Hugo (2011)

Hugo (2011)
  • Time: 126 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | Family
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Cast: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen


Hugo is an orphan boy living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. He learned to fix clocks and other gadgets from his father and uncle which he puts to use keeping the train station clocks running. The only thing that he has left that connects him to his dead father is an automaton (mechanical man) that doesn’t work without a special key which Hugo needs to find to unlock the secret he believes it contains. On his adventures, he meets with a shopkeeper, George Melies, who works in the train station and his adventure-seeking god-daughter. Hugo finds that they have a surprising connection to his father and the automaton, and he discovers it unlocks some memories the old man has buried inside regarding his past.


  • It’s 1930’s Paris in the winter. Smoke puffs out of fireplaces, and the large clock of the train station clicks on. A boy, probably 10 years of age, peeks out of a hole between the 3 and 4 on the clock’s face, and he energetically climbs down to the station floor. He steals a piece of bread, and then he sees it. There is an older man sitting at the counter of a small shop, and he’s dozing off. The boy sneaks up to the counter, and just as he grasps a mechanical mouse on the counter, the old man’s hand descends upon the boy’s, and we learn that this is not the first time such an instance has occurred. “What’s is your name, thief?” the old man asks. With a sob, the young boy replies, “Hugo Cabret.”
    As the camera follows young Hugo back to his “home”, we see that he is a lonely orphan, and his only companion, if one my call it such, is a automaton that is missing a piece from his late father. However, this loneliness all changes when he meets young Isabelle, the goddaughter of the same old man who owns the toyshop. An avid book enthusiast, Isabelle has always wanted to have her own grand adventure, and she seeks to help Hugo not only find the missing piece to his automaton, but the orphan’s life as well. Little to the children’s knowledge, the automaton will simply be the beginning to the discoveries to come.

    Though on the surface this film appears to be a kids’ movie about an orphan and his broken automaton, it does not take long for this facade to disperse, and for the real object of interest: the imagination of film. Without giving away any spoilers, the art and magical nature of cinema ends of being a major theme of this film. The story takes us back to the very first films by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895, and it carries us into cinema’s deepest roots, back when there were no movie stars, no audible dialogue, and any color was hand-tinted by the director. The art of classic films is explored, and the imaginative nature behind them is displayed for all.
    In terms of genre, this film was a jump for director Martin Scorsese. As a man whose films usually revolve around the Italian society, primarily the Mob, he has made a few attempts to stray from this preconception, and this is one of his finest in doing so. This film was his first endeavor into completely digital filmmaking, and he brings his signature cinematography to the modern medium. In numerous interviews, Scorsese had said that this was his “love-letter to film.” As he made this film, the director takes us into his heart that still beats with the joy that he felt as a young boy when he would go to the cinema.
    As one may assume, this film received quite a bit of critical acclaim. Though nominated for 9 Oscars, most notably Best Picture, Hugo came home with 5 awards: Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. I for one believe that this is only of Scorsese’s best films from a cinematography standpoint.
    My few negative points are quite trifling, yet bear with me. I did not like how the setting is Paris, France, and yet the characters all have British accents. I know that this is trivial, but it did catch my attention. Secondly, I did not like how the story only shows Hugo’s father for such a short moment, and the father’s death is too quickly shown. I understand that the film was made with children as the audience, yet I still feel that they should have lingered a bit longer. Though it is rated PG, and the titular character is a child, this film can apply to nearly anyone. The art of the moving picture has somewhat lost its credibility, and it takes a film like this to remind us of that.

    I fully recommend this film to anyone who is a cinefile like myself, and the negative parts are like single frames in the rolls of film that put together this movie.

  • When an old master like Martin Scorsese, who has directed some of the greatest films in traditional celluloid, decides to embrace 3-D technology in his new film, you have to sit up and take notice.

    This is a man who has been at the forefront of cinema appreciation, preservation, and expression for the last four decades. This is a man who has made unforgettable American classics like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Goodfellas (1990). This is a man on a creative roll since the turn of the century, with films like Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), and Shutter Island (2010).

    Hugo sees Scorsese challenging himself in new ways. How do you make a 3-D film that is not a fantasy, science-fiction, or horror film? How do you use 3-D to tell a story, as opposed to using a story to show 3-D? Scorsese answers these questions with aplomb.

    At its heart, Hugo is a story about dreams. An orphaned boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a train station winding clocks for a living. His late father has left behind an automaton, a self-operating device that holds key to the mystery of the magic of cinema. Set in the early 20th century Paris, Hugo is a heartwarming and nostalgic trip back to where dreams were born.

    Dreams come from the movies. And this is where Scorsese’s genius lies. He uses the most accessible of modern screen technologies to draw mainstream viewers into the world of early cinema, equipping them with the most basic knowledge of cinema’s origin, while at the same time, mirroring the dreams of filmmakers working in the new medium with that of a young boy, whose father used to take him to the movies.

    Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley), the founding father of the “cinema of dreams”, is given major screen time here. But it is his personal story of lost dreams that will touch your heart, so is Hugo’s determination to thaw a cold heart.

    Hugo’s use of 3-D is absolutely stunning, the best thus far, and even more polished than James Cameron’s groundbreaking Avatar (2009). Despite all the technical wizardry, Hugo is also a brilliant period piece that could be appreciated on an artistic level, scoring huge points for cinematography, art direction, and costume design.

    The entire film feels and looks like a fairy tale, but the story and characters are grounded in reality, and this is what pulls us into their reality, which is a unique composition of fictional and nonfictional elements. Howard Shore’s classy Amélie and Ratatouille-inspired score ties everything together in an experience that will be remembered for years.

    Scorsese’s tribute to Méliès is as reverential as it is personal. Without Méliès, there would be no Hugo. The French pioneer allowed people to dream with his movies, and after more than a hundred years, cinema still allows us to dream.

    Scorsese’s brand of cinema has often been hard-hitting and in-your-face in the past, but here he sends us a meaningful love letter. It is a love letter to all film lovers. And it is one we accept with gratitude. Hugo is a film in search for an appreciative audience. And it will find you, if you let it.

    Verdict: Scorsese’s brilliant love letter to the film lover.

    GRADE: A

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