Most often, the best films are the ones all too personal. And, as critic Roger Ebert points out, Hugo is probably Martin Scorsese’s most personal reflection of any of his films. Here, Scorsese not only celebrates his art and its colorful history, but also tells a personal tale.
In many ways, an impressionable, young reclusive Scorsese growing up in Little Italy is the story of Hugo: a boy captured by the enigmatic medium. Because of this, it is so easy to see the director’s passion for the subject. For one, Hugo is fundamentally a children’s movie based on a children’s book. Who would have thought that the director of Taxi Driver or Goodfellas had it in him to direct a film targeted towards children (and not just for the pay check, either). Hugo celebrates a protagonist so whiny, unfriendly, and generally annoying, it is no wonder as to why it did not do well in theaters. But the boy is so close to Scorsese’s heart that Hugo could not have been any other way. He is driven by pure wonderment, curiosity, and ambition, the same that drove Scorsese to where he is today.
Scorsese’s sense of nostalgia and inborn responsibility to cultivate people on early cinema is also clearly dear to his heart. There are many montages with the sole purpose of explaining the medium’s beginnings. Such exposition interrupts the narration in order to grasp our attention. It is almost as if he is using the “cuteness” of the story to draw us in and enlighten us. His integration of new special effects and classic techniques also work to show us the influence a person like Melies has had on modern day cinema. As said in the article, much of the color schemes are similar to those attempted in early cinema. By pairing such schemes with the film’s intended 3D, the integration is obvious. Several scenes also depict early special effects, such as the opening superimposition of machine gears over the Arc de Triomphe, and the scene involving the footsteps seemingly stomping on Isabelle’s face. Such double exposures are a very early in-camera special effect. Finally, much of the comedy elements reminisce silent film humor including Melies shorts, and the works of Keaton and Chaplin. The gags involving the inspector either crushing instruments or getting his leg caught on the train car is quite old-fashioned humor.
Scorsese’s heart for these subjects shines through, making Hugo both fun and enlightening for all ages.