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Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz,
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Running Time: 125 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic material,
some action/peril, and smoking.
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Reviewed by Chris Swanson

If you just looked at the trailers, you might think Martin Scorsese’s latest film was about nothing more than a little boy living in the clockworks at a train station in Paris , having magical, vaguely steampunk, Harry Potter style adventures. You’d be mostly wrong. Hugo is, instead, at its heart, a film that’s about films and the people who love them.

The main character is a boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who, like most of the French people in this movie, speaks with an English accent. He’s been living at the train station ever since his father (a clockmaker) died, leaving him an orphan in the care of his drunken uncle, who maintains all the clocks at the station.

Young Hugo takes over the job after his uncle disappears, though this is a secret that isn’t known to the station denizens, including the local police chief (Sasha Baron Cohen). He spends his spare time stealing food and occasionally swiping bits of clockwork from an old toy maker (Ben Kingsley). This goes well for him until one day when the toy maker catches him in the act, and finds a notebook on Hugo detailing a clockwork automaton that his father was working on repairing.

The toy maker goes a bit bonkers over this, and confiscates it, telling Hugo he’s going to burn it. Then his young goddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz, who thankfully doesn’t kill anyone in this film), takes pity on the boy and tries to help him out. They’re both surprised to realize that a key she wears around her neck fits into a keyhole on Hugo’s clockwork man. They’re even more surprised when the image the automaton draws is one of the Man in the Moon with a rocket sticking into his eye. That the girl’s godfather is named Georges might start to give some in the audience pause for thought.

I loved this film from start to finish, and it’s by far the best film I’ve seen this year. It really does have everything, and oozes a love of film like nothing I’ve seen in a long time. The power of film to move the audience is explored here in ways I’ve never seen before, and like any good movie, it does an excellent job of showing me things I’ve never seen before.

I also greatly enjoyed the fact that the movie takes time to slow down and explore all the supporting characters. The policeman, the flower girl, the newspaper seller, the woman at the café. They all get their own stories, and those add something wonderful to the film, and something sadly lacking in most movies that can’t wait to get to the next explosion and haven’t time for character development for their main characters, much less supporting ones.

The 3D effects must be addressed. I’m not a fan of 3D, not even remotely. I find it a distraction, for the most part, and generally regard it as a way for movie studios to pad out their profits. It’s generally unnecessary and adds nothing to the plot. Even in the best 3D film I’ve seen before this, Avatar, it wasn’t that much more than a gimmick, though one used to good effect.

In this film, though, it really does add something. It really does give a whole new dimension to the movie. I guess this isn’t a surprise with a filmmaker like Scorsese. In his hands, this isn’t a distraction, and it isn’t a gimmick. I’m willing to bet that the film is just fine without 3D, but with it, it really becomes something unique and fascinating. If all 3D films were this good, I’d be less unhappy with them.

Hugo is a masterpiece. Look for it to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and for Ben Kingsley as Best Actor. Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Also, this movie is doing very poorly at the box office, so if you can, go see it in the theaters. You’ll be happy you did.

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