Friday, 30 December 2011
"If you ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around. This is where they're made."
Hugo is undoubtedly the biggest departure yet from Martin Scorsese’s familiar style. There are no wisecracking Italian gangsters, no blood spattered violence – not even a profanity. Instead, the legendary director has produced a nostalgic ode to the cinematic art featuring an ensemble cast of British characters with two children in the lead roles. And he pulls it off with aplomb.
Set in 1930s Parisian railway station, Hugo tells the tale of the titular hero – a young boy who lives in the walls of the steamy station in order to maintain the many clocks. He’s the orphaned son of a watchmaker who has inherited his father’s gift with machinery. As he struggles to repair a mechanical automaton he is forced to steal machine parts from the station’s resident toymaker Georges (brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley). When the curmudgeonly old man catches Hugo (Asa Butterfield) red-handed a mutually respectful relationship begins to develop – and as Georges’ hostilities towards Hugo thaw, his young ward Isobel (Chloe Moretz) strikes up a firm friendship with the orphaned boy.
As the two children go adventuring around cinemas, libraries and bookshops they realise that there might be a little more to Georges than meets the eye and set about uncovering the cause for the old man’s sadness. It’s a journey which teaches them about themselves and the art of cinema.
Hugo is a sumptuous film to look at. Designed with 3D in mind, Scorsese has pulled out all the visual stops here. Sadly, I only saw the 2D version thanks to the sheer uselessness of my local Vue (which isn’t even showing The Artist – I despair). It was still abundantly apparent just how stunning the visual effects would have been if I’d been wearing the appropriate goggles – although the film still works brilliantly in the more traditional format. Swooping cameras loop around the train station, huge cogs and gears grind and steam is emitted from every available opening. It’s a wonderful evocation of 30s Paris – aided brilliantly from the caricatures and characters who inhabit it. The likes of Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths and Emily Mortimer breathe life into their slight characters marvellously – but they are all usurped by Sacha Baron Cohen’s peevish station inspector – and his Doberman.
Cleverly plotted (and beautifully played by the young leads), Hugo sees the children journey through the history of cinema via the Lumière brothers, the first motion picture shown in Paris and, ultimately, the iconic Georges Méliès. Scorsese’s admiration for his cinematic forefathers is plain and his retelling of their stories is visual poetry. Suffused with magic and fantasy, these nostalgic scenes are some of the finest the director has ever put on the screen. I was vaguely reminded of Prospero’s farewell to his art in The Tempest – let’s hope this isn’t Scorsese’s goodbye.