Hugo is available to rent or buy now.
Before I begin, let me address one pertinent question, Hugo isn’t a Christmas film, is it? The answer is no, as Scorsese’s Hugo is not a traditional Christmas film despite its snow-covered Parisian landscape, fantastic sets, and delightfully warm cinematography. So why, I hear you ask have I included it in our Christmas countdown? A simple answer to this question would take us back to the cinematography mentioned above. After all, this multi, Academy Award, winning picture carries everything we have come to expect visually from any Christmas movie. Here we find Paris coated in thick snow as steam engines whistle and hiss in a train station full of colourful characters buying gifts. Meanwhile, the passage of time takes centre stage as big brass cogs turn clocks alongside mechanical clockwork toys and magic.
However, while the visual beauty of Hugo is undoubtedly festive, it is not my reason for choosing this film as part of the Christmas countdown. My real reason lies in its story. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick published in 2007, Scorsese’s film is a love letter to the birth of cinema. Its story, taking us back to the very foundations of the motion picture.
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Set amidst the hustle and bustle of Paris’ Montparnasse train station in the early 1930s, a young orphan, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), lives in the station’s clock tower, repairing and maintaining the clocks. Hugo has had a difficult life, losing his mother at a young age and then his clockmaker father (Jude Law) in a dreadful fire. As a result, Hugo is now alone, hiding in the train station’s walls and pilfering food while fearing the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).
As Hugo attempts to repair an automaton his father was working on before his death, he steals parts from a shopkeeper who sells mechanical toys and magic tricks. However, unknown to Hugo, the shopkeeper is the legendary film director Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). His groundbreaking films, all but forgotten following the horror of the First World War. But when his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) and Hugo become friends, their mission to celebrate the work and life Georges keeps locked away is set in motion.
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For those unaware of the place Georges Méliès holds in film history, let me briefly explain. Many will be aware of a silent film from 1902 entitled A Trip to the Moon; in this film, a rocket crashes into the face of the moon before we witness a group of explorers walk out onto the surface of the alien body. Directed by Georges Méliès, A Trip to the Moon remains one of the earliest examples of special effects and fantasy in film. However, the invention doesn’t end there; as long before The Wizard of Oz brought technicolour to our screens, A Trip to the Moon was painstakingly hand-coloured. And that makes the film only the second colour movie ever made following Le Château hanté also directed by Méliès.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
To say Georges Méliès was one of the fathers of modern cinema is an understatement. After all, many of the effects we now take for granted in films found creation in his hands. Here Méliès invented the split-screen, stop motion and jump-cut, taking us from the Lumière Brothers love of real life to the fantastical and magical world’s that cinema would later embrace. Méliès brought his skills as a theatre magician to the screen and, in turn, changed cinema forever. However, most of his work found itself burned following the First World War. And by 1925, Méliès was penniless as he ran a small toy booth in Paris’ Montparnasse train station.
Méliès was and still is the Father Christmas of early cinema, each one of his films a delightfully wrapped present. Without Méliès, many of the films listed in our Christmas countdown may never have seen the light. So, If Charles Dickens helped invent our modern notions of Christmas in literature, it was Georges Méliès who created fantasy, magic and adventure on the big screen. And it is for that reason that Martin Scorsese’s beautiful, vibrant and delightful love letter to Méliès is included in our Christmas Countdown.