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Hugo - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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Copyright Paramount Pictures

Amongst all the Hollywood stories that are recycled, there are those rare films that breathe new life into the forgotten art of filmmaking. Released in early January is a film that does just that: Martin Scorsese's Hugo.

Set in Paris in the 1930s, a young orphan named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) begins to unravel a mystery involving his father's work on a strange robot that bears resemblance to the robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis [1927]. His father (Jude Law) dies suddenly, leaving him alone living behind the clock in the central railway station and constantly on the run from the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). He is also constantly at war with an ageing and bitter workshop man named George (Sir Ben Kingsley), but later discovers he is in fact George Melies, one of the most famous filmmakers to come out of the period when cinema was first born (he is probably most remembered for A Trip To The Moon [1902]). Hugo, along with his new-found friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) then embark on a journey of discovery into the origins of cinema and many silent-era films that were thought to be lost at the time.

Based on the novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, this is a wonderful adventure story that is fun for the whole family and is clearly made by someone who has a very deep love, respect and passion for the art of cinema and where it comes from. Shot in 3D it is one of the best showcases of the technology yet (James Cameron, director of Avatar [2009], even said it was used better than in that film). The production design is authentic, elaborate and simply beautiful, with an array of actors both young and old becoming a part of the magic (including a special appearance from Christopher Lee who we haven't seen in many films the last few decades). Butterfield is wonderfully adorable as the young and innocent Hugo, holding his own against a heartened turn for Kingsley. As Hugo and Isabelle become engulfed in their own fascination with cinema, we are transported back to our childhood because we become fascinated also. With many nods to classic silent films through transitions and animatronic techniques, it also splices in excerpts of silent-era films with A Trip To The Moon as the centre-point which is absolutely magnificent.

However at a runtime of two hours, it is a little drawn out in the middle act and is more idealistic than cohesive in terms of its plot. Perhaps Scorsese lost himself in the material so much he momentarily forgot the story he was telling because minor characters are introduced but not explored, begging the question "what's the point?". But being it is a nice change of pace for him as a director, Hugo is a unique journey of pure beauty, capturing the true meaning of 'movie magic'. An absolute spectacle.

**** out of *****

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Why? A return to the roots of cinema
When: USA - 23 November 2011, UK - 2 December 2011, Australia - 12 January 2012
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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