Hugo, by famed director Martin Scorsese, is first and foremost a creation of great beauty.
Filmed in 3D, which is used to great effect to draw us into the magical world of 1920s Paris, and specifically the Gare Montparnasse, where an orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) scurries around, sight unseen fixing the clocks which dominate the massive railway station. Naturally he is pursued at every opportunity by a nemesis, the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), whose entire sense of self worth is invested in discharging his duties as the upholder of the law. For both of them, the Gare Montparnasse is the beginning and the end of their worlds, the place they’re safe, after both have suffered traumas that have caused them to retreat from the world of large.
Of course, in a movie that looks and feels like a fairytale sprung to glorious technicolour life, their small flawed worlds don’t stay that way for long. For the station inspector, this revolves mostly around wooing the flower seller, Lisette (Emily Mortimer) but for our protagonist, Hugo, the tableau opens far wider, and far more gloriously, after what seems to be a disastrous development – being caught thieving from the shop of George Melies, once an innovative and legendary film maker, now simply a shopkeeper selling small clockwork toys.
While the man, who is simply called Papa George for much of the film, immediately brands Hugo a thief, and takes away a beautiful notebook that Hugo guards with his life (the only thing he has left of his father, played by Jude Law, along with an automaton they were both fixing when his father died), this traumatic event opens up a whole new world of possibilities for both characters.
This happens largely through the intense friendship Hugo develops with the girl who is revealed to be Papa George’s god daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). She agrees to help save the notebook from the fire, but only if Hugo takes her on a grand adventure.
It turns out to be the grandest adventure of both their lives. Secrets are revealed, lives are restored to their full glory, and people who were searching for a purpose and a sense of who they are, find that happy endings are possible. It’s all done though in a way that isn’t mawkishly sentimental, or so corny you can make popcorn from it; rather the emotional interactions are believable, the discoveries poignant, and the redemption of flawed and broken people heartwarming.
Best of all, it is told in a style that is utterly engaging. You are drawn fully and completely into the small busy world of Gare Montparnasse almost from the start as one continuous camera shot takes you along a platform, bustling with passengers and then into Hugo’s furtive, hidden world, which opens up to reveal a station of people all searching for somewhere to belong. Scorsese, a master film maker if ever there was one, evokes a visual style that is lush and light-filled when it needs to be, and a closed and dark at others. But whatever the mood being evoked, it is never less than all engrossing, and you feel like you are walking through the world these fully 3D characters, in every sense of the word, inhabit.
It is world you are loathe to leave, so beguiling is it, but when you are forced to leave it behind, it is with a skip in your step, and a song in your heart, as all of the characters, through trial and tribulation, bravery and emotional leaps of faith, find some form of the happy ever afters that all of us, after all, seek.
Hugo is a delight and a triumph, both visually and emotionally a movie of great beauty and one that will delight anyone who believes life can snatch hope and redemption from the jaws of grim reality.