It’s finally here. After months of negotiations and delay, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was finally released in India this past weekend. Despite its outstanding reviews and slew of awards, it hasn’t done too well at the box office, and producers felt that releasing it in India wouldn’t be commercially viable. After incessant online campaigns, petitions, and outraged newspaper articles, India finally got Hugo, albeit with limited show timings (only two or three in all of Delhi). Obviously, I HAD to go watch it before it was pulled out of theatres completely. So I braved the pain from my recent wisdom tooth extractions and went. Was Hugo worth the effort? Absolutely, definitely, totally, completely.
Hugo is, in a word, magic. Set in Paris of the early 1930s, the film takes us into the world of Hugo, a young orphan who lives in the train station and winds the station clocks, occasionally stealing mechanical parts from the toy store there, to fix a broken automaton that his late father had brought home. In his quest to fix the last and only thing he has left of his father, Hugo unknowingly stumbles onto the fact that Georges Méliès, one of the first film-makers – and an ace conjurer, cartoonist, inventor, and mechanic – is still alive despite popular belief that he died during the first World War. A prolific director, producer, and actor, Méliès produced more than 500 films and is credited with developing cinematic techniques such as superimposition and stop motion.
The film now practically turns into a festival of Méliès’ films, shown in the full glory of colour and 3D. In fact, in a real departure from his usual violent dramas and gangster films, Scorsese uses 3D to stunning effect in this enchanting love letter to cinema. The footage of Méliès’ movies is absolutely stunning (and having edited a book on film history, I was only too thrilled to see the entire first chapter of my book shown so beautifully on screen) and the cinematography is truly gorgeous, with every colour, every tiny detail standing out.
The problem with so many movies that feature great visuals is that the film-makers seem to think cinematography and effects can make up for the lack of a good story or good acting (cases in point – War Horse, Avatar). Not so with Hugo. The script is as gripping as the visuals, the dialogue is lovely, and the acting is top-notch. Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret is vulnerable and adorable, and uses his eyes and smile to convey so much. Ben Kingsley as Méliès and Sacha Baron Cohen as the terrifyingly strict station master are excellent. And I wanted to adopt Méliès’ “adventure”-seeking bookworm god-daughter Isabelle (played so well by Chloë Grace Moretz) who helps Hugo in his quest, besides educating him on the finer points of literature.
When I left the theatre, I could only feel utter joy and gratitude that cinema exists, that films like Hugo are made. How many movies can make you feel like that?
Oh and the automaton? He ends up doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. Don’t ask, just go watch.