So, a French Oscar winner set in Hollywood and here, a Hollywood production set in Paris. Littered with mostly British talent, Martin Scorsese's Hugo is certainly a feast for the eyes.
From the single opening shot from across Paris, through the train station and into the eyes of a curious and fascinated Hugo, hiding in the innards behind the number four on a station clock, it is clear that this is no ordinary adventure. Tinted in red and orange rusts, the film looks extravagant, almost otherworldly. The decor, dress and architecture all convince the viewer of its authenticity, of a bygone age where steam, mechanics and clockwork were king. Driven plotwise by a story not too dissimilar to another Oscar hopeful, 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close', the story revolves around the loss of a parent and the trials that a young boy must endure before he can understand what has happened to him. What sets the two apart is the amount of magic Scorsese's has imbibed into his film. Here it is a pre-requisite to the tale of wonder and discovery.
The station, where Hugo lives and works in the bowels of the clockwork, is filled with beautifully realised characters, all of whom have, you imagine, romantic, tragic or exquisite back stories and we are lucky enough to learn about a few of them. Most notably for the plot is Ben Kingley's Georges Melies, a simple toy repairer with a small shop located inside the station. But additionally, we are introduced to the Station Inspector Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Moretz as Isobel, the love interest for the young boy, Christopher Lee's well-meaning bookshop owner Monsieur Labisse, the flower seller Lisette (Emily Watson) and Ray Winstone's gruff Fagin impression of Uncle Claude, who takes Hugo to work in the station when his father (Jude Law) dies.
Scorsese has crafted something quite beautiful here and it is understandable that the film achieved five nods from the Academy when handing out Oscars. The acting is not great overall, but the technical ability and attention to detail displayed is astonishing. The film looks sumptuous and grand, but is rarely warm enough to tug on the heartstrings. If you imagine a cross between Belleville Rendezvous and Spirited Away, but with live action as opposed to animation, then you have something like you find here. It is wondrous and a feat of imagination and design, but yet it needs something else. A little more heart, maybe?