Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hugo (2011)

Seen: In 3D at the AMC/Loews in Harvard Square.

Hidden away in the labyrinthine inner workings of large train station in 1930s Paris, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) spends his days monitoring the clocks and secretly observing the daily lives of the men and women who frequent the station. At night he works to repair a mysterious automaton that belonged to his father (Jude Law), but when he loses his notebook with details of the robot's inner workings to a somewhat sad and tyrannical toy seller (Ben Kingsley), Hugo finds himself launched into an adventure involving the early film industry in France. He's helped by a book-obsessed girl (Chloe Moretz) who pushes him forward into solving the mystery of the automaton and finding his own peace of mind.

Steeped in deep hues and layered with complex sets and tracking shots, Hugo is beautifully filmed and imaginatively plotted. The atmosphere of 1930s Paris is lively but at times bleak, with cameos from James Joyce and Salvador Dali as well as vicious Dickensian orphan snatchers. I loved the gear-filled behind-the-scenes of the train station and the colorful glimpses of French film pioneer Georges Méliès. In many ways the entire movie is a love letter to Méliès and the unremembered innovations and passions of early filmmakers. While that topic is interesting and somewhat magical for movie lovers, I wonder if it's a bit lost on regular-people viewers.

The cast is impressive, with Ben Kingsley classing up the joint and Sacha Baron Cohen giving an equally humorous and sad performance. Chloe Moretz is adorable and over-the-top British and I loved how she read tons of books and tried to use big vocabulary words all the time. She's like a little fashionable Hermione who isn't quite as useful. Michael Stuhlbarg, who should be in every movie, is awesome and almost unrecognizable behind his big beard and enthusiastic air. Asa Butterfield has a bit of the crazy eyes but I admit he's cute and pretty solid as the lead. I was very worried for his character's health, though, since he kept going about in the snow without any coat and his clothes were all thin and too small for him. He's totally going to catch a chill!

Hugo is lovely and exciting and somewhat magical, but suffers from an overlong running time and an honestly slightly underwhelming payoff. I guess I expected this to be more fantasy/sci-fi/adventurey what with the robot and big mystery and everything. While I liked the story and characters, I felt like the film was building up to something more extreme. Instead it is a more contained, personal tale that would work better with a more subdued tone.


Pair This Movie With: For a truly fantastical tale that also delves a bit into early film, there is of course The Fall. Alternately, at times I was reminded of Amelie for the pretty colors and quaint view of Paris.


  1. Everything I read about this one makes me want to see it even more! Loved your review, I will be seeing it come Thursday, when it will finally premiere here in Puerto Rico. I dont know why they took so long to bring it over here, but Im finally gonna get to see it. One question: did you see it in 3-D? And was the 3-D worth a damn?

  2. It's some of the best use of 3D you'll see - Scorcese apparently went through 3D films (both recent and from the 1950s) and figured out what worked and what could be done, shooting in stereo with that in mind.

  3. The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review Alex.

  4. Damn, everyone has seen this except me... I am going to sulk.

    Great write up as ever

  5. The 3D is worth a damn, just don't expect it to be very flashy. There are a few show-offy moments, though.

  6. Film Connoisseur: Yes I saw it in 3D, and though it looked beautiful and I think it used the effect very well, I don't think it was necessary for the film. I still would have thought it beautiful in 2D. Then again I'm especially anti-3D because I find it distractingly uncomfortable to wear the glasses over my regular glasses, especially for longer movies.

    Dan: Yes I could deal with the too-long running time because it was all so pretty!

    Scott: Oh it's ok, you're not the only one! I took forever to see it myself. And thanks!

    Rich: It is nice how he used it more subtly, that's true.

  7. Oh and Jason: That's cool, I didn't realize he'd researched the 3D aspect so much!

  8. Personally, I loved the film (even the 3D - which i'm generally not a fan of), and think it deserves the high critical praise it has gotten. However, I was surprised to be sitting in a virtually empty theatre when I went to see it opening week - and wondered aloud (after seeing it) who the audience is going to be for such a film?

  9. I just saw this. I agree with EVERYTHING YOU SAY!