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Hugo - DVD Review

Hugo

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

MARTIN Scorsese’s Hugo is a love letter to both the origins and magic of cinema that’s masquerading as a children’s film.

It’s quite often a tour-de-force of visceral pleasures that enables its director to indulge in one of his greatest passions while delighting cinema buffs and critics the world over. But it’s sometimes too high-brow for the youngest minds, who may find its cultural and historical references a little too obscure or irrelevant to grasp.

Based on Brian Selznick’s historical-fiction book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film follows the adventures of a young orphan named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of Paris’ train station desperately trying to keep his presence unknown to the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) while attempting to solve a mystery involving his late father (Jude Law) and an automaton (or wind-up mechanical man).

This, in turn, brings him into the world of elderly toy booth owner Georges Méliès (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) whose own tragic history may somehow be connected.

It’s easy to see why Selznick’s acclaimed New York Times best-seller would appeal to a filmmaker of Scorsese’s intelligence and stature given their shared appreciation for cinema.

Selznick’s book lovingly recalls the fluctuating fortunes of Méliès, whose turn-of-the-century films were pioneering in their day, before becoming lost and rendering their creator penniless.

But in doing so, it wrapped this fascinating history in a fictional adventure involving a young boy’s attempts to re-connect with his late father and find his own calling and place in the world.

Similarly, Scorsese’s film attempts to combine both elements by turning it into a showcase of filmmaking capable of delighting viewers of every age. But he’s only halfway successful in doing so.

The Méliès part of the story, during which Scorsese gets to lovingly recreate many of the filmmakers’ finest works, is fascinating but perhaps a little too precise, meaning that younger viewers may struggle to hold their attention for long periods of time.

And yet the more adventure-based part of the story is often quite exhilarating, especially in the way that Scorsese allows his camera to swoop through the streets of Paris or crowded platforms of its steam-filled station, thereby taking maximum advantage of the possibilities offered by 3D (a first for the director).

It’s during these moments that the director gets to unleash his inner child, revelling in the opportunity to offer some slapstick fun that also tips its hat to the work of Harold Lloyd and company.

Strong, too, are the leading performers in his extremely starry cast, with Butterfield and Moretz emerging as likeable young heroes (and in no way precocious) and Sir Ben Kingsley investing his Méliès with the right amount of anger, regret, passion and humility.

But another failing of the movie in general, and of John Logan’s screenplay in particular, is that it also fails to utilise every one of its ensemble team, with plotlines for the likes of Emily Mortimer, Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour offering more than they ultimately deliver.

Blink and you might also miss the likes of Jude Law and Ray Winstone in small but critical roles… although Michael Stuhlbarg shines as a long-term Méliès fan and Baron Cohen generates plenty of laughs with his generally endearing villainous buffoonery.

Overall, then, Hugo rates as a good film rather than a great one, while still marking a personal triumph for Scorsese. It’s a film that will doubtless stand the test of time for the way in which it can be admired, especially if you’re a keen student of cinema.

Certificate: U
Running time: 122mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: April 2, 2012