Hugo follows the follies of a young thief named after the films title played respectably by Asa Butterfield. Besides being a small time crook, Hugo also maintains the clocks in the train station he calls home. He is doing so in replace of his uncle who has recently disappeared. It is later revealed that Hugo resides in the train station because of his father's untimely death in a museum fire and has unwillingly been placed in the care of his drunkard uncle. The only attachment Hugo has to anything of the past is though a small mechanical robot called an Automatron, which he steals pieces from in order to slowly rebuild the machine. Unfortunately, given that the pieces are so specific he is only able to steal from the resident toy seller Georges (Ben Kingsley) who eventually catches him in the act and attempts to turn him into the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who finds an unhealthy enjoyment in capturing orphans. In the process of capturing Hugo, Georges also steals his notebook that contains his fathers notes on the Automatron. Furious, Hugo follows Georges home to demand his notebook back only to be interrupted by his daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who explains that he must win Georges respect in order to gain back his notebook. However, as Hugo undertakes this task he slowly fixes the Automatron until it is able to write its intended message, a drawing of a spaceship running into a moon. Hugo is taken back, because the image is one he remembers his father telling him about, which fuels Hugo to discover the films origins. This task is filled with obstacles, however, because as Hugo discovers Georges's past is far more complicated. In fact, the film his father spoke of was indeed Voyage To The Moon and was directed by Georges Melies, who is the same Georges for which Hugo worked. Hugo discovers that due to war and its disparaging affects, Georges retired from filmmaking and lost all access to his films, or so he thought. With the help of film scholar Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) Hugo and Isabelle show Voyage To The Moon to Georges and he is inspired to once again do good by his films. In the process, Hugo discovers his place in the machine as a fixer of things both emotional and physical. A rather sentimental closing for Scorsese, but one that is soundly emphasized by silent images of Melies works.
My previous film review discussed the nostalgia present in Midnight In Paris. I would argue that Hugo serves as a counterpoint in that it focuses on sentimentality as it relates to filmmaking. Scorsese, often an outspoken champion for film preservation, focuses on the issue of loosing great films to lack of interest or changing technological demands. This is why the film, although 3D, relies heavily on filmic images considered antiquated by the casual moviegoer. I, like most viewers, went into this film assuming large explosions and simple plot; however, Scorsese uses his platform wisely and incorporates the most magical moments of early cinema into his film which uses the highest achievements of technology available. It is pure sentimentality at work, yet it is an earnest film in its sentimentality. Instead of obnoxiously filling the film with old movie images, Scorsese places them subtly throughout the film, often paralleling them with their original image, whether it be Buster Keaton, The Lumiere Brothers or Georges Melies the image is purposeful and inspired. It is arguably a new vision of Cinema Paradiso without the sole plot being centered on the cinema. To Scorsese, the movies are the place where dreams exist and to him this originated with early cinema. The sentimentality of Hugo is not here to remind us how great of a director Scorsese is, but instead to remind us that cinema has always been profoundly magical and this new advancement in technology owes everything to its century old predecessors.
This movie is stellar. I cannot recommend it enough and would suggest viewing the film in 3D, particularly if you have yet to see a 3D movie. It is grandiose and spectacular yet has moments of the gritty cinema verite of old school Scorsese and any cinephile will instantly appreciate the cohesion that exists in Hugo. Not to mention you get to see silent films in 3D, which is pretty damn amazing.