Review of Hugo

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An orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in the early 1900s becomes wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Based on Brian Selznkick's award-winning and imaginative New York Times bestseller, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
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Movie Review: "Hugo" --

Rating: PG
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Action, Family, and Adventure
4 out of 5 Stars

Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese has brought to life a magical and endearing tale. The screenplay is based on the book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," a New York Times best-seller by author Brian Selznick. It is Scorsese's first 3-D film, and makes full use of its entire budget. Anyone that knows much about Scorsese's life will make the connection that this film is a fable that tells parts of his life story. Although some of his followers were surprised that he had jumped onto the 3-D bandwagon, they were happy when they saw that this film is 3-D for a reason. The solid view magnifies the magical scope and feel of the movie.

Set in 1930s Paris, the film is stunning in its honest portrayal of a life on the edge, but full of imagination and promise. The opening scene is an overhead shot that sweeps across the city, eventually narrowing in and almost dive-bombing the hero's face that is peering from a gigantic clock tower. This hero is a young Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield. Twelve-year-old Hugo comes from a family of artistic mechanics. His uncle is responsible for the clocks that dot the darkened train stations of Paris. His father (Jude Law) was fascinated by machines that mimic humans, and spent his days trying to perfect a writing automaton that he obtained from an old museum. Sadly, he dies before the project is completed, and Hugo becomes an orphan.

Instead of becoming a ward of the state, Hugo runs away and hides within the works of the great clocks that he is so familiar with. Like Quasimodo in his bell towers, he becomes adept at a life lived in the shadows. Masterfully shot scenes show him moving through the underground labyrinths of the train stations and crossing catwalks, as he repairs the gears inside the giant clocks. Butterfield does a stellar job in his wary portrayal of a street urchin, who is also deeply hurt by the loss of his father.

Hugo adeptly snatches croissants in order to feed himself, and enjoys sneaking into movies. A sense of wonder is seen in his eyes as he watches the stories on film unfold. The audience is treated to the same, as this film makes stunning use of CGI to create a wondrous train station and fantasy Parisian landscape. As he looks out of clock faces, Hugo often observes small vignettes into the lives of other people that add a nice-and often comical-touch to the film.

Trouble brews when Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), a toy shop owner, catches Hugo stealing tools and gears. Hugo is obsessed with repairing the automaton left to him, because he is certain it can write out a final message from his father. Little does Hugo know at the time that this man is the inventor of film special effects. The character is based on real life filmmaker, Georges Melies, who made the famous film, "A Trip to the Moon." The character Melies had been a magician who used film to fool and delight his audience. It is also just a coincidence that he created the writing machine that Hugo's father fussed over until his death. Melies also has a daughter named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Isabelle is a learned girl that loves to read, uses big words, and can't say no to an adventure. She takes a liking to Hugo, and they both set off to find a heart-shaped key for the automaton. Isabelle delivers one of the best lines in the film, one that pretty much sums up their journey: "It's Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one." Hugo and Isabelle learn many lessons and have several interesting revelations along the way. The action that takes place is very much a history lesson in film and cinema. It's truly a delight for all of the senses and the mind.

"Hugo" appeals to a variety of audiences. It's suitable for families, as the overall story fable is accessible to children, but adults will appreciate the deeper meaning that is expertly layered in the script. We are all observers in life and seek meaning in moving pictures. It's a cinematic love letter and a good example for those that advocate for film preservation. "Hugo" is truly a masterpiece: One that sets poetry in motion.