The man responsible for Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and GoodFellas has tackled his first family film. Not only that: it’s in 3-D, and a must-see for anyone who loves cinema.
From the absurdly flamboyant opening shot onwards, it shows Martin Scorsese in his prime, making a movie he cares about passionately.
Though aspects of the film are evocative of Tim Burton (especially the love of old-fashioned machinery) and Terry Gilliam (notably an affection for the ramshackle side of showbiz), this is recognisably a Scorsese film, and one of his best.
The film, written by John Logan and based on a Carnegie prize-winning novel by Brian Selznick, is ostensibly a child’s adventure about a young orphan called Hugo (Asa Butterfield, from The Boy With Striped Pyjamas) struggling to survive within a French railway station, where he’s been dragged as child labour by his uncle (Ray Winstone) after the untimely death of Hugo’s dad (Jude Law).
Abandoned by his uncle to live – literally – inside a gigantic clock beneath an ominously large pendulum, Hugo steals in order to survive, which brings him into conflict with one of the station’s stallholders, bad-tempered toymaker Georges (Ben Kingsley), though Hugo manages to make friends with Georges’ orphaned niece (Chloe Grace Moretz).
The station is awash with talented British character actors including Sacha Baron Cohen as an officious but comically inept railway inspector, Emily Mortimer as the florist he fancies, Christopher Lee cast against type as a friendly bookseller, and an unlikely pair of tentative lovers in Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour.
Unlike most 3D movies, Hugo was shot using 3D not as a money-making gimmick but as a storytelling device, to add height, depth, humour and intensity.
Another virtue is that the picture shows a fascination with early cinema that’s joyful and infectious.
And it has a worthwhile lesson about the importance of preserving old film for future generations, that I know is close to Scorsese’s heart.
Hugo has a magic that’s rare in modern movies. This is a real Christmas charmer, and easily the most gorgeous live-action movie ever made in 3D.