Though “Hugo” may not have won the coveted Oscar statuette for “Best Picture” at this year’s Academy Awards, this magical and enchanting film is well worth renting if you missed it in theaters. The movie is a whimsical visual treat, and it also serves as director Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the art of film.
“Hugo” is based on Brian Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and follows a homeless orphan boy who lives in a train station in Paris in the 1930s. He has to steal food in order to eat, and he maintains all the clocks at the station, a job his uncle had before abandoning him. Hugo misses his father terribly, who was killed in a tragic fire, and the only possession he has left to remind him of his father is a broken automaton, a robot-like machine that can write a message once it is wound up and unlocked with a special key.
While on his quest to repair the automaton, Hugo meets a plucky girl named Isabelle whose godfather works at a toy shop in the train station. When he discovers Isabelle has the key to unlock his automaton, the two begin to unravel a mystery that will change both their lives. In the end, Hugo finally finds a home, and he and Isabelle bring hope to a sad, lonely artist and film maker who feared his life’s work had been forgotten.
“Hugo” may be a children’s film, but like another recent film in a similar spirit — “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” — it can just as easily be enjoyed by adults. The cinematography in “Hugo” is lovely, and the film features a nice opening sequence where the camera sweeps the audience through the train station and then follows Hugo’s journey behind the scenes through the inner workings of the station’s clocks. The overview shots of Paris, with its hundreds of twinkling lights dancing in the dark, are also breathtaking, and an incredible amount of detail has been captured in the film’s sets.
Although the film features strong performances by several well-known actors, such as Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee and Jude Law, the film’s true stars, and the ones who give the film its heart, are the young actors who play Hugo and Isabelle. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Isabelle as a precocious but sweet idealist who loves to use big words, and Asa Butterfield as the lonely orphan Hugo breaks viewers’ hearts with just one look from those sad, blue eyes.
“Hugo” wasn’t a huge box office success when it was released in theaters, which I think is sad because it’s a lovely film with a nice underlying message about the importance of preserving older films and saving them from decay — and also honoring the artists who created them.
Recently our media- saturated culture has become a hot topic, and people are questioning if maybe we consume too much media and if maybe all this entertainment isn’t good for us. While I think there’s some truth to this, I also think that movies — at least the really good ones — aren’t just mindless entertainment: They’re works of art. Older film classics such as “Casablanca” and newer ones like “Inception” are as much works of art as paintings hanging in a museum. In the best films, plot, dialogue, characters, costumes, music and sets all come together to tell (and show) a great story, one that stretches our imaginations and inspires us to think and to dream. There’s a certain magic in sitting in a darkened theater and watching the curtain go up before we watch a movie — and it’s that magic “Hugo” captures so well.