US Release Date: 11-23-2011
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
- Ben Kingsley, as
- Georges Melies
- Sacha Baron Cohen, as
- Station Inspector
- Asa Butterfield, as
- Hugo Cabret
- Chloe Grace Moretz, as
- Ray Winstone, as
- Uncle Claude
- Emily Mortimer, as
- Christopher Lee, as
- Monsieur Labisse
- Helen McCrory, as
- Mama Jeanne
- Michael Stuhlbarg, as
- Rene Tabard
- Frances de la Tour, as
- Madame Emilie
- Richard Griffiths, as
- Monsieur Frick
- Jude Law as
- Hugo's Father
Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz experience the magic of the movies in Hugo.
The marketing of this movie is horrible. I almost didn't see it because of the way it was presented in the previews. I was under the misapprehension that this was a kid's movie featuring lots of slapstick humor lead by Sacha Baron Cohen as a bumbling French policeman. It wasn't until the film started showing up on some best of year lists that I finally decided to see it. Turns out it's actually a heartwarming story about finding your place in the world, while also being a loving tribute to the early days of cinema and a personal tribute to George Melies, the French cinema pioneer. Any film buff with an interest in the history of the movies will want to see it.
Young Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, a French boy living in a Paris train station in 1931. Hugo is an orphan whose clockmaker father (Jude Law in a couple of flashbacks) died in a fire and whose mother died years before that. Hugo was taken in by his alcoholic uncle who was in charge of the clocks at the train station, but soon left Hugo in charge and ran off. Hugo stays hidden in the vaults and tunnels around the train station, keeping the clocks running himself so that no one will discover his uncle is missing.
One day Hugo is caught stealing by the owner of a toy store in the station. The owner confiscates the notebook Hugo's father left him. Hugo follows him home to try and get it back. He befriends the owner's adopted daughter Isabelle and the two of them share adventures, eventually learning that the owner is in fact George Melies, who used to be a famous film director, but who is now a broken and bitter man.
The look of the movie is gorgeous and Paris of the period is lovingly recreated. It's still difficult for me to imagine just how it cost $180 million as is reported, but it definitely looks good. Scoresese also had fun I'm sure, recreating several of Melies famous films which are shown in production during flashbacks. There's also a sequence on the face of a clock that is a direct tribute to Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, a clip of which is shown when Hugo and Isabelle go to the movies.
While the film history and not so subtle push for film preservation will be of interest to film buffs, the heart of the story is universal and touching. Each of the characters in the film are lost to varying degrees and they're all looking for a place where they belong. Even the station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who is the villain and the most comic character, is really just looking for love. It's a sweet story told with just the right amount of sentimentality.
The cast is all very good. Butterfield and Moretz have a youthful and innocent chemistry together. They're too young for it to be romantic, but you could see it going that way in a few years. Ben Kingsley is as reliable as ever and the station is populated by a cast of familiar character actors who help bring the story to life.
Maybe with a little more honesty in marketing this movie might be doing better at the box office. I know that I would have seen it sooner.
Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz in Hugo
As Scott wrote, Hugo is a loving tribute to George Melies as well as all silent films, and for that matter all movies. There are people who like movies. There are people who love them. Then there are those who worship them. Martin Scorsese is a well know member of the latter. Although Hugo is based on plenty of historical truth, Scorsese films it all as if it were an utter fantasy. After all, is that not what movies are, whether fact or fiction?
We threemoviebuffs have watched quite a few silent films of late and even a couple by George Melies. It was fun recognizing the silent film movie posters on display when Hugo and and Isabelle go to the French Cinema. When they look through a book on movies, Scorsese makes a photograph of Buster Keaton from The General (1927) briefly come to life. Hugo watches Harold Lloyd's classic Safety Last (1923) and then later finds himself hanging from a clock, outside a building. For film aficionados, movies are magical.
Scorsese included the Station Inspector for some needed levity. He has very little to do with the actual plot, but provides some laughs. I liked when he bragged of mastering three smiles. His is the one part that could have been cut to shorten the length, but then we would have missed the funny conversations with the ignorant policeman, about his pregnant wife.
Melies was a pioneer in film making and he understood as much as anyone who has come since, the power that film has to take an audience to places they may never actually go. They were fantasy food for the eyes and imaginations of the time. As he says to someone visiting his studio, "If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around: this is where they're made."
Scott, the $180 million budget can be partly attributed to the digital imagery. Every time a character walks outside they are stepping into an animated Paris, circa 1931. The effects are brilliant, as are all of the details. The sets of the station are filled with objects and bustling people. The maze of tunnels Hugo works and live in almost seem alive as they constantly make noise and steam and have many moving parts. The symbolism of the heart shaped key and Hugo's ill fitting clothes all tell a story themselves. Hugo casts quite a spell.
Although there was much liberty taken with the truth, this film follows some important facts. Melies did retire from film in 1913. The movie solely blames World War I, while in reality there was also some financial problems. He did in fact, work at a candy/toy shop in the Paris train station and was later rediscovered for his film work, and became the first movie legend. The biggest surprise for me, was that I discovered there really were automatons.
Movies, whether based on reality or fantasy, are a brief vacation from the rest of our lives. Scorsese understood this as much as Melies did more than one hundred years ago. Hugo best explains it when he quotes his father as saying that a movie, "is like a dream in the middle of the day,"
Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield in Hugo.
Hugo was a mixed bag for me. I had very high expectations for this movie and I'm sure that played a part in the fact that I was a bit disappointed by it. Visually it's breathtaking. It wouldn't surprise me if it wins the Oscar for Best Art Direction. This is 1931 Paris as we imagine it looked. I loved the scenes that paid tribute to early cinema. The flashbacks of George Melies at work in his glass studio where the making of his historic movies took place are fascinating.
Unfortunately Hugo starts off slow. The first half hour was pretty dull and uneventful. It wasn't until Hugo followed Melies home that the story got interesting. I also thought the characterization of this seminal filmmaker was a bit uneven. I get that he is bitter and doesn't want to look back on his former life of creativity and fame but his change in personality is so abrupt. One minute he seems like a heartless old man and the next he walks in on his movie being shown and suddenly he's a changed man.
Of the cast I was most impressed with Helen McCrory as Mama Jeanne. She embodies the movie's theme of nostalgia more than any other character. Watching her watch her younger self onscreen is one of the emotional high points in the story.
The scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen were my least favorite parts of the movie. He was too much of a bumbling cartoon villain. The climactic finale where Hugo escapes from the station inspector and his dog by climbing out on the clock high above the Paris streets seemed contrived and unnecessary.
I saw this movie in 3D and I think that was a mistake. I really dislike the technology. In my opinion it is nothing more than a cheap gimmick that ruins the art of cinematography (not to mention making my eyes hurt). I honestly think I would have enjoyed this movie more without it. Scorsese at least deserves credit for trying his hand at a family movie. Although I found the final result to be uneven it certainly has its moments. Every scene that paid homage to the birth of cinema enthralled me, the rest of the movie not so much.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2011)