Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011)

What's it about? Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the walls of a Parisien train station in the early 1930s, from where he keeps the clocks of the station running. An encounter with grumpy shop-owner (Ben Kingsley) sparks a journey of discovery which is linked to a mysterious clockwork automaton which Hugo has been patiently mending. Heartwarming stuff ensues. Yes, this is the same Scorsese who made Taxi Driver and Goodfellas.

Is it any good? A lovely little film. It's starts out as a kind of junior Hunchback of Notre-Dame as Hugo observes the goings-on in the station from his hideouts behind the clock faces, with a sprinkling of Amelie on top in its quirky character vignettes. However, the real focus of the film becomes apparent as the secret of the automaton is revealed and it becomes a celebration of the movies and the visionary pioneers of the art-form at the turn of the century. It's a tricky balancing act which runs the risk of losing its audience as it moves from family fantasy to heartfelt, but rather scholarly, lesson about the early days of cinema. Happily, some sensitive performances and a gentle feel-good factor keep it from becoming too boring or cloying, and it would be a hard heart that wouldn't indulge the film's nostalgic notions about the 'magic of the movies'. Hugo isn't perfect, but it is a lovely film about the love of films, assembled with loving care by a genuine film-lover. That's a lot of loveliness, admittedly, and Scorsese fans might prefer to see more hand-smashing than hand-holding. But in this cynical world we live in, maybe that's just what is needed. Besides, if you yourself do not buy into the idea of movies as escapism, then what are you doing watching them?

I don't trust you. What do others think? If ever a film was made to appeal to critics and film-lovers, this was it, as they congratulated themselves on recognising all the cine-literate references to early days of movie-making. As a result it turned up on many Top 10 lists of 2011 and featured heavily at awards season. General audiences weren't quite as effusive, put off a little by the gentle pacing, whilst Scorsese fans lamented the lack of people with their heads in a vice, but it still did good business thanks in part to its 3D format, which was employed to good effect.

Anything else I should know? It's easy to see why Scorsese was attracted to Hugo, as he has long stressed the importance of film preservation and restoration, founding the non-profit organization The Film Foundation in 1990 to do just that. For a little background homework, it's worth checking out some of those famous early films featured in Hugo, such as Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! (1923), The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896). Below is George Méliès' seminal A Trip to the Moon (1902), which was the first science-fiction film ever made. Modern eyes might find it rather silly to look at, but is it any sillier than, say, Transformers? What Hugo succeeds in showing is that as long as there are film-makers as inventive as Méliès, there'll be audiences happy to be seduced by the magic of the moves.

What does the Fonz think? A clockwork treat.

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