Hugo does not compare to Martin Scorsese’s previous films, cannot really be considered better or worse. It simply exists on a different level of mood, realism, characterisation and intention. It is a children’s story presented with the innocence of a child. It is an ode to the art of filmmaking and works to raise awareness for the work Scorsese does in film preservation.
Similarly to Midnight in Paris, Hugo contains elements of biopic in what is otherwise a fiction film. In this way, Scorsese introduces young audiences to Georges Méliès, the man who brought magic to cinema. He conveys a love of films no longer feels present: people now go to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster, not because they care, but just because everyone else has seen it. I believe that this lack of interest in film as an art form is one of the major reasons why people don’t go to the movies anymore.
In Hugo, even 3D doesn’t feel like a gimmick for ticket sales (although it probably was for the studio). For once, it is used to genuinely drag us into the film, into the magically cinematic land that are the walls of the train station in which Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) resides. Just like the little children we follow, 3D immerses us into the old Méliès films, and makes us lose ourselves in the overwhelming crowds of Parisian travellers.
The film does take a while to set up: for the first half, it was unclear where the narrative was going and what kind of an “adventure” Hugo and Isabelle were setting off on. However, this slow start turned out to be necessary in introducing a story that was filled with more heart than action, and an adventure that was more endearing than thrilling.
Of course, the quality of Scorsese’s filmmaking never disappoints, but in Hugo he revealed a brand new side of him that works just as well.