Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Martin Scorsese is one of the most talented and sought after directors of all time, creating legendary masterpieces such as The Departed and Goodfellas. Both films are considered to be not only the best crime films ever created, but some of the best films period. So it is amusing and a little head scratching to say that Scorcese directed a children’s film based on the modern classic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Hugo Cabret (played by Asa Butterfield) is an orphan in 1930s France that spends his spare time in a train station winding up the clocks and tinkering with an old automaton he and his father found. After he gets on the bad side of local toy shop clerk Georges (played by Ben Kingsley) he begins to work for him to pay off a debt for stealing pieces from the shop when befriends his Georges’s goddaughter Isabelle (played by Chloe Grace Moretz). Soon, they both begin to unravel the mystery behind Hugo’s automaton which so happens to belong to pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies and Isabelle’s godfather.
The early days of cinema were quite a creative world, with the first moving picture being created in 1895 with just a train coming into the station. It was transformative to the entertainment medium and led to a new way of storytelling. Hugo uses its story to talk about the early years of cinema with the technological advancements and inventive films such as early films like A Trip to the Moon and The Impossible Journey. While we may find them cheesy and kinda stupid today, you can’t deny their impact on filmmaking and the standard they set in the new storytelling medium. If you have a chance to see them, go give them a watch.
Of course the performances are utterly fantastic across the board, with Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz being the children having the adventure they never knew they wanted, and creating one of the cutest and most genuine on screen friendships in any medium. Sacha Baron Cohen was quite a surprise as the Inspector Gustave Daste, leaving more of his comedic talents in the back seat to sell a 3 dimensional antagonist that isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but a broken man doing the best job he can with the body parts he still has. And the incomparable Ben Kinglsey plays George Melies as another broken man but his scars are different from Daste’s. As Melies was someone who wanted to help others dream the way he does and help others see the world in a wholly new light. However, he was left in despair when The Great War came around and his legacy was lost to obscurity.
I can’t discuss Hugo without talking about all the technical aspects of it, as its production design, visuals and costumes honestly make me believe this was a classic film from the 1930s. They are extravagant without drawing attention away from the story or performances, and are able to blend classic and modern all in one, making it truly feel like a bridge between two different points in time. Especially when using 3-D cameras, which only help elevate the performances in subtle ways. Plus, the direction Martin Scorsese takes with Hugo is phenomenal. Scorsese truly lets his love for cinema shine through in every aspect of the film, from the set design all the way down to the cinematography.
The book Hugo is based on, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a love letter to a bygone era of filmmaking. Which is why the unconventional choice of Director Martin Scorsese was perfect. His love for cinema is unmatched, and possibly the only director capable of delivering Brian Selznick’s novel to life. The all-around technical aspects of the movie are monumental in combining both classic and modern techniques of filmmaking and deserves all the praise and awards it has received. Performances are top notch and heartfelt and the direction is flawless. Both Hugo the film and the book it was based on are love letters to the beginning years of a new entertainment medium; it should be enjoyed at the highest levels of entertainment. This film shows why we go to the theaters, why we absolutely love cinema.