(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 18 March 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: 4 stars
If you suffer from 3D fatigue, watch Hugo. If not, watch Hugo. Martin Scorsese’s foray into the third dimension celebrates film, and lovers of film. We’re pulled into frames, objects leap out at us, and we’re so totally absorbed that we’re unmindful of narrative structure, character exploration, and other intellectual mumbo-jumbo. This is pure cinema, a true spectacle.
Dizzying camera angles throw us into the heart of Paris, and pull us up into clock towers. Cinematography meets computer graphics to recreate a train station from 1931, where interlocking wheels seem as alive as the people and dogs that populate the platform. Through all this bustle, we meet the sad blue eyes of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) where we least expect to.
We’re swept along by the music as much as the camera, and are caught up in a tale so enthralling that we long for a fairytale finish. It takes us back to a time when we lost ourselves in vicarious adventures – when we climbed the Faraway Tree and met Moon-Face and Silky, when we closed our eyes and tasted Willie Wonka’s chocolate, when we sat on the Wishing Chair and staved off the vertigo, when we peeped over the edge of flying carpets at magical cities.
No wonder Scorsese chose Brian Selznick’s graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret for his maiden 3D venture. Set in the period when Scorsese himself was falling in love with cinema, Hugo has several themes close to Marty’s heart. And they’re so tightly woven together you aren’t sure what the main thread is. Is it about preserving film? About the salvation of an aging genius? About what war does to people and culture? Loneliness and companionship? Determination? Nostalgia? Is it a tribute along the lines of Cinema Paradiso? At its simplest, Hugo is about the fascination two people have for technology, and what you can do with it.
It’s a film that one must go into blind, because there are surprises both in its execution and storyline. Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz stand out among the formidable cast of veteran actors. They could be the least annoying children in film history. You actually don’t want to slap them for saying, “Being enigmatic really doesn’t suit you”. Sasha Baron Cohen in a tragicomic role as Station Inspector Gustave Dasté is nasty, goofy, poignant and hilarious when the script demands it. Watch out for his attempts at conversation. Even the minor characters, including guest stars Jude Law and Christopher Lee, seem integral to the story.
The Verdict: If trite lines make you well up at the cinema, you know the director’s won. This is one of Marty’s best.