Watching HUGO

Less than a month ago I finished reading a fine book for younger readers, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” and gave it a glowing review. I’m happy to now be able to do the same for the film version, which Ellen and I saw yesterday.

Martin Scorsese has made a film that is quite faithful to the book by Brian Selznick, while enhancing that work in all the ways possible in a film. Visually it’s a rich, enveloping experience, drawing you into the world of Hugo Cabret: a huge, Baroque Paris train station in the 1920s. The sets, costumes and effects are wonderful. The cast is equally fine, highlighted by the star turns of Ben Kingsley as the toymaker, Asa Butterfield as the boy Hugo, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the stationmaster. The latter role has been expanded to take advantage of Cohen’s acting and comedic abilities, but in a way that fits perfectly into the story. Other characters have somewhat larger roles, including the other shop owners in the train station, and one character is missing: the boyfriend of the girl who befriends Hugo. No loss, and it gives a nice character part for Christopher Lee to fill in a few bits of plot.

The film develops a bit slowly at times, but I never felt bored or impatient. There were always great things to look at in every scene, and the slower pace gave me time to do that. The subplots involving a mechanical man or automaton, and pioneer filmmaker Georges Meliés were both handled with great care and obviously the love of Scorsese and everyone involved. The clockwork theme was artful and never overdone. The emotional story came through very well, with each character developing in our interest and involvement, until each found something they were looking for, even if they didn’t know what it might be. And there’s plenty of suspense and mystery as well, including some cool action including chases through the station and its secret passageways, plus an amazing train wreck. Really a fine film all around. I urge you to see it before it disappears!

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