Hugo 3D (U)

2.00

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz

The period fable Hugo marks a number of firsts in the career of Martin Scorsese. It is his first big-budget, family entertainment. It is his first venture into the brave newish world of 3D cinema. And, more arguably, it is the first time he has made a film – even Scorsese, with his magpie borrowings – that feels utterly in thrall to someone else's vision of a city. That city is Paris, or rather, a glowing fantasia of Paris in the 1930s as seen through the busy internal life of a large railway station. The camera swoops, cranes and dashes among the crowded platforms, in and out of the station café, then up, up and away into the vaulted heights. It is a self-conscious story-book portrait that reminds you, time and again, of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 romance Amelie.

Here, instead of Audrey Tautou's ingratiating sprite, we have an orphan boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who by day secretly keeps the station's clockwork going, and by night works on the shiny automaton, which his horologist father (Jude Law) was trying to perfect before he died in murky circumstances. Hugo, unable to afford the spare parts for his beloved mechanical, is caught stealing them by an irascible toymaker (Ben Kingsley). Through his friendship with Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a girl of his own age, Hugo discovers that the toymaker is none other than Georges Méliès (1861-1938), the great proto-fantasist of cinema and a wizard of special effects. Flashing back through Méliès's exuberant early work (short films such as Voyage To The Moon) and his melancholy decline (his film prints were melted down and recycled, ultimately, into shoe heels) Scorsese offers not just a mini-history of cinema's origins, but a plea for film preservation.

This is all good and noble stuff, but the frame through which we watch these flashbacks is more than a little wonky. A plot involving secret keys, mysterious drawings and family interconnections is hampered by characterisation that is insipid at best, and perfunctory at worst. John Logan's screenplay sets up the enigma of Hugo's father's death – in a fire, it seems – and then drops it. Ray Winstone, like Law, gets a single scene as the boozer uncle who adopts the boy, before he too pegs it. Sacha Baron Cohen tries hard as an orphan-hating station inspector, but his physical mishaps are weedy panto-level foolery, and not funny enough.

Emily Mortimer as a flower girl and Helen McCrory as Madame Méliès provide window dressing. As for young Butterfield and Moretz, they are ciphers, without personality, a script-writer's vague idea of adolescent loneliness and resilience. Fantastical though it is, the story needs something to anchor it in a recognisable humanity – and it's not coming from the cast.

There is nothing wrong with Scorsese wanting to celebrate cinema's first cracklings of genius, and his recreation of bravura moments – the Lumière brothers' famous film of a train that scatters the watching audience, for instance, or Harold Lloyd clinging on to the precipitous clock-face – goes deep into his own obsessive love of movie ingenuity. But it is mismatched to a tame and synthetic family-based confection that moves at a slouch and provokes nothing like the pathos intended. Fluid camerawork and gleaming production design, the Scorsese hallmarks, are small recompense for storytelling as hollow as this.

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn