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MOVIE REVIEW: Hugo

Directed by Martin Scorsese

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“The movies are a gift,” says Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) to new found friend, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), as he attempts to describe his transcendent first experience with motion pictures. This blissful exchange is all about common ground, the idea that two people can share in the anticipation of a heightened experience. It's also one of the key moments in Martin Scorsese’s divine Hugo, the master American director’s first film shot using 3-D technology and a loving ode to the way we experience new forms of art.

Fittingly, Hugo takes the relationship between spectator and memory quite seriously. But it's not a great film merely because it celebrates the love of movies; it’s also the rare story whose characters desire an understanding of the inventions, history, mechanisms, and magic that defines the medium they cherish. In this sense, Hugo finds both it’s narrative threads and themes through the art of discovery, the demand for experimental expression.   

Hugo’s whimsical adventures stem from the inherent dangers and opportunities that his living situation in a French train station affords. Left alone to tend to the station clocks by his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) and recently killed father (Jude Law), Hugo wanders around the massive enclosed space scrounging for food and evading the local Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his loyal doberman. When Hugo gets caught trying to steal from a one of the many shop owners, a reclusive and mysterious toy salesman named George (Ben Kingsley), his world begins to open up beyond the confines of the train station.

Part of Hugo’s wonderful appeal is how Scorsese masterfully weaves his titular character's quest to complete a robotic automaton that his father began to build before his death with the aforementioned Isabelle’s discovery of cinema. Together, the children represent two different perspectives: the magic and mechanics of art. While much of Hugo's wonderment is captured via the densely layered Parisian locations, the characters themselves become moving parts in Scorsese’s massive sandbox of moving pendulums, ticking clocks, and flickering projectors. Even more impressive is how the 3-D adds depth and texture to the magical locations, really the first time in a while where technology and story, form and function match up perfectly.

As Hugo progresses, Scorsese unveils even more narrative surprises that ultimately connect Hugo and Isabelle with the origin of the medium itself, a sort of children’s film seamlessly mixing with a lovely film studies fable. By the end, each character finds their perfect place in time, their comfort zone to express themselves through whatever aspect of film they desire. It all makes for a lovely time at the movies, and Hugo will hopefully remind you why this art form is so important in the first place. The movies are indeed a gift.