Wednesday, 7 December 2011

HUGO (2011) - 4 STARS

"If you ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around. This is where they're made."

Having boasted about my debut trip to the new Light Cinema in New Brighton, I felt it best to mark the occasion by watching a film which in recent weeks had garnered a lot of attention not just because of it being a children's film but because it did surprisingly well in early awards ceremonies in America. That could be down to the fact it's directed by one of the legendary directors of cinema, Mr Martin Scorsese who having made some astonishing films in the past forty years from Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) to Goodfellas (1990) and The Departed (2006), has completely changed his genre setting with a charming and mesmerising film that continues to prove why 3-D is still on top of its game in terms of visual story-telling. The trailer initially put me off it at first but gradually all this attention it received was enough to invite me into this artistic world of magic....

Set in 1930s Paris, orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) finds himself living within the walls of a train station looking after the clocks after his inventor father (Jude Law) dies in a fire. His only connection to his father is a broken-down automaton which both of them were the two were repairing prior to the death. When Hugo is caught stealing parts for the automaton by the old and disgruntled owner of a toy shop in the station (Ben Kingsley), his notebook containing sketches of the mechanical man is taken from him. His situation is made tougher by trying to hide within the walls from the suspicious Station Inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) and his dog who specialise in stopping orphans from roaming the station. Attempting to get the notebook back, he gains the help of Isabelle (Chloe Grace-Moretz), the god-daughter of the aged man and discovers that she wears a key that can fit into the back of the automaton thus allowing it work properly. The message that the machine makes is a drawing of The Trip To The Moon (1902) signed by its renowned (and supposedly dead) director George Mieles, which leaves the pair seeking to unravel the mystery behind Isabelle's godfather and help bring his true identity to light.

Without doubt, this proves to be one of the most acclaimed films of the year as Martin Scorsese puts aside his reputation as a director of gritty crime films with a pleasant and beautifully-told story. At first you think it's a typical Dickens-type adventure from the boy's point of view as he tries to uncover the hidden message from his dad but once the George Mieles backdrop comes into it, we are taken into a different kind of world where classical film becomes the pinnacle of what the film sets out to achieve. It is here that we are allowed to remember just how magical they can be and it is to Scorsese's credit that many film lovers are treated to seeing the cinema of old with references to the Lumière Brothers, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin making the experience more surreal. The 3-D in Since the phenomenal success of Avatar (2009), many films seem to have got carried away with the usage of 3-D but in Hugo's case it is used to portray the spectacle of the environment our characters stand in. The train station, the close-up of the machinery, the costumes and even the footage of the old films all benefit from the sublime use of CGI and the seemingly hard-working production team which Scorsese gets terrific work out of especially Howard Shore's enchanting score. Even the cast at times are overshadowed by the visual beauty they're acting in but each of them contribute to make the film a bigger success. Youngsters Butterfield and Moretz lead the film with plenty of brightness with the latter providing a very good English accent. However the adults do their best too with Kingsley the best of the bunch whose 'toy shop owner' is  disgruntled and tortured by his past being brought up only to eventually take great pride in his former work getting acclaim for what it was. Although Cohen's silly Station Inspector provides cartoonish moments, we see him as a flawed figure whose shyness for the cute flower girl (Emily Mortimer) is complicated by his painful past such as the circumstances concerning his dodgy leg and even we hope that he prevails by the end. Small contributions from Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour also provide humane moments for the audience to savour and enjoy their characters.

What proves affecting in Hugo's lack of appeal to its younger audiences is that, the first act of the film allows them to enjoy this boy's adventure but when the old cinema narrative kicks in, it becomes a slow and unrecognisable journey for them, especially not being aware of who Mieles or the Lumière Brothers are. The story jumps from an adventure to a homage instantly and it isn't surprising to hear that youngsters are put off by it as Scorsese does aim to make the film appeal to adults but only those who actually love film to the point were they know the old period in its history. It slows the film down a bit and considering its two hour running time, that might frustrate the younger viewers who become impatient at the story's change of focus though there are still some terrific action scenes to savour especially the train crash sequence.

VERDICT: The children won't embrace it much but film lovers will adore it as this cinematic achievement celebrates the beauty of film and what it is today. Our hero's sad tale leads to a discovery of a grand story that opens the door to a celebrated past as Scorsese's debut family film takes us on an adventure, the stuff that dreams are made of.


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