I don't know Martin Scorsese. I don't know James Cameron either. I have read that Scorsese had entered the seminary as a young man, but obviously he changed his mind and went in a different direction. Cameron is a "converted atheist," converting from agnosticism which he describes as "cowardly atheism." I myself am what may be called a semi-hermitical discalced Latin rite Catholic. Despite having never met, and with wildly divergent spiritual paths, Scorsese, Cameron and I have nonetheless forged successful careers in the same industry -- moving pictures -- they as directors, and I as movie critic for the Piker Press.
I mention Cameron because I have enjoyed his work, and I find it interesting that he has been wildly successful producing movies that by and large I would have no problem letting my kids see. They are technically superb, and the stories, while not always riveting, are told well without the need to resort to gratuitous sex and violence. Well, maybe Aliens was a bit gratuitous, but then that was the point, wasn't it?
Scorsese on the other hand, has turned out movies that I am not always comfortable with and frequently don't like. If my nine-year-old granddaughter came to me and said she was going to a Scorsese film festival with her friends, I would clutch my heart, stagger about and tell "Lizabeth" I'd be joining her soon.
Then along comes Scorsese's Hugo. Hugo is a fictional character, an orphan living in a real city (Paris) in a fictional part of a real train station who meets a fictional girl who is the ward of a real person, Georges Melies, who really ran a toy shop in the real train station in Paris in the 1930's, but who probably never met any fictional boys there. What you see in this movie never really happened, except generally speaking for the parts about Georges Melies who did indeed do some of what you see, including really making over 500 real movies and opening the very first movie studio, only to have his works largely destroyed and ending up living in relative obscurity as the owner of a toy shop in the Montparnasse train station in Paris, where, forty years before the setting of this movies, a real train crashed through the station in more or less exactly the same manner as a fictional train crashes through the train station in the movie in a real dream sequence.
In a (real) strange sort of way, this story reminds me of the Star Trek episode called The Savage Curtain where Abraham Lincoln, a real president of the United States, is beamed aboard the fictional star ship to help Kirk fight Ghengis Khan (real) and Kahless, the fictional father of the Klingon Empire. And while the Empire may or may not exist, the Klingon language does. Who knows, maybe it really did happen.
Fortunately, you don't need to know any of this to thoroughly enjoy the movie Hugo. It is a good story. It is populated with pleasant and polite children. It demonstrates both the harshness of the world and the gentleness of friendship and love. It is visually stunning. The Art Department has been able to create a vision of Paris in the 1930's that if not accurate, is compelling. It is easy to completely immerse yourself in Hugo's world. The cast turns in solid performances, both from the adults, especially Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee, and from the children, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz.
Sadly, I suspect that this film will not do well. There are no snotty kids whining about, things don't get blown up or trashed, and the characters are motivated by a desire to do good. I mean, what's up with that? Maybe I'll be proven wrong, and this movie will go on to dethrone Cameron's Avatar the most commercially successful movie of all time, but I doubt it.
I would like to know what was in Scorsese's mind as he made this film. Was he driven by a desire simply to make a wonderfully sweet movie that was suitable for both Mom, Dad and the kids? Or was he thinking that he could tap into the very lucrative family movie market? If you look at the past year, all the big bucks have been in family movies, and Scorsese has never had a real blockbuster. Whatever the reason, with Hugo, Scorsese have delivered a fine story and a visually beautiful film. If you want go to the movies and get your money's worth, this would one would be one to go to.
Yes, I agree with Bernie that this was a wonderful film to see.
I really have nothing to add to Bernie's review, except that I thought perhaps Scorsese used this fictional story to pay tribute to Melies, to help people remember his amazing talent and creativity.
I'm very glad that we saw it in the theater.