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Review: HUGO

November 23rd, 2011 in Reviews by 3 Comments

Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s latest offering is billed as a children’s adventure story. While there are children in the story and there are some adventures, this film is NOT a children’s story.

The story we think we are going to see is about Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a pre-teen orphan who lives his life within the walls of a Parisian train station in the early 1930’s. He sets and maintains all of the clocks in the station by day and works on a mysterious automaton, the only remnant left from his deceased father (Jude Law), by night. The boy steals his food which draws the ire of the station’s irrationally orphan-hating head constable, played by Sacha Baron Cohen who seemed to channel Carol Burnett in her performance as Miss Hannigan from Annie (minus all the booze).

Hugo also steals spare mechanical parts he needs for his automaton from the station’s toy shop which is owned and operation by Georges Méliés (Ben Kingsley). Méliés, a cranky and bitter old man confiscates a little sketch book containing schematics for the automaton and seems to care much more about that than the fact that Hugo had been taking things from him.

In the process of trying to get his little notebook back from Monsieur Méliés, he meets an intriguing young girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who just so happens to be the charge of Monsieur Méliés and his wife Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory).

They have seemingly pointless adventures meeting with station book shop owner Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee). Hugo and Isabelle share each other’s worlds with one another and start to realize that they are much more connected than they ever could have realized.

Isabelle is no mere friend though; she is literally the key for Hugo to unlock the mystery that surrounds the automaton that he until that point had not gotten to work. The automaton has a pen in his hand and Hugo is convinced that if he can get it to work, he will receive a message from his deceased father. Isabelle wears a key in the shape of a heart that is the missing piece.

The automaton goes to work, at first drawing random and meaningless figures but eventually he draws a picture of a rocket that has been shot into the face of the man in the moon (an homage to one of Méliés’s works entitled “A Trip To The Moon.” Underneath the picture is a name, Georges Méliés. This is significant because Hugo remembers the image from a movie his father had taken him to see and Isabelle realizes that Georges Méliés is her “Papa George.”

This is the story we are truly meant to see. Turns out that grumpy old toy shop owner “Papa George” is really film pioneer and legend Georges Méliés (who is a real historical figure responsible for the introduction of time-lapse photography, dissolves and multiple exposures). Méliés had given up movie making years before because much of his work was destroyed and (he felt) extremely unappreciated at the time. His bitterness towards film was so great he didn’t even let his “daughter,” Isabelle ever to see movies. This film is based on the 2007 historical fiction novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick whose main focus is telling the story of Georges Méliés.

This is where the story sort of loses me. This is where I was ripped out of this beautiful fantasy world that Scorsese brilliantly created with stunning cinematography and masterful use of 3D technology (of which this was Scorsese’s first film using it). Scorsese is heavily involved in the cause of film restoration and preservation and Hugo started to feel like an infomercial or fund-raiser for the cause.

The film completely shifted to tell the story of a film pioneer which, in and of itself is fine but it took away from the majesty of the adventure we were starting to be really involved in and that is Hugo and his quest for understanding regarding his father’s death and to some extent his own life’s purpose. Hugo’s father used to take him to the cinema all the time and one of Hugo’s favorite images was of the man in moon with a big old rocket in his eye.

Thanks to the help of a film historian René Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) much of Méliés’s work is discovered to have survived and he is given the credit he deserves which allows him to be a part of the world he once loved and thought had turned its back on him. It also brings Hugo and Isabella into a life they never imagined possible, into a family.

Is this film self serving for Scorsese’s own personal passion and cause? Indeed it is. Is this film (at least somewhat) mislabeled as a children’s adventure? Indeed it is. Is the pacing choppy at times and unnecessarily long-winded and seemingly pointless? Indeed it is.

Despite all of that, is Hugo an inspired story which will touch your heart and bring you into a wonderful world where mysterious are solved, redemption is found, purposes are served and yes, even love is found? Indeed it is! Scorsese, through his use of modern 3D technology, his crafted story telling and excellent characters, delivers what some may come to consider a masterpiece of an homage to film making(ers) of the past.

At the end of the day, Hugo is a celebration of film, from the making of it to the viewing of it. As a film lover, above all of the films imperfections, if you let it, this movie will touch your heart and bring you to a place that you might never want to leave. When you go see this film, bring an open heart and a suspension of disbelief and allow yourself to benefit from the stroke of a master film maker.

Why does everyone in 1930’s Paris speak with a British accent? WHO CARES!!!!!

If pushed to give this film a numerical value, let’s call it 4 out of 5 stars. The use of the 3D technology, despite being Scorsese’s first effort using it, was the most effective I have seen since Avatar. It adds such depth to the screen and it makes you feel like you are truly a part of that world. Despite its imperfections, when the film is over you will be a little sad that you have to leave this world Scorsese so brilliantly crafted.

Author: Mike D


Liz Parker - 11/23/2011

I think it’s “Georges Melies,” btw – I only know this because I was reading about him on Wikipedia before writing my article :).

And yes, I thought it was funny how they all had British accents!! That was so random.

The only reason it was a kids movie is that it had kids in it. I agree that they have been marketing it towards kids, but kids are not going to fully understand it, though they will probably like the 3D.

Mike D - 11/23/2011

You are correct, it is Georges. I try to double check these things but I struggled with this review and the deadline was looming and I just wanted it done!

Kids definitely won’t get it but they might just get caught up in the splendor of it and get enough out of it?

Liz Parker - 11/23/2011

Yes – they will like the great cinematography, I’m sure.

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