By Valerie Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
The cinema is a place of wonder. Experiencing “Hugo,” even at the Chester 5, reassured me of film’s unique ability to stir wonder within our souls. Even before the movie began, the atmosphere buzzed with those sensations that we eagerly associate with a trip to the movies. The screen popped and crackled in preparation for the feature presentation. Popcorn shuffled from bag to hand to mouth. The projector whirred and the seats creaked with eager viewers. One of those seats, my seat, bobbed up and down ferociously as I struggled to contain my anticipation.
I first read Brian Selznick’s Caldecott award-winning book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” over the summer and was delighted to hear the magical story was to leap from page to screen. The book is a work of beauty, but it was little surprise to me that the story should dazzle through the medium of film.
“Hugo,” the abbreviated title, very closely follows Selznick’s original story. The orphan boy Hugo lives in the secret spaces of a bustling 1930s Paris train station. Though young, Hugo takes care of the station’s clocks while fixing the automaton his father left him. When Hugo is caught stealing parts for the automaton from a bitter toymaker, he begins to connect to a past rooted inexplicably with the history and appreciation of film.
Hugo discovers the world of real-life visionary Georges Méliès, whose 1902 film, “A Trip to the Moon,” serves an important place in the pioneering of film. He literally discovers Méliès in the quest to learn more about his father, but Méliès is a broken artist who has hidden his true passion for movies. With the determination that drives all of his actions, Hugo unlocks several secrets and helps to heal the more painful aspects of Méliès’s past.
Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” explores the magic of film with beautiful artistry. Though the plot is easy to follow, it is not simplistic. Nor does “Hugo” deserve the label of a children’s movie. Anyone who takes even the slightest delight in film should view “Hugo” as an example of craftsmanship and homage for the very beginnings of film. “Hugo” is more than heartwarming; it is vastly entertaining.
Asa Butterfield (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) delivers a strong performance as Hugo. Sir Ben Kingsley (“Schindler’s List”) gives life to the enigmatic and brilliant Georges Méliès. They are well supported by Chloë Moretz (“Let Me In”) as Hugo’s friend Isabella and Helen McCrory (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”) as Georges’ wife and muse. The supporting cast also glimmers with stars such as Jude Law, Christopher Lee, and Sacha Baron Cohen. Even the unnamed faces of the train station have impressive identities in the credits. Just try to find the executive-producer Johnny Depp; he’s there, I promise.
When the credits rolled to reveal these names, however, I was struck not only by the impressiveness of the cast, but more so by the much deserved tribute Scorsese gave to early filmmakers. The art of film holds unique challenges we often take for granted in our technologically savvy world. For the early filmmakers like Méliès, making a film really was a feat of magic. Their products, though perhaps less sophisticated to our modern eye, delivered the fantastic as reality.
At the end of “Hugo,” Méliès explains to a crowd of filmmakers, “If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around…this is where they’re made.”
On Jan. 26, “Hugo” received a staggering 11 Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director. Whether the film receives 11 Oscars or zero come Feb. 26 is inconsequential. What matters is a film’s effect on the audience, and the creators of “Hugo” take the audience through the vivid dream world of cinema.