Martin Scorsese walks mean streets, so why is he directing a family film in 3D? Glad you asked. Scorsese’s rapturously beautiful Hugo only appears to be outside his wheelhouse. Film history is part of Scorsese’s DNA. His passion flows through this tale of Hugo (the extraordinary Asa Butterfield), a 13-year-old orphan who lives behind the clock in a Paris train station in 1931.
Based on the Caldecott-winning children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (cousin of Hollywood titan David O. Selznick), the film – vividly adapted by John Logan – emerges as a spectacular adventure for film lovers of all ages. In a twist on Treasure Island, Hugo discovers his prize in the form of a reclusive film pioneer, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley, in a superbly nuanced performance), who runs the station’s toy booth. It’s Hugo, with the help of Isabelle (a lovely, eager Chloë Moretz), who reintroduces Méliès to life and art. How? I wouldn’t begin to spoil the fun. I will say that in Scorsese’s hands, 3D becomes an art. With the help of the gifted cinematographer Robert Richardson and editor supreme Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese sweeps us headlong into the action as Hugo runs rings around the stationmaster (a hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen) and sneaks us into the station’s secret corridors and inside the clock, with its jaw-dropping view of Paris.
Best of all, Scorsese re-creates the early days when Méliès, a former magician, crafted hundreds of films, many starring his wife, Jeanne (Helen McCrory), in a glass studio, building wonders out of his own sense of playful design. Scorsese builds Hugo in the Méliès manner, creating a complete, ravishing Parisian world on a soundstage in England and reveling in the sheer transporting joy of it. Hugo will take your breath away. It truly is the stuff that dreams are made of.