Long before film pioneers and legends Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith became famous, cinemas first superstar was Georges Melies, whose story is told in this film, Hugo. Though based on a popular children's novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" (by Brian Selznick), in which Melies is a character, most of what was written about him is based on fact.
It may be hard for some of you to image, but someday - if their films don't survive - future generations could even forget Orson Welles, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg.
Georges Méliès was born in Paris in 1861 and from an early age showed an interest in mechanical things and the arts which led his parents to send him to the best art school in Paris.
In 1884, Georges moved to London to continue his studies at the request of his parents. They insisted that he learn English after which they intended for him to work at his father's shoe company.
While in London, he developed a keen interest in stage conjury and illusions after witnessing the work of Nevil Maskelyne, a British magician and inventor (it was he who came up with the idea of pay toilets) and Professor George Cooke, inventor of the stage trick of levitation.
On his return to Paris Georges worked at his father's factory while continuing to cultivate his interest in stage magic, attending performances at the famous Robert-Houdin Théâtre.
The theater had been founded by the French magician Robert-Houdin, who had started the trend of performing in a tuxedo and is considered the father of modern magicians. And it's where Harry Houdini got his name!
When the theater was later put up for sale, Méliès managed to raise enough money to buy it.
From that point on he worked full time as a theatrical showman whose performances revolved around magic and illusion.
When the Lumière brothers held a special private demonstration of their invention, the Cinématographe, on December 28 1895, Méliès witnessed the World Premiere of projected movies. Clearly impressed, he offered the Lumière Brothers 10,000 francs to sell him one of their machines which was a miraculous motion picture camera and projector all in one - but they turned him down.
Determined to learn more, Méliès sought out a British inventor, in London and bought his version of a film projector.
He began screening other peoples films for the public at his theater - mainly those made by Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, but after modifying the equipment he also used it as a camera, and he started making and showing his own movies. His first films were one reel, one shot views lasting about a minute. As raw film stock and film processing labs were not yet available in Paris, Méliès purchased unperforated film in London, and personally developed and printed his films through trial and error.
Méliès' major contribution to cinema was the combination of traditional theatrical elements to the just invented motion pictures - he sought to present spectacles of a kind not possible in live theatre.
In the Autumn of 1896, an event occurred which has since passed into film folklore and changed the way Méliès looked at filmmaking. While shooting a simple street scene, the camera jammed and it took him a few seconds to fix the problem. After processing the film, he was struck by the effect the incident had on the scene - objects suddenly appeared, disappeared or were transformed into other objects, men turned into women, a bus became a hearse!
Méliès discovered from this accident that cinema had the capacity for manipulating and distorting both time and space. He expanded upon his initial ideas and devised some complex special effects with the magic of editing. He was now able to pull off illusions on the screen that he was never able to do on stage.
He pioneered the first double exposure in his film The Cave of the Demons, the first split screen with performers acting opposite themselves in Four Heads Are Better Than One, and the first dissolve in the 1899 version of Cinderella.
Faced with a shrinking market once the novelty of his films began to wear off, and an explosion of competitors, Méliès abandoned film production during WWI. He was forced to turn his innovative motion picture studio into a Variety Theatre and resumed his pre-film career as a Showman. Eventually he couldn't even pay for the storage of his flammable nitrate films.
In 1923 he was declared bankrupt and his beloved theatre was demolished.
Méliès almost disappeared into obscurity until the gradual rediscovery of his career by film historians began.
"Hugo" is unlike any other film Martin Scorsese has ever made, and yet possibly the closest to his heart: a big-budget, family epic and in some ways, a mirror of his own life.
Filmed in 3-D, it is worth noting that Scorsese made his first special effects movie about the man who invented special effects.
The film's first half is devoted to the escapades of its young hero. The way the CGI and other techniques are used to create the railway station and the city of Paris in 1931 is breathtaking.
For a lover of cinema, the best scenes will come in the second half, as flashbacks trace the history and career of Georges Melies.
You may have seen his most famous short film, "A Trip to the Moon" made way back in 1902, in which space voyagers enter a ship that is shot from a cannon toward the moon; and the rocket pokes the Man in the Moon in the eye.
"Hugo" celebrates the birth of the cinema and dramatizes the importance of the preservation of old films, which is on going and never ending. And it reminds us that sometimes life is like a moving train, or the gears that turn inside a clock, or like the Paris train station filed with all kinds of interesting characters that all matter and make up our story.