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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

Hugo 3D (GK Films, Paramount, 2011)

Hugo is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a children’s book. Set in a train station in Paris, Hugo begins with a young boy running up and down stairs working on all the clocks. But this is no ordinary train station. It has clocks all over the place. The boy lives in the walls and keeps the clocks running. His name is Hugo Cabret.

In between winding and setting clocks, Hugo works to repair a mechanical man, called an automaton. When fixed, its mechanical arm will write something on the pad in front of it. But Hugo needs parts to fix the automaton.

He gets them by stealing in the train station, mainly from an old man and his toy booth. The old man has a god-child, a girl about Hugo’s age, who comes in once in awhile with books in her hand. There are other characters who spend a lot of time in the train station, including a flower girl, the Station Inspector, a woman with a dog, and a man who reads the paper every day. The train station is a social gathering place, with musicians, shops, and restaurants.

What is this strange machine Hugo works on? Where are his parents? The movie begins mysteriously. Eventually we learn that Hugo’s Father found the broken automaton in a museum in Paris and left it for Hugo to finish. Now an orphan, Hugo is in danger of being picked up by the Station Inspector, a mustached war veteran with a spring loaded leg.

The old man at the toy store, Georges Melies, finally catches Hugo stealing and manages to confiscate his book of drawings of the automaton. Not only was this a keepsake from his father, Hugo needs it to guide him in his repair project.

But old Georges is mysteriously affected by the drawing book, and threatens to burn it. Hugo finds a somewhat ally in Georges’ god-child, Isabelle, and they attempt to get the drawing book back.

That’s the basic setup for a tale that was nothing like I expected. This is no Narnia or Harry Potter, where the fate of the world is at stake. Hugo is simply the story of a boy, a train station, and Paris at the turn of the Century. Yet it is much more, because there is a great deal of historical truth mixed in with Hugo’s story, including real people and a back story that is as poetic as it is true. And magic. Oh, yes, because Georges Melies was once a real life stage magician.

There’s a whole lot of computer graphics here. But its all part of the fabric of a wonderful children’s book, mixed seamlessly with unforgettable characters. The cast is perfect, with Ben Kingsley as Georges, Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector, Chloe Moretz as Isabelle, and Asa Butterfield as Hugo. There are also cameos by Christopher Lee and Jude Law and others you’ve seen in other movies.

Martin Scorsese, who put Hugo on film, is a director’s director. Every frame is planned and echoes the magic of the book. As for presentation and 3D, Hugo is yet another example of using the medium to its fullest. Scorsese doesn’t miss a chance to pull us into his version of storybook Paris, taking us up and down and all around the train station at dizzying speeds.

The movie is rated PG for a museum fire and safety violations (Hugo gets much to close to moving machinery.) But I would have given it a G rating. Adults and children alike will find Hugo fascinating. Enjoy.