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Hugo (3D) (DQ)


Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emil Lager

Director: Martin Scorsese

Although it starts off as a Harry Potter-style fantasy adventure, Scorsese's richly textured film is more of a celebration of silent cinema innovations (in particular from the films of Georges Méliès) and of 3D. Scorsese's mastery of this is staggering: the three-dimensional work here is accomplished with far greater clarity, depth and effectiveness than in any other film to date.

Things are admittedly slow to start, though there's much to admire in the detail of the setting, examined in swooping camera shots; a huge French railway station in the early 1930s. Within its walls lives Hugo Cabret (Butterfield), an orphan of about 12 whose clockmaker father (Law) was killed in a fire. Now Hugo, whose drunken uncle (Winstone) has long since vanished, does that worthy's job keeping all the station clocks in good working order.

In his spare time, Hugo works on the automaton that was all he managed to rescue from his father's possessions. Stealing from the station's food vendors, Hugo's in constant danger of capture from the station inspector (Baron Cohen, a little too far over the top), who has a metal leg, but would use his rottweiler to bring down Hugo if he could find him, before packing him off to an orphanage,

Befriended by Elizabeth (Moretz), Hugo finds she's the granddaughter of the toyshop owner (Kingsley), from whom Hugo also steals - cogs and spindles for his automaton. Together they sneak into a cinema that's showing a tribute to silent movies, something that inspires them to go to the local library, whose custodian (an ageless Lee) directs them to a book on the history of the cinema (we see some delightful clips from same), whereupon Elizabeth reveals that her grandfather's name is Méliès...

How Hugo tries to make the automaton work, cling to the hands of a clock in Harold Lloyd fashion while evading Baron Cohen, and try to persuade Kingsley (the spitting image of the real thing) to relive his past, form the hub of a film whose technical qualities slightly outweigh its entertainment value.

Thus kids may get a bit restless at times, although Méliès' array of dragons, rockets and skeletons in his movies should liven them up towards the end. And, of course, the film is of inestimable value in presenting Mélies' work, much of it in hand-tinted colour, to a generation who will have never even have heard of him.

Butterfield is resolute and fine as the boy, while Moretz's English accent is well-nigh perfect, even if it does seem to have stemmed from a study of Hayley Mills. One could be picky and ask where Hugo gets all his clothes from, but hey, perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the show.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/France 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Technicolor.
126 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Dec 2011