4-star reviews from The New Yorker, Variety, Box Office Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter. 4 stars from Roger Ebert. No fan of 3-D, Ebert says, “Scorsese uses 3-D here as it should be used, not as a gimmick but as an enhancement of the total effect.”
David Denby at The New Yorker says, “Reality, filmed illusion, and dreams are so intertwined that only an artist, playing merrily with echoes, can sort them into a scheme of delight.”
At the moment of greatest rapture in Martin Scorsese’s 3-D “Hugo”—a film with many moments of happiness—a twelve-year-old Parisian boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), and his pal Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) are leafing through a book of film history, when images from the pages start to move and then spring to full motion-picture life. The time is the nineteen-thirties, and Scorsese and his technicians are looking back to the pioneers, jumping through restored versions of films by the Lumière brothers, Edwin S. Porter, D. W. Griffith, and, most centrally, Georges Méliès, the inventor of fantasy and science fiction in the cinema. For Scorsese, the early movies are a procession of miracles: the directors realized that sixteen frames passing through a camera every second could yield illusions, disappearances, transformations, magic. In recent years, while making his own movies, Scorsese has dedicated himself to film history and preservation. He has put this ardent attention at the center of a beautifully told and emotionally satisfying story for children and their movie-loving parents. “Hugo” is both a summing up of the cinematic past and a push forward into new 3-D technologies.
Selznick’s book begins with a series of pencil drawings that feels like an introductory film sequence—establishing shots, medium shots, and closeups. Scorsese begins the same way, but in color, and instantly we get a sense of the film’s characteristic look. Working with the cinematographer Robert Richardson, from a screenplay by John Logan, Scorsese shoots from the children’s point of view as often as possible. He brings the third dimension into play not only in action sequences but as an enlargement of everyday life. The grownups pushing past the kids as they rush to make a train are as threatening as the Roman legions; at one point, Isabelle slips, and impatient feet trample on her. Narrow spaces and hidden places would naturally matter enormously to a furtive child, and Scorsese chases after Hugo down tunnels and along passageways and up a stairway to his room—the view up the stairway keeps telescoping in depth. Hugo is a spectator, always peering out at something, and the Paris he sees from his aerie is tinted dark blue, with glistening white lights—the colors of wonder. Parts of “Hugo”—the station, interiors of apartments—were shot on sets, but the movie depends on painted and digitized backgrounds. They are intentionally artificial, like something in a children’s book, or, more to the point, like the fanciful sets that Méliès used in his movies. In a flashback, Scorsese re-creates Méliès’s glass-walled studio and his films, with their exuberance of creatures, “natives” with spears, nymphs hanging from the stars—sheer exultant zaniness, part magic show, part burlesque, and all cinema.
Pete Hammond, Box Office Magazine:
Hugo is not only a great family film—it is a great film, period. Magical and imaginative, this eye-popping masterpiece from director Martin Scorsese will transport audiences to a place they won’t believe. Based on the Brian Selznick children’s classic, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan have crafted a remarkably vital adventure about an orphan who takes care of the clocks in a massive Paris train station that’s also a valentine to the dawn of movies. In doing so, they’ve made a movie that transcends nearly every other film ostensibly aimed at kids (but clearly, they aim much, much higher). Because Hugo is a period piece that doesn’t hit all the obvious beats of the kidpic genre, it may require, wait for it—patience—from younger viewers. It could lag behind its stiff competition for family dollars this holiday season, but it certainly deserves to be a success and hopefully Paramount will back it with the faith that there’s a cultivated audience who will show their appreciation…
There hasn’t been a more competently and stunningly crafted motion picture to come along in years with ace cinematography by Robert Richardson, expert editing by longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Ferretti and Francesco LoSchiavo’s sets and design and Howard Shore’s exquisite music…
For cineastes, Hugo is truly heaven and its recreations of the making of Melies’ A Trip to the Moon is inventive and breathtaking. Along with the new black and white silent The Artist, silent movie lovers are in for a rare treat—and, indeed, Hugo is a rare movie.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
“Hugo” is unlike any other film Martin Scorsese has ever made, and yet possibly the closest to his heart: a big-budget, family epic in 3-D, and in some ways, a mirror of his own life. We feel a great artist has been given command of the tools and resources he needs to make a movie about — movies. That he also makes it a fable that will be fascinating for (some, not all) children is a measure of what feeling went into it.
…Leave it to Scorsese to make his first 3-D movie about the man who invented special effects. There is a parallel with the asthmatic Scorsese, living in Little Italy but not of it, observing life from the windows of his apartment, soaking up the cinema from television and local theaters, adopting great directors as his mentors, and in the case of Michael Powell, rescuing their careers after years of neglect.
The way “Hugo” deals with Melies is enchanting in itself, but the film’s first half is devoted to the escapades of its young hero. In the way the film uses CGI and other techniques to create the train station and the city, the movie is breathtaking…
For a lover of cinema, the best scenes will come in the second half, as flashbacks trace the history and career of Georges Melies. you may have seen his most famous short film, “A Trip to the Moon” (1898), in which space voyagers enter a ship that is shot from a cannon toward the moon; the vessel pokes the Man in the Moon in the eye.
Scorsese has made documentaries about great films and directors, and here he brings those skills to storytelling. We see Melies (who built the first movie studio) using fantastical sets and bizarre costumes to make films with magical effects — all of them hand-tinted, frame by frame. And as the plot makes unlikely connections, the old man is able to discover that he is not forgotten, but indeed is honored as worthy of the Pantheon.
“Hugo” celebrates the birth of the cinema and dramatizes Scorsese’s personal pet cause, the preservation of old films. In one heartbreaking scene, we learn that Melies, convinced his time had passed and his work had been forgotten, melted down countless films so that their celluloid could be used to manufacture the heels of women’s shoes. But they weren’t all melted, and at the end of “Hugo, ” we see that thanks to this boy, they never will be. Now there’s a happy ending for you.