Hugo 5* 2011

3D depth projects onto tiny TV, adds physical comedy to seriously sad, yet triumphant book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, set to appropriate sweet, bouncing, or frightening melodies, only the final credits over a sad French soprano.

Research shows actual Georges Méliès footage. Remarkable. Previews short, long. A small joke may be common to both media, when Isabelle introduces Hugo to the Inspector as her "simple" cousin. Serious film is based on original book, based on remarkable fact. Best mash of Méliès fact and clips (except loud music).

Ragamuffin short-pants Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), called thief by toy kiosk owner (Ben Kingsley), flees stiff-legged gendarme Inspector Gustave Dasté (Sacha Baron Cohen) and fierce doberman Maximilian, through the sellers of flowers, bakery, smoky café (with dogs in Paris), couples dancing to accordion quintet. Chase shows cavernous hall, vast 1931 population, and variety within the walls (all sets).

A background précis seems effectively brief, knowing the book. Hugo's father (Jude Law) brought a delicately feminine-featured rusty automaton to fix. After a fatal fire, the orphan must leave home and school with his drunken uncle, clock-winder Claude (Ray Winstone), now vanished for weeks. When Hugo can fix a mechanical (computer effects?) mouse, Papa Georges offers him a job, pretending the youngster's precious inherited notebook is ashes, but entrancing him with card tricks. While they work, godchild Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) dances.

Isabelle loves secrets. In search of (her words) "clandestine" "adventure", she reassures the "enigmatic" boy that the curmudgeon did not burn his beloved notebook. Like Selznick's book, the boy is close-mouthed, "I cannot say", refuses to explain. Careful, not naive, is good; batting away those who offer friendship is not. His later insistence on a surprise, like a magic trick, is as inconsistent here as there.

Awesome, terrifically better than the stills in the book, are Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last" 1923 climbing skyscraper, hanging from a clock hand seen when he sneaks her in the cinema back door, dangling :17, full climb 11:21. Colored clips, "Dance of Fire" better than black and white originals, although "Trip to the Moon" 1902 is the key image in the movie.

Film Academy library has vast halls and clips from very first silents. In long ago VCR days, I rented tapes for wonderful early films, marvelous Mae West, hilarious Harold Lloyd, my preference over classic Charlie Chaplin, so this history brought to life is .. beyond words. "Whole buildings made of glass", early special effects in action. are truly "where dreams come from, where they are made". Spectators duck, fearful of 1895 Train Arrival. The true photo of train engine dangling from upper story is better, turned into a double nightmare, worse. Tiny Hugo recreates the Lloyd stunt, performed, as usual, by Lloyd himself. Childhood nighmares, screams, "a child has to belong somewhere".

The film makes more sense than the book, that she offers the heart-lock key dangling from her neck, than he steals the key. Both book and film so popular on library waiting list, not possible to see side-by-side. Hugo's philosophy "if the world is a machine, I couldn't be an extra part", we all have a purpose, sounds familiar.

English accents seem out of place. Godmother Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory) "There are things you are too young to know", quickly glancing to the armoire, encourages the children to search inside for secrets. The magical wind wafting drawings seems overly dramatic. Angry tantrums from boy and old man seem uncalled for, perhaps a French thing?

That Gustav has a love interest, florist Lisette (Emily Mortimer), adds comedy not in book. Bending to sniff "Are they smelly flowers?" locks his leg brace, and sadness "a war injury that will never heal". When he catches an urchin and calls police, I wish for Doctorow's "Clockwork Fagin".

Claude's body is recovered from river Seine. (Would the corpse not be more bloated and swollen?) Inspector chases Hugo to the flat, but unlike book, boy is not injured. Big reveals here, as in book, are the automaton drawings by Papa Georges, who is Georges Méliès, prolific 500+ film-maker, presumed killed in the "Great War", World War One. As in real life, Georges is discovered running a train station toy booth. This is a story for young and old. In color, "tinted by had, frame by frame". Astonishing recreation.
J: "It only hurts him to remember the past. It was another time. I was another person. We did have fun."
I: "You were beautiful."
G: "She still is."
J: "Trying to forget has brought you nothing but unhappiness. Maybe it is time to remember."

Georges says tastes change, my research hints at a thieving business partner. Burning all sets, again over-dramatic, again French?
G: "My life has taught me one lesson, and not the one I thought it would. Happy endings only happen in the movies." And books?
.. "This child belongs to me."

At the finale, Isobel has grown a foot taller than Hugo, even sitting. The accident of filming does emphasize the passage of time, when they find 8 of the 500+ films made. Tricks mentioned in the book include full screen motion. In a special way, better than today's full-blown Avatar-style effects.
Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo)
Drawings from book melt into scenes from movie clips. Robot here seems special effects, rather than those documented in my review, real clockwork. The hand draws rocket crashing man in moon, signs Georges Méliès, her godfather's name, looks like hand of actor painted silver, posing tourist street mime.

Asa: "Hugo is big, massive, and completely different from what most 13 year old kids would do. It's really hard, but so worth it."
director/producer Martin Scorsese: "An enormous undertaking, but kind of fun that way." "I have a young daughter who will be 12 soon." and unable to see any of his films.(Sheesh. He looks like a grandfather.) First films he saw 1953 were 3D House of Wax from eye-patch one-eyed director, owns these old films, now novelty "discovering". Clip way longer than Extra, re-tells plot

producer Graham King: "So-called kid's movie."
author Brian Selznick: "Story inspired by Mélières' Moon film."
Ben K: "The lost man guided back into life by the hands of a child is an absolutely classic piece of mythology."

screenwriter John Logan: "The book is huge, a brick." "Modern Dickensian novel about an orphan's search for home." "I am guilty, added dogs."
Boring Scorsese-dog clip, unless you are a fanatic fan of both.

Chloë's accent is so out of place American, and only one month older than Asa.
Filming in London, made possible real locations and stage actors such as Christopher Lee for bookstore owner M. Latisse, Frances de la Tour for one of flirtatious (dogs and their pets) long-haired (much prettier than bald rats) daschhund owner (beau M Frick).

Warning "PG Mild thematic material, action/peril, smoking" what does thematic mean?

French audio and subtitles:
Story so visual, almost complete without words. Spoken varies from written, "très" atop "clandestinement". "Fiche le campe" = "plug the camp" or 'prove yourself, fix problem'. The pair say "Deceased?", captions "Mort" = dead, close enough.


Before and after film:
Titanic preview
TinTin preview (better French captions than ads) 400 years ago, a power that could have changed the world was lost, a ship with a secret cargo. Looks like an animated young Indiana Jones.
Footloose 2011 preview

After film:
Like Crazy (horror love story?) PG13 sexual content and strong language to song I love "I can't help falling in love with you". Elvis Presley. Ingrid Michaels with lyrics.
Breakfast at Tiffany's

Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg Professeur Tabard replaces book's student Étienne

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