Hugo is sparkling cinema

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 17:17 13/01/2012
Daniel Tobin

James Croot checks our Hugo, Martin Scorsese's first foray into childrens film.

Asa Butterfield as Hugo
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SECRET LIVES: Asa Butterfield stars as the orphaned Hugo.

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REVIEW: The creative genius behind Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas directing a children's fantasy?

Sounds like a sure-fire recipe for tears before bedtime and fear-induced insomnia.

But Martin Scorsese's foray into family-friendly territory is a sparkling slice of precision filmmaking that will entrance both young and old.

Based on the Brian Selznick's 2007 combination novel, picture book, graphic novel and flip book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this 1930s Parisenne tale is at once a love letter to all things cinematic and a celebration of its power to entertain and transport (providing a chance to see "dreams in the middle of the day" as one character puts it.

It's easy to see what appealed about the story to Scorsese - as a film historian and keen preservationist its focus on the birth of cinema and the forgotten genius of George Melies provides him with plenty of opportunities to both show and lovingly recreate seminal moments in those first few decades of the artform.

At time it almost borders on a lecture and languid lament ("time hasn't been kind to old movies" and "all I have left are ashes and fading strips of celluloid" seem more like directorial rather than character statements) but Scorsese infuses the tale with such invention and enthusiasm that you and any misgivings get swept along by the engrossing overall adventure.

At its heart, Hugo is a story of love and loss as a young boy (Asa Butterfield) is left orphaned and distraught by the death of his clockmaker father (Jude Law).

Taken in by his alcoholic Uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo finds solace in maintaining the clocks at the railway station where they live and attempting to restore the last discovery they made together - an automaton.

But that project his threatened when the station's toy kiosk owner (Ben Kingsley) withholds his father's sketchbook as payment for all the parts he alleges Hugo has stolen.

Desperate to get it back, Hugo enlists the support of the owner's goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) in return for taking her on an adventure. He introduces her to the movies and his automaton, which could hold the key to unravelling a family mystery.

Adults keeping secrets, sleuthing kids -  Hugo's premise has a very Spielbergian quality about it. Even the setting reminds one of The Terminal. But in truth, its combination of the dark and whimsical is more Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, The City of Lost Children), with a dash of Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King) surrealism and  a touch of Tim Burton's (Sweeney Todd) gothic sensibilities.

Impressive acting abounds with Kingsley (Sexy Beast) and Moretz (Kick Ass) standouts and Scorsese making full use of Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) penchant for physical comedy. There's also room for some nice cameos from the likes of Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Richard Griffiths (The History Boys), Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island) and Frances De La Tour (Alice in Wonderland). You just have to get used to the idea of all these British accented Parisennes.

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However, this really is the Marty show and surprisingly his masterstroke is the use of 3D. If there's one film worth shelling out to see in stereoscope this is it. Rather than a gimmick, he uses it for its immersive quality with gliding cameras and slow zooms drawing the audience into the centre of the action.

The opening shot is a piece of Brian De Palma-inspired beauty (think Snake Eyes), another scene makes  you feel like you (and Moretz) are being trampled on, while a third has Baron Cohen's face near filling the frame and appearing to leer out of the screen towards you.

A film that has the potential to be both the younger generation's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and their parents' Cinema Paradiso equivalent, Hugo is Scorsese's big homage to those who have gone before them.

He's done them proud.

- The Press

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