January 4, 2012
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Starring Asa Butterfield & Chloë Grace Moretz
PG, 126 min.
Director Martin Scorsese creates a dazzling dreamscape
of mesmerizing movie magic
Historical fiction is a literary format that combines something that happened with something that didn’t.
The award-winning 2007 children’s book on which the new movie “Hugo” is based is a fanciful fictional tale of an orphan boy in 1930s Paris whose life fatefully intersects with a real-life person, pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès.
The family-friendly “Hugo” might seem like a bit of a departure for director Martin Scorsese, a masterful moviemaker known for the grown-up grit and gristle of mean-street crime dramas like “Goodfellas,” “The Departed” and “Casino.” But Scorsese clearly has found a story close to his own film-loving, storytelling heart, a soaring, imaginative yarn about an intertwined mystery, a life-changing discovery, and the enduring, mesmerizing marvel of the movies.
The story unfolds inside a massive train terminal teeming with characters, including a bitter shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) who turns out to be someone far more interesting, an overly officious station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen), and the shopkeeper’s mystery-loving stepdaughter (Chloë Grace Moretz), who unknowingly holds the key---quite literally---to unlocking the movie’s central puzzle.
The station is also home to Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who hides from the inspector in the labyrinth of unseen workspaces behind the walls. There he’s learned how to maintain the terminals’ many clocks, keeping their gigantic gear wheels turning.
Hugo’s also been working on restoring an automaton, a wind-up mechanical man once used in magic shows, but it’s missing a crucial part. The automaton becomes essential to bringing the fragmented pieces of Hugo’s hardscrabble childhood wondrously together---like the interworking cogs that once made the mechanized man spring to precise, clockwork life.
“Hugo” is a visual knockout, with some of the most dazzling, perfectly integrated, audience-engaging 3-D effects of any movie in recent years. Snowflakes seem to waft off the screen and into the theater. Foot chases through the terminal become exhilarating, virtually interactive adventures. In one scene, the station inspector leans ever closer to the camera, seemingly probing deeper into the audience with each thrust of his head.
Film buffs will love the movie’s exuberant homage to the work of Georges Méliès, an early filmmaking innovator who staged wildly imaginative flights of fancy---trips to the moon, voyages to undersea kingdoms---and filmed them on a homemade set with cameras of his own invention.
“If you ever wondered where your dreams come from,” he tells one wide-eyed character as he prepares a scene, “this is where they’re made.”
“Hugo” is a lovely, lavishly constructed dreamscape of long-ago movie magic, told with a spectacular flourish of modern-day movie magic all its own.
--Neil Pond, American Profile