Originally published November 22, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Page modified November 23, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Movie review

'Hugo': imaginative tale of a movie-mad orphan

A movie review of "Hugo," an imaginative fantasy directed by Martin Scorsese. The tale dramatizes the adventures of a lonely, movie-mad orphan (Asa Butterfield) who crosses paths with pioneering French moviemaker Georges Méliès in 1930s Paris.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Hugo,' with Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen. Directed by Martin Scorsese, from a screenplay by John Logan, based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick. 125 minutes. Rated PG for some intense action sequences. Several theaters.

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It's easy to understand why Martin Scorsese wanted to make a movie of author Brian Selznick's best-selling 2007 children's book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." Scorsese is not only a master moviemaker, he's also, simply, movie mad.

As an asthmatic kid, he found a refuge in movie theaters and was enthralled by the images he saw there. A film-school graduate, his knowledge of film history is encyclopedic. So when he came across Selznick's imaginative tale of a boy in '30s-era Paris who crosses paths with Georges Méliès, a seminal figure from the early days of film, well, we're talking "match made in heaven."

Beginning in the late 1890s, Méliès made more than 500 films. A one-time magician, he was a wizard of special effects, using such techniques as multiple-exposure photography to create fantastical images in fantasy movies. His best-known surviving picture is 1902's "A Trip to the Moon," where a rocket crashes into the eye of a startled man on the moon. That stuff is catnip for Scorsese.

Inspired by Méliès' use of cutting-edge (for its day) moviemaking technology, Scorsese decided to make "Hugo" in today's cutting-edge 3-D. With its story of a boy who makes his hidden home in the walls of a Paris train station and spends his days winding the station's many clocks, Scorsese packs "Hugo" with 3-D images of swinging pendulums and intricate clockwork gears turning purposefully.

The boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), is a lonely orphan who, like the young Scorsese, finds comfort in losing himself in movies. Méliès (Ben Kingsley), relegated to obscurity by the time the picture opens, is embittered. They're antagonists at first, but then a mysterious clockwork mechanical man, an automaton, becomes a link that draws them together and ultimately leads to their psychological healing. Méliès' goddaughter (Chloë Grace Moretz), a precocious free spirit, helps to draw the boy out of his shell.

Scorsese fills his picture with references to early movies, most notably one scene where Hugo dangles from the hands of a giant clock in the manner of Harold Lloyd in the classic "Safety Last!" But his approach to his material is a little too professorial and reverential, and his 3-D set pieces are a little too carefully constructed.

As a spectacle, "Hugo" enthralls, but it doesn't quite breathe freely.

Soren Andersen:

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