‘Hugo’ proves to be a compelling 3-D marvel

Hugo is one of the rare movies I’d actually recommend seeing in 3-D as opposed to the traditional 2-D version. It has all the elements of a good flick — top-notch acting, a good story, and, most of all, it’s extremely appealing visually.

What’s Hugo about? If you’re like me, you have little to no idea from watching the previews, which left me feeling ambiguous about the movie before going into the theater. Quite simply, it’s about family, friendship — and film. It uniquely combines the excitement of the early days of cinema with today’s 3-D technology.

Hugo definitely feels like a movie by someone who obviously loves film. Still, it is a bit of a surprise to see a kid-friendly film directed by Martin Scorsese (the man behind The Godfather movies, Goodfellas and The Departed, among many others), since Scorsese’s last family film was — well, never.

The movie’s title character (played by Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in a clock tower in a Paris train station. Hugo is constantly on the run from the Station Inspector (the reliably quirky Sacha Baron Cohen), who wants to scoop up all the parentless youth and send them to an orphanage.

When Hugo is not on the run, he is tinkering with a broken automaton (mechanical robot man), the last tie to his deceased father (Jude Law in flashbacks).

In between scrounging for food, Hugo steals parts for his automaton from a toy shop. Only one problem — the crotchety old owner, George Melies (Ben Kingsley), has had it with things going missing from his shop and decides to take away something of great importance to Hugo.

Hugo meets a young girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, the awesome girl from Kick-Ass), who happens to be George’s goddaughter. Hugo and Isabelle embark on unraveling the mystery of George’s past life and find out he is interestingly tied to the broken old automaton.

All wrapped up in this sort of convoluted tale is a tribute to movies, in particular the very beginnings of cinema and silent film, with George as an early filmmaker. One of the most memorable moments was the reaction of early film audiences to seeing a train on the big screen (they thought it was going to come through) juxtaposed with today’s 3-D visuals (it really did look like the train came through the screen). I’d imagine it felt just as magical then as it does now.

Hugo is based on Brian Selznick’s best-selling novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but I found the whole orphan-in-Paris setting a bit clichéd, like it was ripped from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. The scenes with the Station Inspector were sometimes cheesy, but they provided some laughs and lighthearted moments.

Hugo is a bit on the long side for a family flick (just over two hours) and sometimes felt sluggish as the story slowly unfolded. It’s probably best suited to older kids and adults, because youngsters with short attention spans may get bored.

Still, it’s nice to see an intelligent movie geared to children. Not every kiddie flick needs toilet humor and fart jokes. ••

Movie Grade: B+