wise book seller (Christopher Lee), and the toy shopkeeper, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) who Hugo watches with much interest.

The young man is alone in the world. His father has passed and the one reminder of him Hugo has left is a mechanical automoton, a metallic silver man with mysterious black eyes that he and his father had been trying to fix. In order to do so, Hugo has been taking assorted parts from the toy shop.

Soon, Hugo crosses paths with Papa Georges. The old man calls him a thief and confiscates the boy's precious notebook, which holds the assembly instructions for the automoton. Hugo enlists the help of Isabelle, a self-professed adventure-seeker, to attempt to get the notebook back from her godfather. The children soon discover there is much more to Papa Georges than they could ever imagine. As they delve deeper into his world they discover his secret past, one filled with regret but also incredible cinematic magic.

The old shopkeeper also has a special link with the automoton. With the help of Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), a film historian of sorts, Hugo and Isabelle discover Papa Georges is actually Georges Melies, one of cinema's first directors. The rest of the film involves the reawakening of the great Melies and the reintroduction of his many lost films to a world in desperate need of them.

It is wonderful kismet Hugo is opening on the same day as Michel Hazanavicius' silent film The Artist. Both are postmodern tributes to the origins of filmmaking. There is a scene in The Artist where the protagonist burns all his films, a reference to Melies himself. Georges Melies made over 500 films in his time and most all of them were burned to make heels for shoes during war time. He was a visionary, using many editing tricks and elaborate sets, props, and costumes to create fantastic short films - think Michel Gondry in the early 20th century.

Scorsese takes us back to Melies' world in flashback sequences. We see his delight in witnessing the Lumiere brothers' early cinemascope display the first motion picture: a train coming directly at the camera, and Melies' contagious enthusiasm in creating his own films in a special glass house studio that looks like heaven. The work of Scorsese's trusty production designer Dante Feretti is on display in these scenes as full-scale toy diaromas are made, including a huge dragon and an underwater set to bring the work of Melies to life. Melies started as a magician and his devotion to inspiring awe in his audiences comes through in full-force.

Scorsese uses the story of Melies to convey his own love for the magic of the movies. Well known by Scorsese fans is his asthmatic childhood, much of it spent indoors with his imagination. In this respect, Hugo may be his most personal film yet. For many, the movies are a lone escape from a world too frequently lacking imagination or wonder of any kind. Those of us who live inside our own minds and seek adventure in tales of the high seas or travel to lands unexplored need the escape of the cinema. Hugo is a tribute to the dreaming child in all of us.

For more photos of the Hugo premiere:
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
  • Martin Scorsese in "Hugo" New York Premiere
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