Upon entering the Barn in Dartington, I had a sense of trepidation about what I was letting myself in for with Hugo, a family film from the director of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. But I needn’t have been concerned, despite a cumbersome first half, Martin Scorsese delivers, if not quite a family film, then a film which is steeped in awe of the cinema and its majesty.
Fortunately, the Barn only projects it’s films in two-dimensions, so I didn’t have to endure the ‘wonders’ of 3D, even Martin Scorsese’s 3D. However, while watching the film it’s fairly easy to pick out where the 3D moments would be implemented; a swooping camera here, Hugo dodging between clockwork mechanics there, and even the old fluttering paper trick (which Spielberg recently put to use in Tintin). While I’ve not seen the 3D version yet, I cannot believe it adds anything of substance, especially when Scorsese’s fluttering paper, looks 3D when it is in fact 2D -oh the revolutionary joys of depth of field!
The titular Hugo (Asa Butterfield) secretly maintains the clocks in a railway station, while avoiding the attention of an over-zealous station guard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who has a chip on his shoulder about orphans. We learn that Hugo’s father (Jude Law) perished in a fire at the museum where he worked. Since then Hugo has practically been fending for himself, while attempting to restore an automaton, which him and his father had been rebuilding. But, Hugo only achieves this with the help of Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), however, this in-turn unlocks another secret.
Personally, the first half of the film felt a little tedious, but once Ben Kingsley’s character is introduced the film begins to morph into something entirely different. I suspect the film’s saccharine first hour, featuring daring adventures and chases is there to dazzle and captivate the younger audience members, before the film dramatically changes gear and begins its metamorphosis. This trick obviously worked, because the children in the screening I attended remained captivated throughout.
The film’s second half is where Scorsese really comes alive, with explicit references to the LumiÃ¨re brothers, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s. Without spoiling anything, few directors have the opportunity to share their knowledge of cinema, or enthusiasm and passion for the medium, but Scorsese achieves this magnificently and all while weaving a narrative. Hugo features fine performances from the young and the not so spritely and while it might not be the ‘family film’ many expect, it is without a doubt, a joy to behold.