Set in 1929 Paris, Hugo revolves around an orphan (Asa Butterfield) who clings to a tenuous existence in the city’s Montparnasse train station. Following the disappearance of his uncle, the boy secretly fills his role tending the many clocks that keep everything running on time, while trying to avoid getting nabbed and sent to an orphanage by the resident station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).
Hugo’s prized possession is a wind-up automaton, a broken-down clockwork man that is one of the few things left behind by his deceased father. His attempts to repair the device are unsuccessful until he meets Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of the station’s toy shop owner, a cranky old man named Georges (Ben Kingsley). Around her neck, Isabelle wears a key that may unlock the mystery of the automaton, but the spirited girl is not likely to casually hand it over to Hugo. And besides Georges disapproves of the boy, whom he considers a liar and thief.
With a strong ensemble (Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jude Law) and a top creative and technical team, Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan weave together adventure tale, family drama and surprising details from the history of early French cinema. It remains to be seen if the cinephile-friendly November 21 release will draw the substantial holiday crowds it needs to make back its $90 million budget.
During a wide-ranging Q & A, Scorsese was joined by cinematographer Bob Richardson, composer Howard Shore and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, along with his longtime collaborators, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and production designer Dante Ferretti. Often animatedly leaning forward in one of the onstage armchairs (which the diminutive Scorsese joked were too tall for his feet to reach the floor), Anderson was visibly enthused to be participating with a director he clearly reveres.
The impetus for making the film:
Scorsese was inspired by Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. “I perceived the world in a child’s view, through the imagination of a child,” he recalled. “It seemed to be a happy coincidence” that all the elements came together at the same time.
On integrating scenes from the films of pioneering French director Georges Méliès:
Restaging sequences from A Trip to the Moon and A Kingdom of Fairies was “for me a great deal of enjoyment,” Scorsese said. It took almost a year to prepare and shoot the elaborate sets, costumes and silent-era special effects.
Working in 3-D:
“It was a lot of fun and yes it was a headache, but it was an enjoyable headache, because it’s a discovery with each new shot,” said Scorsese. ‘Every shot was a rethinking of how to make pictures.” He added, “The use of 3-D is exciting, but it demands respect. You really are back to square one and that’s part of the excitement of it,” he said. “I just kept pushing it to see how far we could go with the technology.”
He referred to the film’s style as “creating a heightened impression” of reality, particularly in recreating period Paris. “It was arduous, but most of the time a great deal of fun” shooting in 3-D he said, predicting that as filmmaking technology advances, “we’re basically headed toward moving holograms.”