Adapted, but deviating from, the cult novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the newest film–a well-done debut venture into 3-D by movie-lover Martin Scorsese–has given us the most handsome, technically adept “holiday” production of the year. It is both an emotionally satisfying story and a colorful discourse on the invention of movies. And it manages to unite two radically different fields of reality: intricate machinery…and the emotional magic of visual storytelling.
It’s a slow start for the story, but, visually, it’s terrific–an uncut swooping shot over l830s Paris, direct into the interior of that city’s Montparnasse railway station, where employed as a clock-winder, the orphan Hugo lives in the forgotten rooms of the station. Fascinated by the mechanical processes of the clock, and, in fact, all machines, including the one his late father (Jude Law) was working on when he was killed–an automaton with a human-esque body.
In fact, Hugo is so obsessed with finishing the droid, he’s not above stealing stuff from the station toy store, run by an unhappy man called Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley, top-billed in the credits). Georges has a secret that bestows a change in the symmetry of the movie, in which machinery and magic come together wondrously. (The footage from early movies, hand-painted frame by frame as they often were, changes our notion of stilted early black and white flicks, giving them their due.)
Lovers of Brit films will be pleased to note lots of cameos from UK performers, but the strangest casting involves none other than Sacha Baron Cohen as the villain. Cohen is okay, but his character’s tone doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, sorry to say.
Hugo is that rare movie that grows better–richer and more inventive–as it goes along.
It probably works better for film buffs, but smart kids of all ages will like the sympathetic treatment of young Hugo–and will be able to identify with him. It’s the story of a lost kid who finds his way–by following his heart, as they say.
About the 3-D: it’s nice, it’s handsome, but no one has cracked the 3-D code since James Cameron’s Avatar.
3-D, ladies and gentlemen, is not about things flying out at the audience. It’s about pulling the audience into the story. It’s an “in,” i.e., not an “out” (i.e., as in navels).
Holiday movies tend to be viciously sentimental with unearned feeling, but not so with this one. It earns its depth of feeling and, therefore, earns our respect–we’re seeing a heartfelt movie about its love of movie storytelling. Take that, Jack and Jill.