Hugo captivated audiences and Oscar voters this year, probably because of its nostalgic setting and its look into movie-making history. The story tells of Hugo (an orphan living in a Paris train station)’s quest to finish his father’s robot in order to receive one last message from him leads to a second storyline of an old film-maker reconnecting with his lost work. Its a bit of a stretch, but its a family film, so whatever.
After hearing so much hype about how good this movie looks and watching Hugo steal all of the technical awards at the Oscars, I think my expectations for this film as a visual feast were too high. Honestly, I felt like the art was a little too drab most of the time. The sets and details did a good job of setting time and place, I was just hoping it would reach that extra mile, which I suppose sometimes it did, like watching the Paris skyline through the clock tower.
The story of Hugo’s quest is not overly complex and does lead to in interesting conclusion. But what Scorsese does here is he tries to do a Rear Window type of storytelling by giving us a peek into the lives of the people Hugo watches in the station. This whole idea feels really forced, leads no where, and smacks of trying too hard to be whimsical.
Eventually the movie moves away from Hugo’s orphan tale and into a history of film-making, but was rather fun to watch. Hugo and his friend Isabelle watch Safety Last, learn about the early Man in the Moon and Train station films, and we also get a flashback to being on the set for some of Melies’ pictures. This is enjoyable for film buffs, even if it is a bit in-your-face, and also any regular movie-goers who find themselves curious about the history of movies.
Even though the visuals were slightly disappointing, they were still well-done. The narrative was nothing too special but is enough of a mystery for kids I suppose, with the film history bits thrown in for older crowds. Ben Kingsley as Melies and Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector are good as support cast, but the acting by the two children leads was pretty poor. There were moments where Asa Butterfield started bursting into tears with so much effort which that were almost laughable to watch. But they are child actors after all, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too rough on them.
There was a lot here to like, but at the same time this is a very self-aware film. This is noticeable with the side stories of the man and the lady with her dog, the station inspector and the flower girl, and the very amped up “movies are dreams come to life” message. But overall enjoyable.