‘Hugo’ symbolizes a love letter to cinema-goers

Dec. 12, 2011

April Wefler
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Let me take you back to a simpler time: 1930s Paris. It’s a year after the Great Depression, and a little boy is staring into a train station from the inside of a clock. This is how “Hugo,” a film directed by Martin Scorsese, begins.

“Hugo” wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be Victor Hugo’s journey through writing “A Hunchback of Notre Dame,” similar to that of Johnny Depp’s “Finding Neverland.”

Instead, I learned that “Hugo” has nothing to do with Victor Hugo but enjoyed the movie regardless.

“Hugo” tells of a young Parisian boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). Hugo lost his father in a fire and was forced to live with his drunken uncle, rather than be put in an orphanage.

He left his decent surroundings and moved into the train station where his uncle worked. He was taught how to fix the clocks in the train station and so when his uncle left, Hugo continued fixing clocks.

The cinematography is beautiful. When the camera first pans through the train station and then zooms in on the boy watching from inside a clock, it almost appears as if the movie is animated.

There was some slapstick humor that I felt wasn’t needed. The station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) makes it his mission in life to find thieving orphans and send them to the orphanage.

When Hugo narrowly escapes the inspector, the inspector gets his leg caught on a train and is dragged through the train station. I felt situations like this were only included because of Cohen’s notorious humor.

But the slapstick scenes were completely unnecessary – “Hugo” isn’t about the inspector’s life.

The story is primarily about Hugo’s desire to fix things. Before his father (Jude Law) died, the two were trying to fix an automaton, or robot, that a museum didn’t want.

Hugo steals pieces from the train station toy booth to try to fix the machine, hoping it will have a message from his father. The old man who works at the toy booth, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), catches him stealing.

Méliès forces Hugo to work for what he stole and takes his notebook. If he wants his notebook back, he has to do whatever Méliès has him do in the toy booth.

Méliès’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), gets the notebook back for Hugo and ends up helping Cabret fix the automaton.

The automaton draws a picture which leads Hugo and Isabelle to learn that Méliès was a former important name in film history. “Hugo” then becomes a beautiful love letter to the history of the cinema.

For example, the first film in history is shown within “Hugo,” which depicts a train that the viewers believed was going to run them over.

Both Kingsley and Butterfield do a good job in their roles, especially Butterfield. Moretz played the part of Isabelle well, but her performance wasn’t stellar.

I found the film history the most enjoyable part of “Hugo.” I also liked that Hugo’s desire to fix things and Méliès’ broken spirit intertwined, which later helped both characters.

The ending is cheesy, but it’s the perfect movie to see with the family over the holidays.