There are certain films that are so very festive, without being about Christmas. These movies are heart warming, enchanting and ones I watch every December. The Narnia trilogy is probably top of the list, Enchanted immediately after those; there’s something about family films that emit a seasonal magic that works especially well in winter. Hugo, the highly anticipated new release from cinematic genius Martin Scorsese, is a new edition to this list; not just because it was released on the run up to the holidays.
Hugo, set in 1930s Paris, tells the tale of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who, following the sudden death of his clockmaker and film enthusiast father (Jude Law, minus the annoying snaggletooth he sported in Contagion), is forced to live and work with his uncle (Ray Winston). As his guardian spends most of the time in a drunken stupor, Hugo inherits his job maintaining clocks at the railway station where they live. The film explores the lives of the station workers, in particular Papa George (Ben Kingsley): a toy shop owner whose granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz) becomes close friends with Hugo.
Even though the trailer does hint that it’s a magical film, it doesn’t quite do the movie justice. It shows glimpses: the ‘wind up figure’ (automaton), the railway station and an adventure; although these are all central elements of the movie, Hugo is so much more. There are secrets to be discovered, magical movies to be uncovered and engaging relationships to savour. The characters are likeable, making it easy to empathise with them, something that is difficult to do well. Admittedly, Mortez’s Isabelle does grate a little in her quest for secrets and adventures. Her enthusiasm is easily excused as it blends in nicely with the cinematic, extraordinary atmosphere of Hugo.
As I’ve said before, 3D cinema can be very hit or miss. Sometimes it is done brilliantly (in animation especially, like Arthur Christmas), but more often than not it is poor (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in particular); unfortunately, 3D is another money making gimmick utilised by big studios. Hugo is an exception to this rule: it is my favourite 3D film, ever. It doesn’t have the same overwhelming effect some CGI movies do; it simply adds to the overall magic: what could be more captivating than snowflakes falling from a fictional sky in the cinema! It emphasises the beautiful colour schemes: golden hues and vibrant blues that contrast with the grey of the city, making Paris look so dreamy that it doesn’t look real. Possibly my favourite scene of Hugo features Inspector Gustav, played brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen, in a unique and marvellous piece of cinematography. The station master, who has a habit of sniffing out orphans such as our protagonist, interrogates Hugo in such a menacing fashion his face fills the entire screen. This effect becomes more threatening when his face pears out from the constraints of the screen, into the audience itself. It certainly had me cowering into my seat both amused and horrified.
Without a doubt Hugo is one of my favourite films of 2011. Whilst it is not necessarily a movie for children despite its low certification; it is most definitely for all the family, and one older children will enjoy. Endearing, heart warming with a hint of education it is certainly best seen at the cinema. Whilst seeing Hugo from your sofa would be comfortable, it would lack the electric atmosphere provided by accompanying audience members. After all, it’s a film about the magic of cinema, so why not see it in all its glory.