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“What?! Martin Scorsese directed a kid’s movie?!”
Don’t worry; your reaction is completely natural. Although you might be thinking that this Hugo kid must be secretly a kingpin involved in some sort of mafia, drug lord story, you couldn’t be further from the truth. In “Hugo” playing at Magic Lantern this weekend, Scorsese tries a genre outside of his comfort range, and the result is pretty impressive.
The effectively sweet ode to the origination of cinema starts with a great deal of back story. It’s 1931 and Hugo, a 12 year-old orphan, is taken in by his alcoholic uncle after his father passes. The uncle works and lives in the train station Gare Montparnasse in Paris where he looks after the station’s clocks. When he goes missing, Hugo keeps the clocks going in order to avoid capture by the station master, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who also leaves his comfort range for this humorous role.
Hugo’s only possession, and the driving element of the film, is an automaton (a mechanical man) that his father was trying to fix. The machine is holding a pen and is meant to write something. The young boy is sure that it is a message from his father. But in order to fix the automaton and unlock its mysterious message, Hugo has to steal, in between maintaining the clocks and avoiding the station master.
He has some trouble balancing the tasks. One day he gets caught by a store owner, Mr. Méliès. To make up for the boy’s bad behavior, the old man lets him work in the shop. There Hugo meets Isabelle, the owner’s goddaughter. Together, the two children embark on an adventure that leads them to discover one of cinema’s deepest secrets. You might have guessed it: Isabelle’s godfather is the one and only Georges Méliès, one of cinema’s pioneers.
Adapted from Brian Selznick’s graphic novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the film is a touching invitation to (re)discover the beginnings of cinema. Over a hundred years ago, moving images were a brand new fascination, and the future of this art form had yet to be determined. One of the first notable directors who made a huge contribution to film was Méliès, bringing narrative to film in a way that had not been done so much in the short, documentary films that the invention began with. Each of his short pieces were an invitation to enter his magical world of fantasy — a world that Isabelle finds in books and that both she and Hugo yearn to find in film. Little do they know, they hold the key to unlocking Méliès’ secrets, and the future of cinema, the entire time.
The whole film is put together very carefully, with a huge attention paid to every detail, in typical Scorsese style. It is no coincidence that the film won several Oscars, such as the awards for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing. It is also no surprise that Scorsese chose to bring this story — one that honors the history of cinema in such an accessible and entertaining way — to the big screen.
“Hugo” is a beautiful cinematographic experience, and can be seen at I.V. Theater Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., as well at Monday at 10 p.m.. Admission is $4 with student I.D.