On Saturday, I went to see Hugo by Martin Scorsese with our two boys and my Mom who is visiting from Germany. It was my Mom’s first 3D movie and she was thoroughly enchanted by the effects, reaching for floating elements several times and loudly oohing. The 3D was used well throughout and with only a few “poke at the audience” moments that all more or less worked. As an aside: I noticed that the 3D glasses these days are less strongly polarized than I remember them and the movie felt relatively bright throughout.
Both our boys had read Brian Selznick's book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and yet were thoroughly enthralled by the movie. Interestingly, neither of them realized that George Méliès was an actual historical figure. After watching the movie they still didn’t know but were thoroughly intrigued once I told them. Even without knowing this background, Hugo is a wonderful celebration of cinema that’s right up there with Cinema Paradiso.
One central idea for Hugo is cinema as both a manifestation and a source of dreams. This idea recurs throughout the movie for instance in the title of a scholarly book about early cinema, in an actual dream sequence and in a scene involving a clock that mirrors an iconic Harold Lloyd scene which appears as a film in the film earlier. There are also more subtle references such as a recurring scene of Hugo running through a corridor. I had just watched Inception again the night before and so that particular theme really resonated. Inception, like Hugo itself, is of course chock full of special effects which is what Méliès who was a trained magician had really pioneered.
Asa Butterfield in the title role of Hugo has amazing eyes reminiscent of Elijah Wood in Lord of the Rings but similarly registers more or less a single expression. Ben Kingsley is as per usual impressive as George Méliès — a man who has retreated into himself after being passed over by the very progress he helped create. Sacha Baron Cohen provides excellent comic relief as the overly strict and stiff Station Inspector with a secret.
Overall, one of the best movies I have seen with the kids in a long time. It works for both kids — based on enchantment — and for adults through the many references to movie making sprinkled throughout. Also, unlike the empty entertainment calories of so many kids movies, this one leaves a lot of lingering impressions and many points to revisit in subsequent conversation. When you go (if you haven’t done so already), see if you can spot the Scorsese cameo appearance (or — spoiler — see the image)!