Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo centers on its title character, a clockmaker’s son who lives within the walls of a railway station. Orphaned and abandoned, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) steals food to survive and filches mechanical parts to complete his father’s project, the restoration of a broken automaton. When toy merchant Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) catches him red-handed and takes a valuable notebook from him, a desperate Hugo turns to the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), for help. Together, they repair the automaton and discover its link to Georges’ secret past, opening up an adventure much bigger than the one they first imagined.
While Hugo generally sustains its fantastic veneer, ill-considered sequences at times break the illusion—the most jarring being a painfully blatant statement of theme. But despite such identifiable blunders, the movie leads you inside worlds far from familiar: gigantic clocks forming intricate mechanical lacework, books spiraling toward the ceiling, tiny toys lining a shop from end to end. In Hugo, your world is scaled down to one city, one train station—where your biggest enemy is the inspector, and the orphanage your worst nightmare. Visually, all this is rendered in spectacular 3D. The opening scenes take your breath away: the onrush of steam in your face, the crowd parting to let you pass—almost, almost like you’re really there. In a word: captivating.
Magnified to gorgeous proportions, Georges’ masterpieces compel the viewer to consider and appreciate the many layers at work in Scorsese’s fim. Although marketed as a heartwarming family drama, the movie’s principal accomplishments lie elsewhere. As a children’s movie, Hugo may fail to mesmerize very young audiences, but does wonders in capturing the hearts and minds of more mature viewers. Whatever the dissenting few may say, I consider this film a success in the seamless unification of its elements: an orphan searching for his father’s presence, an artist struggling to reconcile with a bitter past, and—between them—a mysterious, broken automaton carrying a crucial message. Apart from Butterfield’s inconsistent performance and some awkward exchanges between the two children, I have no real complaints. My eyes blurred over several times while watching this film—at times out of sadness, more often out of sheer awe. I am grateful to Maki for dragging me to its last screening in Metro Manila. Hugo in 3D is definitely something I would not have wanted to miss.
‘We could get into trouble.’ ‘That’s how you know it’s an adventure.’
‘Why should I believe you?’ ‘Because…because it’s true!’
‘If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, look around. This is where they’re made.’