Hugo: Deeply Gorgeous

“Hugo,” the first children’s film by famed director Martin Scorsese, is one of the richest, most beautiful, most moving children’s films ever made for adults.

I’ll tell you what I mean.

The cinematography is gorgeous, from the vibrant colors to sweeping vistas of Paris, to the use of 3D that, instead of distracting or giving the audience a headache, actually makes the film deeper and richer than anything you’ve seen before.

Starting with Asa Butterfield as Hugo, an orphan who lives in a huge clock tower, the characters draw you in. After his father died, the boy tends to the giant clockworks in a 1930s era train station. He lives by stealing from the merchants that line the thoroughfares and dodges the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). By night, he works to repair a mechanical boy his father found in a museum. The automoton is the last link he has with his father.

One merchant from which he steals, a toy peddler named Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), has a secret of his own. He mourns a past he loved. When his goddaughter (Chloe Grace Mortez) befriends Hugo, a mystery unfolds that might lead to restoration for all of them.

It’s based on the book by Brian Selznick.

Rated PG for peril, mild thematic material, and smoking, the story is gentle, staying away from bad language, crass humor, or wink-wink jokes. While some characters are villainish, they all are sympathetic and human, a lovely feat in a childrens’ movie.

Because the past that holds their mystery is closely related to the earliest days of filmmaking, the movie plays not only as a wildly imaginative tale, but as Scorsese’s lovesong to the art of movie making.

Back in the days when audiences gasped in wonder at the most clumsy effects and flinched in terror at the sight of an onscreen train speeding toward them, a man needed only imagination and determination to make movies. They did it for the love of it, for the love of the stage, and to create something new. Cynicism had not yet infused itself into the genre, but every film was a chance to create awe, to create a transcendent moment.

“Hugo” glories in this, caressing overacted and haltingly edited footage. Hand tinted film and primitive costumes are its playground.

It’s to Scorsese’s credit that this history lesson doesn’t feel overwhelmingly boring. He focuses on the internal lives of the characters and uses the love of film as a backdrop. Yet, it’s the sort of thing that gets movie critics’ knickers in a wad. After all, we’re critics because we love movies, so an hour long homage to 1910s cinema feels like a day at the candy store to us.

I wonder if children will be quite so excited. Those who have read the book will not be disappointed in seeing their imagination brought to life. In Scorsese’s hands, the movie will draw in those who have not read the books into a world of wonder and possibility, if they give it a chance.

It’s absolutely lovely, but more adult than childlike.

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  • Cherie

    I wonder what you think of the narcissistic George who lives in self pity, just waiting for someone to recognize his greatness. He lives in a self impossed isolation because his work is no longer visable to the world. He has a beautiful loving wife you worships at his altar of self pity. The lovely, bright, well read, deeply imaganitive God daughter can not bring him out of his self pity. The poor orphan boys plight moves him to lie to the child and make him believe George burned his notebook. The sadness and despair of the Great War does not make him grateful that he lives and was not forced to fight. No it moves him to self pity thay the broken men who return from war can no lonher appreciate his magic. It is only when a lover of his film comes to worship at the altar of George that he can again feel alive. And he becomes joyous only when he returns to the stage to show off his movies. Even then je does not thank his wife or God daughter for loving him when he was pathetic and full of self pity He can only thank the ones who allowed him to return to the spotligjt. Beecause as the media tells us, the only things of value are what we cam see in video. If it is not caught on tape, it never was worth anything anyway. A movie only a narcissistic movie maker could make.

    • Anonymous

      I definitely see that. I think Hollywood in general has a tendency to worship itself. Just look at the Academy Awards!

      But, if I’m feeling more charitable, I can look at it another way. We’re all created to do something, I believe. And I certainly think some people are created to make art, and some to make movie art specifically. I think it’s a huge tragedy in someone’s life if they are not doing the thing they were created to do. Probably one of the biggest tragedies, actually. Right up there with loving the wrong person and not making peace with God. So, if his sadness comes from a sense of lost purpose, lost passion, then it makes total sense to me. If it comes from lost adulation, then that’s empty and meaningless.

      Thanks for the comment!