Martin Scorsese doing a kids movie? What's the world coming to? Well, for starters, "Hugo" is not a kids' movie. Yes, it stars a pair of kids, and its based on a kids' book,, and it's devoid of violence, sex and coarse language, but it's unlikely that "Hugo" will speak to kids.
Based on Brain Selznick's award-winning children's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," the film tells the story of young Hugo (Asa Butterfield), the orphaned son of a watchmaker who has been living in the walls of a Paris metro station since his father's death. Hugo's sole link to his father is an old automaton (that's a robot for those of you born after 1980) that his dad discovered one day in a warehouse, sending the boy on a quest to unlock the robot's secret.
Scorsese wastes no time taking the new 3D technology out for a spin, treating us to a long tracking shot that comes down out of the sky, through the window of the train station, down along the tracks through throngs of people and into the marketplace where most of the action takes place. And that rush of magic carries you forward for a while. Watching Hugo (Asa Butterfield) being chased through the station by the Inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) for the first time, one might be reminded of De Niro scampering through the bar in "Mean Street," but by the fifth chase between the two, the novelty has worn off.
Sadly, the first half of "Hugo" is a crushing bore, as Hugo and his new friend, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) exchanging overlong, overly dramatic pauses, the plot moves forward at an almost imperceptible pace, obvious questions are left unasked.
It's not until the film's a second half, when Scorsese finally gets around to connecting the dots that "Hugo" develops any emotional depth, which makes a certain amount of sense, as it's in the second hour that "Hugo" touches on Scorsese's real interest in the story. Without giving too much away, "Hugo" ends up being a love letter to the power of film and one of the form's first greats, as well as a call to arms for the preservation of film. In addition to being one of the greatest film directors ever, Scorsese has also be a tireless champion of preserving the old and endangered prints of days gone by, pouring millions of dollars and countless hours into the cause. So this is a cause dear to his heart.
"If you're ever wondering where dreams come from, look around, this is where they're made."
You can be reasonably sure that it was that line in Brian Selznick's award-winning book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," that inspired Martin Scorsese to adapt it into a film.
But it's too little too late, and as moving as it is, "Hugo" ends up feeling a bit like sitting through a really good History of Film 101 lecture, as opposed to a great story.