Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law
and Christopher Lee, is adapted by John Logan from a historical fiction called "The invention of Hugo Cabret", a heavily illustrated story book by Brian Selznick first published in January 2007. Selznick described the book as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things."
In many ways, it's an unusual film, with excellent photography, realistic and tastefully done costume and plenty of the most intricate mechanical gadgets, well acted by Asa Butterfield,(playing the protagonist Hugo Cabret) and Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle, a timid orphan who has never seen any film, raised in a very formal middle class family by her godfather Georges Méliès ( Ben Kingsley ) a quiet, authoritarian and enigmatic owner of a toy shop at the Gare Montparnasse, dying for a bit of girlie "adventure", It's been nominated for 11 Oscars in 2011, including best film and best director but won only 5 for best sound effects, sound editing, visual effects, art direction and cinematopgraphy and two BAFTAs and Scorsese's third Golden Globe Award for Best Director.
As the film opens, we see Hugo deftly adjusting the clock at the Montparnasse Railway Station, stealing apples from a passing pedlar's trolley and pinching spare parts from the toy shop for repairing his favourite toy, a broken automaton supposed to be able to write with a pen, something his father left him as his own only legacy. Before his father, an excellent clockmaker died during a museum fire, he had been working indefatiguably on the the repair of that automaton which he
loved so much. Hugo went about his work meticulously and was sure that his father would have a message for him through the hands of the automaton when fully repaired. In any event, after
teaching him how to set and repair the clock, his uncle another clock maker and an irredeemable drunkard, disappeared for
I don't know how many years, a fact which nobody knew about until his body was found by the side of the Seine with a metal whiskey bottle with his name carved upon it, leaving Hugo to fend tor himself and to regularly service the huge Montparnasse station clock. Quite by accident, Hugo met a girl at the station, Isabelle, became friends with her and through her was introduced to a second hand book shop owner Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee), a benign old gentleman who knew exactly where which book on what subject could be found on what shelf in his old bookstore. As Hugo's father used to take him to the movies before he died, he fell in love with the movies of one director Georges Meliès and wanted to find out all he could about him but didn't think reading might help because he was a hands-on boy, not the bookworm type. In a jiffy, Monsieur Labisse directed Hugo to the exact book that he wanted, a book on old movies written by one René Tabard .
In the meantime Hugo continued his life of petty theft, stole from the station toy shop once too often and was caught. He was interrogated by its tough looking owner who unbeknownst to him (and us when we first saw him), was the real George Melies. He asked him why he stole the various mechanical parts. Hugo reluctantly told him. To support his incredible story, he showed him the little book he carried with him wherever he went. It was a book showing the notes and design drawings of the automaton. The toy shop owner confiscated it. He said he would not give it back and made Hugo promise to work for him to repair broken toys until Hugo had repaid the cost of all items he stole from him. The boy reluctantly agreed and to his surprise, was given all the parts he needed for is automaton repair. He continued until it was completed. But he still needed one vital component: a heart shaped key which would start all the mechanism working. By accident,he found the key which Isabelle wore around her neck. He tried it. It worked! The automaton started writing but stopped but just as he was at the height of despair, it slowly started to work again. Hugo discovered that it traced a picture of a moon being hit by a huge rocket. He remember it resembled the scene in a film his father took him to see: Voyage to the Moon. As the key fitted the automaton, they were sure that the girl's father held the secret to the mystery. The girl took him home to steal back Hugo's notebook because they were determined to find out what the picture meant. The girl showed her god mother the picture drawn by the automaton Upon seeing it, an enigmatic smile appeared on her face, a faraway look. Upon hearing the arrival of her husband, she shushed them off to hide in the attic room. Isabelle took Hugo to hide in an upper attic store room where her father had a chest which he stored high up on a cupboard. They decided to get to the bottom of the connection between Isabelle's heart-shaped key, Hugo's automatons and the picture of Voyage to the Moon. They succeeded in reaching the chest with a help of a chair. But at the last minute it fell off the top of the cupboard. There was a huge crash. The room was flying with paper drawings and sketches of all sorts of mechanical contraptions. At that moment, the girl's father appeared at the door, his curiosity having been aroused by the noise he heard upstairs where the children were.
The children were terrified. There was was a strange look on his face. Instead of giving the boy a sound thrashing, he told him what he most wanted to know. He was George Meliès, the director of the favourite film the boy saw. He told him how he had made 500 silent movies on all kinds of subjects but stopped making them after the first world war when people interest in his types of films abruptly fell because his films were all about magic,fantasy, fun and creations of the imagination. The mood just wasn't right. They wanted hard dry facts about the tragedies of war and the harshness and miseries of post-WWI life, not things they could not relate to. His film company went bankrupt. To keep body and soul together, he rented the toy shop at the station and buried his glorious past as a famous film director as a secret forever sealed and did not want anything further to do with the film industry, until he saw the boy, in whom he saw the very image of his former self.
In the meantime, by another accident, the boy made the acquaintance of René Tabard at the girl's favourite bookshop, a professor mad about the films of George Meliès and now working at the French film archive. The children told him about their secret, the picture drawn by the automaton. Once he saw it, he knew Isabelle's godfather was none other than the now forgotten and thought to be dead George Meliès, formerly magician, inventor of numerous toy machines and director. Tabard had combed through all kinds of sources and successfully recovered 80 films by the famous director which the latter thought had been lost ,damaged or burnt As the film ends, we see a retrospective of George's Meliès films being held at the Cinemateque. Meliês appeared on the stage and recounted the dreams of youth. He was happy. Imagination had an unexpected way of making a come back! Time will not extinguish it nor the bitterness of age!
Now that I come to think about it, it's not so surprising he made the film. After all, Scorsese is the founder of Film Foundation in 1990, a non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation and in 2007, he founded another similar organization The World Cinema Foundation and has long had a serious interest in preserving the film as an art form.