Hugo Directed by: Martin Scorsese Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Stuhlbarg Running Time: 2 hrs 7 mins Rating: PG Release Date: November 23, 2011
PLOT: A boy (Butterfield) who lives in the walls of a Paris train station seeks to understand the meaning behind an automaton given to him by his father.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Hugo's length and patience with its story might be difficult for some attention spans. While this movie could certainly excite children, it’s as if the movie is made for adults who have still maintained child-like wonderment when witnessing breaths of true cinema. Or those who thought "History of Cinema" was the best class in film school. That being said, this movie is especially made for Martin Scorsese.
EXPECTATIONS: Hugo was especially curious on two levels: how would a Scorsese film look in 3D, and what business does he have telling a story (supposedly) for children?
Asa Butterfield as Hugo: Even if Butterfield has been in a few films before, he is a breathless discovery here, holding our attention with his bright blue eyes and enchanting film that he effectively carries. He works hand-in-hand with some beautiful cinematography to create some of the year's most visually splendid sequences. The camera hurls us into the life of Hugo, and we are more than happy to be with him on this journey. Score: 8
Chloe Grace Moretz as Isabelle: Though she helps Hugo in his journey as his female sidekick, Isabelle doesn't have much of an effect on the story. That being said, Moretz makes her limited lead time work, with an exception of a couple bumpy moments with a forced accent (especially when we first meet her). Score: 6
Ben Kingsley as Papa George: Kingsley is very good as both "crotchety old man" and "wise wizard." His transition between the two feels a little sudden, but more importantly Kingsley gives this movie a warming touch when the focus is put all on him. He might sometimes feel like a man with a monologue to get off his chest, but when he does, you'll feel it. Score: 7
Sacha Baron Cohen as Station Inspector: The former Borat and Bruno comedy mastermind is brought in to provide pure cartoon-like relief, and he does so wonderfully in this bit performance. Cohen doesn't let his character become disposable, and instead is a lively, always entertaining creature of the Paris station that he constantly stalks. Cohen is in full grasp of the Inspector's villainous aspects, and also of the character's sensitive shortcomings. Score: 7
Michael Stulhbarg as Rene Tabard: In Hugo, even the film historian has some magic radiating off him. Tabard is a fully passionate film scholar that we can easily say stands in for the physical presence of Scorsese himself. Watching Tabard talk about films, and act so respectful about the medium, is a joy in its own. Seeing the actor from A Serious Man in another memorable role is another gift. Score: 7
TALKING: Not only does Hugo speak to its target young audience with film history, but the script also hopes to inspire investigation into colorful words like "panache" and "visage." Hugo's comical sequences use a spare amount of dialogue, with the word usage feeling reluctant. Perhaps in another era, a lot of this film would be silent. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Yes, it's true. 3D has never looked richer than in Hugo, a brilliantly shot movie that makes incredible use out of depth when shooting in the often commercial format. Scorsese's knack for sweeping one-takes is heightened even more by the rich 3D which, for the first time since Avatar possibly, feels totally necessary to appreciate the image on screen. Clips from classic films like The Great Train Robbery or Safety Last! are not in 3D, but a handful of clips by Georges Melies are. Score: 10
SOUNDS: Gypsy jazz music is used in a couple of cartoon-like sequences. A powerful montage in the third act is given a special boost of sadness with a piece by Erik Satie, a composer not normally heard in children's films. Special praise must be given for the sound design of Hugo, which tackles the intricate harmonies of various gears throughout the film churning and clicking all at once. The Hugo score by Howard Shore has an element of wonder of its own. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: George's speech is the centerpiece of Hugo's passion, and it is wonderful to see how Scorsese mixes in the creative stages behind a Melies film with the actual final results.
ENDING: Hugo is last seen performing magic tricks, while the rest of the Hugo legend will eventually become film history.
QUESTIONS: Is the original book this heavily dedicated to celebrating film? If not, how much Scorsese hijack this story? How will this movie do in the box office? Will this cause a trend in GoogleVideo searches for "A Trip to the Moon"?
REWATCHABILITY: Hugo would be a joy to take in a second time; and yes, it would be worth the second viewing in 3D.
A prominent film historian just as much as he is a director, Martin Scorsese is a cinematic force who dreams of film history and its timeless imagery. Now, with Hugo, his inspired imagination is beautifully in 3D.
Just like his epic documentaries about film history, Hugo is ultimately a passionate look into the beginning of film. This story may as well have been narrated by Uncle Marty, as it's told with the same passion we hear when he speaks for hours about the various films that he holds in his heart.
Tackling the medium of 3D with the same sense of magic that George Melies did cinematic storytelling, Scorsese uses the medium to its full potential. Hugo is full of sweeping long-takes and rich imagery that take advantage of the depth of image allowed by 3D. There are moments in which certain framings feel even more profound than they would in real life. Instead of using the format to make a pop-up book, he has made a series of breathtaking paintings.
While the movie comes from a purely passionate corner of Scorsese, he tends to keep it to himself, instead of giving into the general expectations of modern moviegoers. (How will a movie like this play for the Transformers audience?) Scorsese doesn't even tinker tidily with the main children's story; it's as if he were reluctant to give into every impulse this story may have to turn into The Ultimate Adventure. Hugo and Isabelle talk about "having an adventure," but this is not any adventure children's film has seen for quite some time. Scorsese is clearly much more consumed with his passion to educate his audience, share films with them, and marvel at the movies with him.
Side characters are used for comic relief and to provide color to the station, but they are very much under Scorsese's control - these moments of side character communication feel like slow pit stops, which add up to make the Hugo experience a bit long.
And even with its story of an orphan boy finding his passion, Hugo doesn't have an emotional power, so much as an undeniable radiance of love towards cinema. It loves the movies even more than it loves "The City of Lights," which is given a Ratatouille-like mysticism.
Hugo doesn't just talk about movie history, it also celebrates the wonder of moviemaking as well. Each aspect, such as acting, cinematography, directing, editing, set design, etc., comes alive with film's depiction of Melies at work, and Hugo's own beauty. The film introduces Melies' act of "editing," and defines it as a form of magic trick, while showing off some remarkable editing moments of its own. Hugo hooks audiences into the work of Melies by showing the types of natural cinematic "illusions" made long before animation, CG, or even 3D. With Stuhlbarg's character, Hugo especially celebrates committing a life to loving everything about the movies.
By presenting audiences with true filmmaking, Hugo gleefully aims to excite the little Scorsese within all of us.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10