Sunday, November 27, 2011


Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" is a film rich in surprises. Buried beneath dazzling 3D effects, beautiful 1930-ish Paris locales, and charming children lies a heartfelt work about a topic near and dear to all classic film lovers  - our never-ending enchantment with movies and the very serious importance of film preservation. 

Based upon the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," by Brian Selznick, "Hugo" tells a fanciful story of an orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. After his father dies in a fire, Hugo is taken by his brutish uncle to live with him at the station where he maintains the clocks. After the uncle disappears, Hugo continues to maintain the clocks in the station. His days consist of working the clocks, stealing food to survive, dodging the Station Master (who lives to send children to the orphanage) and fixing a machine called an "automoton" - a broken mechanical man whose message Hugo hopes will bring him closer to his dead father. Through some botched attempts at thievery, he comes in contact with a crusty old Toy Seller at the station who makes life miserable for the adorable blue-eyed Hugo by taking possession of the precious notebook that belonged to the boy's father. Luckily for Hugo, he strikes up a totally charming adolescent relationship with the Toy Seller's goddaughter, Isabelle. Isabelle offers to help Hugo retrieve his father's notebook from the Toy Seller and Hugo introduces Isabelle to the movies, something her godfather has forbidden. Through a very clever turn of events , we learn that this old curmudgeon is the great, and very forgotten, early French film maker, Georges Méliès. With the help of a kindly book seller, the children come in contact with a film historian who is fascinated with Méliès, and thus begins a rediscovery of those early masterful films and an appreciation of the master's art.

The early wizard of special effects, Méliès created hundreds of fanciful films that were an expression of his earlier work as a magician. Through trial and error, he discovered that cinema magic (though such techniques as time-lapse photography and multiple exposures) was much more potent than stage magic. Truly flights of fancy, the most enduring of all of his films is the 1910 "Trip to the Moon," with this iconic image:
What film lover does not know this image? And yet, in the 1920s and 1930s, when film preservation was not on the radar, only those who actually saw it so long ago remembered. World War I and the rise of Hollywood put an end to Méliès' magical studio. But magic it was.

Films were hand-tinted to an even more magical effect.

If you love movies, your heart will swell because, thanks to the intrepid children, Méliès is restored to his rightful place in cinematic history. The film also gives us a mini-history of early silents up until the glory days of Fairbanks and Chaplin. One of the most charming scenes in the film is one where Hugo and Isabelle, enraptured, watch Harold Lloyd hanging from that clock in "Safety Last."

Ironically, Hugo ends up in a similar situation. 

There are so many fun film references for the movie-lover here, including a Hitchcock-like cameo by the director.

The actors are all wonderful. Asa Butterfiled as Hugo makes an adorable orphan and Chloe Grace Moretz, as Isabelle, is just magnificent - an intrepid Nancy Drew with an Ingrid Bergman look. Sacha Baron Cohen, as the Station Master, is not only amusing, but also touching, and Sir Ben Kingsley gives depth and pathos to an almost broken man who, like his automoton, needs to be fixed.

Sir Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies

The real Georges Melies
Scorsese, who deserves his own revered place in film history, has painstakingly recreated Méliès' films and film making process. Dreams, Magic and Adventure are words that are often used in this film. They are words that accurately describe those early days of film, but still hold true today. Just as the earliest audiences ducked in their seats when they saw the image of an oncoming train on the screen, so, too, do modern audiences when the magical effects of 3-D are well done. Leave it to Scorsese to make the use of 3-D not only magical, but evocative.

Thank you, Martin Scorsese. Wrapped in a beautiful family film is the message all lovers of cinema long to hear: the past is the present and future and all that came before is precious and important.


Dawn said...

I just saw the movie trailer, I can not wait to see it. I think this film is going to be a huge hit. Thank you for spotlighing it

ClassicBecky said...

FlickChick, I had no IDEA this movie was about Melies and movies! I thought it was just a kid's movie and really didn't know anything about it. Why on earth didn't they advertise it the way you described it?! I really want to run to the theatre now! Good review, and I really appreciate the heads-up!

Edna's Place said...

Anyone wanting to see this film, should, since the box office is weak on it. With the Christmas movie season in full swing, it could get pulled off of smaller markets where it's not playing well, making room for other 3-D films.

Also, I have seen it shown in none 3-D form, for those wanting to see the film, but tight on cash, with the holidays and all. Any good story really doesn't need 3-D, even though this was made for 3-D. But that is your choice.)

But if you're interested in the film, surely check out the book. It's where all the great images in the film were inspired from. I'm checking it out myself. Could be a great Christmas gift for your kids, or the kid in you.

I read the book has a serious tone, which the film turned more slapstick.

FlickChick said...

@ Dawn: The reaction in the theater was very good - both young and old, it seemed, so I hope a lot of people do go see it.

FlickChick said...

@ Becky - at first I thought I had gone to the wrong theater and wandered into a kiddy movie. I think they are advertising it as a kids film because - truthfully, if the advertisement centered on Melies, probably not too many people would be interested.

FlickChick said...

@ Edna's Place - I think Scorsese tried to make a mainstream film that speaks to larger audience on this subject. I am not really a fan of 3-D, but here it is done beautifully and, I think, the trickery is Scorses's tribute to Melies (since MS is not really aspecial effects kind of director). There is some slapstick, not poorly done - mostly a whimsical story of the children whose story expands to include Melies.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I loved your rapturous review of HUGO! Although we of Team Bartilucci think 3-D is overrated, we definitely want to see HUGO; it looks as stunning and magical as I'd hoped it would, considering it's pretty much about Georges Melies (they did a great job of making Sir Ben Kingsley look like Melies, too!). Most likely we'll see it in a 2-D version, however, since A.) we haven't seen many 3-D films that weren't just as enjoyable in 2-D, and B.) 3-D movie prices are more expensive, and we're on a tight budget! :-)

FlickChick said...

Dorian - see it in 3-D if you can. It is Scorsese's homage to the special effects of Melies and it adds a great deal to the magical quality of the film.

Renée Hirshfield said...

@Edna’s Place: Actually, the box office on Hugo is pretty good. According to, its estimated weekend per-screen average is slightly higher than that of The Muppets. What makes its total gross look low is the fact that Hugo is only playing on 1,277 screens. By comparison, The Muppets is screening at 3,440 theatres.

FlickChick said...

Glad to hear that, Renee - I think old and young alike will enjoy this film. It is a Trojan horse in the sense that Scorsese hides his message in a family film. And the use of 3-D here is really a must. It is beautifully and artfully done and never used solely for "wow" factor (although you do find yourself going "wow" many times!).

FlickChick said...

Great review, SoberFilmCritic. I'll take fans over movie snobs any day - we are what make the magic!

VP81955 said...

With this and "The Artist," it looks to be a wonderful Christmas for those of us who love film history.

OT: Flick Chick, you've been selected by me to do the next leg of the second round of "Classic Film: Six Degrees Of Separation." Your assignment (speaking of legs) is to do the first part of connecting Carole Lombard to Goldie Hawn. Find out more at

Good luck!

FlickChick said...

@ Vince: can't wait to see "The Artist." As for the game - I'm on it.