Where Hugo somewhat loses its footing—perversely enough—is with its gradual gaining of narrative direction. Somehow, it fuses Hugo Cabret’s tragic backstory with that of an old man’s who he meets in the station. The crotchety fellow, played by Ben Kingsley, turns out to be George Méliès, a pioneer of cinema who directed such classics as A Trip to the Moon and then later fell into depression when the world lost interest in his movies. How the screenplay converges these disparate back-stories is a bit of a muddle. Nevertheless, the boy eventually brings about the redemption of Méliès in what ultimately amounts to be a love letter to the movies. Once the message about film preservation is revealed in the later passages, so too, it seems, is Scorsese’s inspiration for making the film. Having said that, Scorsese does more to validate the magic of the movies elsewhere throughout the film than with his late focus on Méliès. The old filmmaker’s story isn't a glaring problem, however I found it emotionally distant as compared to the earlier focus on the boy and the other station dwellers. This is one of the many anomalies that make Hugo so difficult to characterize.
Perhaps because I became wrapped up in its web of optimism and filmmaking bravado, I was less bothered by Hugo's inherent problems. I knew when I was watching it there was something distinct about its strange mix of sensibilities and thematic core that would keep me returning to it. Although the explicit message about film preservation doesn’t quite work in context, its underlying ideas and attitudes about art are beautifully realized and reflected in the movement of the storytelling. Thereupon, Hugo is a poignant ode to the great works of art that influence minds old and young alike, those that are with us for generations and those that slip through their maker’s fingers. (Martin Scorsese, 2011) ***½