Hugo is really about movies, automaton and the sense of magic and science-fiction that fired the imagination of the early years of cinema, and how with the intervening First World War and the coming of the talkies, the pioneering period of cinema just faded away. It is about one of the early cinema-magicians, Georges Melies played by Ben Kingsley.
The scene is mostly set in the railway station, which is some sort of an old version of present-day airports with a melee of characters and shops, including a Gothic bookshop and a station master played by Sacha Baron Cohen. The war referred to its by old name of The Great War is used as a tragic context of the closed chapter of the cinema's birth
The film is wonderful frame by frame because it reflects the compositional and narratives skills of Scorsese, but the story flounders. Through convoluted plot movements the denouement sketched is sentimental but it fails to warm the hearts of the viewers.
It is not much of a wonder that though it won the technical words for sound, special effects and sound editing, it did not win either the best director or best picture though it was nominated in both the categories along with a total of 11 nominations. Of course, Oscars have not been fair to the genius of Scorsese. But not this time round. Here is a meandering tale of a director who wants to look back at the magic that cinema was and that cinema is. Compared to "The Artist"which is also about the silent era of cinema, Hugo lacks the emotional intensity. Scorsese tries to play around cleverly with a labyrinthine plot.
Had the story focused on George Melies as The Arist did on the hero of the film who is a heartthrob of silent cinema and loses out when sound comes in then it would have had a greater impact. But Scorsese is tempted by the visual potential of a steam-filled half-dark railway station and its modern Gothic play of darkness and light both in characterisation and the scene. Scorsese's Hugo is like Wallace Stevens poem, structured and symbolic, but with no kernel of emotion or truth.