Hugo is a family film with a mystery wrapped in a loving homage. And I loved every moment of it.
I’m about to say a couple things I never would have expected about this film. Granted, I didn’t know a lot about Hugo going in, and I don’t know if that had any significant affect on my response to it, though I’m leaning toward ‘no’ based on how I felt while leaving the theater. That being said, while this is basically considered a family film, I can honestly say that most everyone will find something to enjoy about it, unless you’re under 8 or 9 years old. You do need an attention span to watch it. But you had damn well better see it, and you should even see it in 3D. Yes, those are the two things.
Martin Scorcese directed Hugo, and I might say he did so masterfully. It is a story of a young orphan boy in 1930’s Paris that lives in the walls of a train station. He gets engaged in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton they were trying to repair before his death.
I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything less from Scorsese, but you know, even though he is amongst the best, he still isn’t perfect. (I site Gangs of New York. Ok, maybe just my opinion, but not his best work. C’mon, he let Daniel Day-Lewis act like a cartoon character.) And being a family film, I didn’t really expect to feel the way I do about this movie. But not only is Hugo beautifully shot, but even the 3D is absolutely perfectly integrated into the film, becoming so much more than the gimmick it is, but it was clearly made an integral element of the film without feeling like a separate “add-on” technique. The environment of the train station, of the inner workings of the clocks; the gears, switches and tunnels, the crowds in the station, everything is perfectly designed to enhance the camera work to really put you in the scene. Sure, there are shots that would be perfectly wonderful without it, but this is just that much more immersive. Scorcese may have made better use of 3D than Cameron in Avatar. There it was a spectacle; here it is a character in the film. Yeah, I said that.
But all technical aspects aside, Hugo is full of emotion, of fully realized characters that you come to care for – even the lesser ones that we know so few facts about. Hugo Cabret, played to perfection by Asa Butterfield, cares for the clocks in the train station after his uncle disappears. From inside the clocks he sometimes observes the people below. From those brief observations we get to know just enough of these lesser characters through their interactions; interactions that offer us very little dialogue. But still we feel with them. And some of that is to the actors credits, like Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer, Frances de la Tour, Helen McCrory, and Christopher Lee. And our leads, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Ben Kingsley are all flawless.
And another surprise to me is that this isn’t just a story of a boy seeking answers to a mystery, but it is clearly a kind of love letter to the earliest days of film making – even to the physical medium of film itself. Hugo is a family film with a mystery wrapped in a loving homage. And I loved every moment of it. Not knowing anything about Martin Scorcese’s youth, I can only imagine that he felt some sort of connection to this story. Hats off to John Logan for adapting the book material of Brian Selznick. The story is a wonderful one and pulls every heart string just the right amount throughout.
Obviously I’m recommending Hugo highly. Four and a half kittenhands. Why not five, you ask? I don’t know. Maybe it should be. That would make it perfect, and perfect is hard to find. But either way, this is a front-funner for me as a favorite film of the year. This is clearly a labor of love for Scorcese and it shows on screen. Go see Hugo, and even see it in 3D.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking that if there were EVER going to be a case FOR 3D, this film is it.