Plot summary: Martin Scorsese’s take on the award-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick stars Asa Butterfield as Hugo, a young orphaned boy living in a train station in Paris. After the death of his father, Hugo is sent to live with his drunken uncle, who teaches him how to run the giant clocks that keep the train station running on time. When his uncle disappears, Hugo stays in the station to run the clocks, playing an elaborate game of hide and seek to try and not get caught squatting in the station.
Before his death, Hugo’s father began fixing an automaton he found abandoned in a museum attic. Hugo, who has inherited his father’s aptitude for fixing mechanical problems, decides to continue fixing the mechanical boy, leading him to steal gears, tools, and other small items from a toy shop in the train station. When Georges (Ben Kingsley), the old man who runs the shop, catches Hugo in the act of stealing, he threatens to turn Hugo over to the station’s police officer (Sacha Baron Cohen), who delights in sending orphaned children who sneak around the station to the orphanage.
Hugo’s altercation with Georges leads him to a friendship with Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who, without knowing it, is in possession of the last piece Hugo needs to make the automaton work again. With Isabelle’s help, Hugo gets the metal boy working again, and discovers a long-held secret about Georges, as well.
Hugo is certainly one of the most visually-appealing movies I’ve seen all year. Set almost entirely in a Parisian train station in 1931, Hugo is full of life and color, excitement and adventure. The cinematography in the film was astounding, transitioning from scene to scene flawlessly, the lighting and coloring drawing your eyes along without a hitch. My personal favorites were the scenes between Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick, two station patrons whose scenes of almost-romance were light and airy – very cute and touching.
The train station is like a world all on its own – there are cafés and toy shops, flower stalls and book stores – and has a delightful cast of characters that bring it to life. These include Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as Monsieur Labisse, a kindly book-shop owner; Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island) as Lisette, the sweet flower lady; and Frances de la Tour (Alice in Wonderland) and Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) as Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick two regular café patrons whose flirtatious courtship (which includes one touching scene where Monsieur Frick gets a dog so Madame Emilie’s dog won’t hate him anymore) lends a touch of whimsy and amusement to the station’s everyday life. The lead actor, Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), was wonderful for such a young actor, and Chloe Grace Moretz (whose role Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass launched the young actress into immediate fame) was just lovely as Isabelle, Hugo’s friend and partner-in-adventure. Jude Law makes a brief appearance as Hugo’s father.
To me, the music is what really brings a movie to life, and this one didn’t disappoint. Composed by Howard Shore, who also did the majority of the music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hugo’s soundtrack was just as whimsical and sweet as the movie, with the right amount of Parisian-style flair. Howard Shore is, in my opinion, one of the best film composers, with movies like Lord of the Rings, The Aviator, M. Butterfly, and A Dangerous method under his belt.
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was the historical ties. Ben Kingsley’s character, Georges Méliès, is based off a real person, a French illusionist and filmmaker from the early 1900’s. His film A Trip to the Moon (1902) is cited as being one of the first, if not the first, science-fiction genre films. His methods were groundbreaking and spectacular, earning him fame throughout pre-World War I France. His methods of special effects were innovative, and he was one of the first to hand-paint the film frames, creating the earliest colored films.
Hugo is an extremely elegant, elaborate film, adding just the right amount of realism to a fantastical story. This is quickly becoming one of the few films that I could watch over and over again and not get tired of it. It’s been put into the “Children’s movie” genre, but I recommend it to people of all ages who love a good, heartwarming story.