In 1930s Paris, the orphaned Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives inside the walls of the tower clock of a busy train station, having learned how to keep the clocks running from his late father (Jude Law). When he discovers a mysterious automaton figure and meets a young girl Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), his journey of discovery begins. But he has to navigate the irritable shopkeeper of strange knickknacks, Georges (Benk Kingsley) and the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who sends orphans to the orphanage - and sets his dog Maximillian on them. Hugo manages to fix the old automaton, and is in for a surprise when he and Isabelle discover what it is capable of doing.
Review by Louise Keller:
A classic family tale with all the add-ons of 3D, this adaptation of Brian Selznik's children's novel about a young boy living within the inside workings of a railway station clock in Paris, is beautifully sculptured by Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker we would not expect to be making a film of this kind. Of course Scorsese is better known for films like Goodfellas and Gangs of New York, so it comes as a bit of a surprise, although less so when you learn that the essence of the story is about the love of cinema and film being the invention of dreams, a subject close to his heart. With its exquisite production design depicting the ambience and life at the 19th century Paris railway station, Scorsese creates a reality that we immediately embrace. Like the clock in the film, the film is a little mechanical and it drags in parts, but there are rich pleasures to be enjoyed from this beautifully crafted work.
There are many secrets in this story - which are all revealed in their own time. Central to the plot is Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), the orphan whose life is one big secret. He keeps under the radar, living behind the façade of the big railway station clock, through whose roman numerals he can see the arrondissements of beautiful Paris stretched out below. To survive, he has to steal food and also avoid the clutches of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, miscast), who has his own secrets and is on the lookout to round up stray orphans. But the story really begins when Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), the grumpy old man from the toy repair stall takes a precious notebook from the boy that belonged to his father (Jude Law) which contains sketches of an automaton, a robot with a purpose. Méliès' granddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) loves books and secrets and itches for an adventure to take her out of her sheltered life.
The film's strength is the wonderful contained reality that Scorsese creates in the railway station - by way of imagery and characters. There's a fat man with a beret always looking for an excuse to chat to the woman with a yappy dog. The Station Master with the squeaky leg brace (the fault of the war) is obviously smitten by the lovely flower-stall girl (Emily Mortimer) but is self-conscious and often comes to a squeaky halt. There are musicians too and a book-loving librarian who all form part of the community in the Station des Grandes Lignes.
Hugo's journey is a poignant one as he finds the purpose of his only friend, the automaton, which in turn leads him to a new life. Butterfield gives a splendid performance as the lonely boy and Moretz is enchanting as the little girl who sees Hugo's life through different eyes. The pronounced English accents bothered me a little, especially in such a French ambience (when all the signage and written material is in French), but we have to accept the obviously commercial decision taken by Scorsese although I would have preferred the accents to be more neutral.
The way Méliès' secret past is revealed is slow and clunky and there is a dip in the film when youngsters will become restless and adults will be gazing at their watches. But there are many lovely things in this film and it is easy to forgive its small shortcomings. There's a sense of wonder about the origins of cinema and the film's heart-warming resolution will uplift hearts of all ages.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is easy to see why Martin Scorsese fell in love with this book; at the core of the story of an orphan boy living inside a giant clock in a Paris train station, there is a large cinematic heart - the story of filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Scorsese is deeply involved in the preservation and restoration of old works, and here he is able to give full reign to his passion.
But it takes a while to discover this 'heart' as the film begins with the story of how Hugo (Asa Butterfield) survives in a dangerous world above the busy central station, where he has to maintain the clocks, the work of his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) is supposed to do.
Scorsese and his team do a wonderful job of the mis en scene, establishing a world full of characters and incidents as Parisians collide in commuting chaos. It's full of colour: the shop where Hugo gets into trouble, the florist where Lisette (Emily Mortimer) displays her fresh bunches, and the ever present figure of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who has a leg impediment (a war wound) and a matching limp in his personality, supported by his large watchdog, Maximillian. Cohen is responsible for the broader comedic elements in the film, presumably to amuse the younger audiences. It tends to jar with the rest of the film's sensibilities, but it does have a sweet payoff.
The story begins as an adventure, in which Hugo is encouraged by the spirited Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who turns out to have a link with Hugo's automaton - but neither of them know it.
To me, the film feels laboured and wooden - until the journey ends up at the story of Georges Méliès. This is where the Scorsese passion shows, and the film comes alive, in profound celebration of a great, inventive, pioneering force in cinema. We see the innocence and innovation, and together with the wondrous automaton, which has great appeal to younger audiences, as well as adults.
Never mind that the tone wavers and the pace is mostly plodding, the film champions all the right things and the beautifully crafted images (in 3D glory) leave a lasting impression.
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CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths
PRODUCER: Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King,
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
SCRIPT: John Logan (book by Brian Selznik)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Thelma Schoonmaker
MUSIC: Howard Shore
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2012
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