Director Martin Scorsese’s latest film, “Hugo,” is like something from a dream. The film provides new insight into the magic of the motion picture.
Following the story of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a 12-year-old orphan living in the walls of a clock tower in a train station in post-World War I Paris, Scorsese weaves a magical tale about finding purpose in the world. After the death of Hugo’s father (Jude Law) in a fire, Hugo adopts his father’s pet project, repairing a broken robot that could handle paper and pen. The robot becomes a way for Hugo to connect with his father — naively believing if he can fix the machine, perhaps he can find what he lost.
The scenes are shot in small vignettes, and from the first scene, “Hugo” captivates viewers with the sound of ticking clocks over a beautiful aerial view of snowy Paris. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is stunning as the camera zeroes in on the minor cadences of the train station. The vignettes include the romance and courtship of Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths), the bumbling awkwardness and patrols of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who harbors a crush on a florist (Emily Mortimer).
There’s also the friendly camaraderie between Hugo and Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of a toy repair shop owner who craves adventure. Though each cut may seem insignificant by itself, the layers seem to comment on the nature of human connection. It’s beautiful and shows that the characters, like parts in a machine, are all linked.
The backbone of the movie’s breathtaking images and metaphors is the original score by composer Howard Shore. Shore is known for orchestrating the music in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Silence of the Lambs” as well as working with Scorsese on previous projects such as “The Departed” and “The Aviator.” In “Hugo,” Shore’s music effectively transports the viewer into the world of 1930s Paris. At times, the orchestra is whimsical, while at others it’s dramatic, but Shore’s composition creates the mood for romance and adventure. The music becomes the driving pulse of the movie — narrating the joys and tragedies — so that when the soundtrack stops for short scenes of dialogue, the absence is noticeable and compelling.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t have been such a success if not for the superb acting of the cast. Fourteen-year-old actor Asa Butterfield, known for his breakout role as Mordred in the BBC’s television show “Merlin,” is able to express emotions and evoke compassion from the viewer when tears well up in his eyes after remembering his father’s death, or when he’s shivering in shorts while marching in the snow after George Melies (Ben Kingsley), a world-weary toy repairman and one of the founding fathers of the motion picture.
The magic of “Hugo” lies in the blending of cinematic picture and sound with life lessons and worldly insights. The message, “Time is everything,” is echoed throughout the film, along with the overall theme of believing in dreams, magic and imagination — which is what seeing movies is all about.
“Hugo” was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan. It is based off the book by Brian Selznick.
4 out of 4 stars.