Review: Hugo


I feel sorry for Hugo because no one is going to go see it. We’ll all be heading to The Muppets this holiday weekend (and with good reason) and it’s going to languish despite the fact that it’s simply a fantastic movie. It’s the kind of movie that deserves to do well and deserves to get recognition because it’s got so much going on, but it won’t do either because of when it is being released and how it is being marketed. It’s a shame because this is a great movie from one of cinema’s greatest directors. It will most likely pop up on a bunch of underrated lists ten years down the line, and you’ll think about how you always wanted to see it, but never got around to it.

Read on to hear about the best movie you won’t be going to see over the holiday weekend.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: PG
Release Date: November 23, 2011

To begin with, if you’re thinking Hugo is an awkward stab at children’s movies and 3D by Martin Scorsese in his old age you couldn’t be more wrong. This is as much a children’s film thematically as any of his other movies, and with an over two hour running time, it doesn’t quite fit into most kid’s attention spans anyway. No, this is a movie about movies themselves. About the magic they create and the wonder you get from watching them. It’s a film about film, and in that way maybe it is a different kind of children’s movie. It’s a movie for the kid inside every adult who loves the adventure and excitement of going to the movies. It’s a movie made to not only teach people about cinema’s past, but reignite their passion for its future. More importantly, it’s just a great movie.

Themes, ideas, and inner children aside, Hugo does have a plot. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo tells the story of a young boy, the titular Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s. Hugo is orphaned after his father dies and is only left with a clockwork doll that he and his father were attempting to fix. Hugo spends his days maintaining the train station’s clocks and stealing parts to repair the doll. One day he is caught stealing by Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) who takes Hugo’s father’s notebook for himself and sets off a chain of events involving his adopted granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the station’s inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen), and a cast of other delightful characters perfectly captured out of a child’s view of the world. For film buffs out there, yes, it is that Georges Méliès, but explaining how it all ties together would ruin one of the best film stories of the year.

From beginning to end there is almost no part of Hugo that isn’t visually stunning. Scorsese created a gorgeous world with characters straight out of a child’s imagination and imbued it with life, and believe it or not, 3D is one of the reasons this world is so spectacular. No one has ever made a 3D movie like this, and if you ever want to point someone to a film that proves 3D has value, then this is it. Scorsese masterfully uses the new-found depth to pull you into the screen. Every scene is layered with so much life and activity that the 3D is necessary to truly represent the world and enjoy the movie. Shots have amazing central focus points that use 3D to incredible effect without being cheesy or launching things at the screen. Scorsese should get an Oscar for this simply because he’s finally shown the world how 3D should be done: not as a useless gimmick, but as a tool that helps the filmmaker to create a world.

And what an absolutely wonderful world it is; filled with the childhood wonder of fantastic machines and brilliantly crafted characters that somehow feel like they’ve been plucked out of a cartoon but are, at the same time, real. Once the film takes off in the second half, and the story begins to unfold, it’s hard not to be swept away by its wonder and magic, especially if you love movies. Even more impressive is how the story weaves a true story into its childlike fiction.

Aiding in the fantastical story are some fantastic performances. Of course, we expect great things from the likes of Ben Kingsly, Emily Mortimer and Christopher Lee, but young Butterfield turns in a performance that makes me truly happy he’s been offered the lead in Ender’s Game. There’s a lot going on for Hugo as a character, and Butterfield handles it all incredibly well for a child actor. Of course, when you’re being directed by one of the greatest directors in history, that helps, but it’s still an impressive performance. Sadly, Mortez isn’t quite as up to the challenge as Butterfield and her character feels like the weak link in a cast that delivers in every other case.

While it doesn’t ruin the film by any stretch of the imagination, Hugo does have some pacing problems. It takes a good long while to get where its going in the beginning, and unfortunately the story that unfolds in the latter half of the film is the one that’s truly interesting. This will be an issue for younger kids especially, who might get bored with the film before it takes off, and even after it takes off might not like the story. Still, with Scorsese’s use of 3D, even the slow-to-start beginning is stunningly gorgeous and will knock you off your feet.

Hugo is the kind of movie you will fall in love with and want to share with everyone. Scorsese has once again shown why he is such an influential and important director all while sharing his love and passion for film beautifully on the screen. More importantly, he has finally validated 3D. I don’t know if Hugo will make enough of a splash to get any true recognition, but it certainly deserves it.

Jamie StoneHugo has been a shroud of mystery for me since I had first seen the trailers for it. It seemed like a Christopher Columbus joint, but lo and behold, it was a Scorsese film. I was curious to see what Scorsese could bring to the table with a whimsical film like Hugo. Needless to say, it feels a bit like a child’s film produced by an adult. There is a certain lack of escapism missing here as even the children don’t know how to just have fun. It’s as if they’re carrying the weight of the deaths of Scorsese Films Past on their shoulders as the characters emote and suffer through the entire film, not for a moment being allowed the least bit of fun (the kids are literally dragged away from fun during one scene, in fact). It’s the difference between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Order of the Phoenix, the first being child-like and fun with a few mild dangers along the way, while the second is dangerous and unyielding and difficult to watch. The same is true with Hugo as we see that the children are in a whimsical world, but they have neither the will nor the way to imagine an idealized world for themselves. In that sense, Hugo is a harsh, yet touching tale of loss that feels a bit uneven, but ultimately satisfying. Its slow pacing might bore some (a man in back of me snored through a fair bit of it), but I was kept interested by the mystery of the unfolding story… and this “Clockpunk” story is truly worth the watch… no pun intended. 74 – Good

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Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.