Hugo is marketed as a children's tale ala Oliver Twist but what you will actually discover in this film will make you appreciate the art of film and the movie watching experience itself.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who secretly lives in a train station's walls while managing to keep the clocks in the station working after his uncle disappears. Aside from taking care of the clocks, Hugo is working on an automaton his father (Jude Law) was trying to fix before he died. In order to fix the automaton, Hugo steals parts from a toy store but one day the owner, Georges (Ben Kingsley), catches him and takes away the notebook that tells how to fix the automaton. Georges' god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) helps Hugo get his notebook back but on their quest to fix the automaton they discover secrets that connects them together.
The first part of the movie has a slow pace and it will take awhile before you'll get a clear direction where the story is heading. There's a sense of disconnection between the movie's first and second half as the story took a different turn. The first half was building up the mystery of the automaton but how it actually turns out in the end didn't give the impact I thought it would have given the emphasis given to it earlier. The core mystery is actually engaging but the earlier events seems like it was just incidental, not that is a bad plot device but it's not well-integrated.
But that's my only quibble in the film as everything else worked out. Hugo, the character, is a representation of a broken person holding on to something that he believes could fix him. Sometimes we do no get what we expect or hope for but along the way we stumble into to things that will give us the experience of a lifetime. And without us knowing we fix our own issues when we help fix other people first. Buttefield did a good job portraying the titular character. His eyes speak a lot from the vulnerability and sorrow of being left alone to the hunger to find out the truth. It seems like you can literally see every flicker of emotion in his face.
Meanwhile, the back story of Georges is fascinating as the character is actually based on a biographical truth. Admittedly, I don't know who the actual Georges Melies is before this movie and learning about his story is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. The way the film treated his story was really good as we can clearly see the the story of a broken man who wants to forget his past but his passion overpowers any regret or remorse he ever felt. I was teary eyed when Georges had his moment of “victory”. Kingsley delivered a wonderful performance by letting us feel the character's emotions. Helen McRory also shined playing the role of Georges' wife. While I give credit to the amazing make up of aging McRory up, I'm impressed on how she can play a character way older than she actually is so naturally. There's not much depth with their god-daughter Isabelle but Moretz has a strong screen presence to make up for it. It's actually refreshing to see the young actress play a role so different from her best known but transgressive characters in Kick-Ass and Let Me In.
Hugo at its core is a love letter to film making. Scorsese's passion and affection for films is strongly felt here. The movie will help us appreciate films and the people behind it. I love how the film highlighted the creative process that happens when making movies. And perhaps the strongest element in Hugo is the movie's message of keeping the art of films alive and not just in the physical sense. Once you see the gorgeously-rendered sequences featuring the restored actual footage of early films you'll understand why film preservation is important.
The production design, cinematography and visual effects are impeccable and makes the film a marvel to watch. I'm not a fan of 3D movies but I love how Hugo used it. In this film, the 3D effect was not just a gimmick of throwing objects in your face but it emphasizes the construction of images and its amazing dimensionality. In almost every frame, you'll be amazed of the depth depicted in the images on screen. The design of the train station, the railway's interior and the clockworks are mesmerizing. The movie is set in a romanticized version of Paris in the 1930s and it's absolutely a pleasure to watch. Hugo is a visual splendor and Scorsese did a terrific job directing it.
Despite some of my issues in the story, I'll still give Hugo my best rating possible. Why? Simply because this film moved me and for me the best works are the ones that inspire you to do something. I don't consider myself a cinephile, I'm more of your average casual movie lover but after watching Hugo, it left me a desire to learn more about the art of films and its rich history. 10 / 10