I can’t say I have loved any of the other Scorsese pictures I’ve seen, but I highly respect the work he does for film preservation. It was a pleasure to see this fantastic story (in 3D) about an orphaned boy in a 20’s/30’s Paris train station that comes around to dealing with the theme of film preservation.
Asa Butterfield as Hugo is a mechanically gifted young man who cares for the clocks in the train station and has a secret mission to repair an automaton found and left by his father. He must avoid Sacha Baron Cohen as the station Inspector as well as his doberman. Baron Cohen and the dog are used for the sort of 3D (and comedic) effects you usually see in amusement parks. I’m not a fan of those cheap tricks, but appreciate the subtle third dimension added to the environment in which the characters find themselves. Constantly having to sneak about through the grates and between the walls of the station makes Hugo always suspicious. You see it in Asa’s expressive face. I couldn’t help but notice that he has the most expressive nose I’ve ever seen, the nostrils flare and it twitches constantly. Hugo tries to steal parts for his robot from a toy shop in the station, but is punished by the owner played by Ben Kingsley. Hugo must appeal to the toy-maker’s goddaughter Isabelle. Chloe Grace Moretz is the bookish but outgoing Isabelle. They make a great innocent pair for the coming adventure. Hugo was pulled out of school and so never finished learning to read, so Isabelle introduces him to the wealth of stories in the overflowing train station library. While Isabelle has been sheltered from motion pictures, so Hugo recommends the comedies of Harold Lloyd and other silent shorts he remembers from the good days with his father. Many adventure story characters are name dropped. Many iconic images from silent films are referenced. This is literacy presented in an exciting way!
After a little detective work, called research in a library, a film historian named Rene Tabard, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, helps the kids realize that Isabelle’s godfather Georges is more than he appears to be. Seeing the flashbacks of Georges Melies’ early career, the reverence for that amazing technology that is film and the motion picture film camera, Melies’ fall from popularity and later recognition through an AWESOME montage of colorful clips from his groundbreaking fantasy work is stunningly brilliant and dazzlingly gorgeous to this film buff. With the coincidence that Hugo’s family is connected to Melies’ family in ways no one was aware we are happily reminded of Hugo’s philosophy that everyone has a purpose in this world like every mechanical part of a machine has a purpose that keeps the machine going.