Hint: it begins with an 'M'...
In my family, my mother, youngest brother, and I have a tendency to go to the movies when we don't know what to do with ourselves. It's like the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of actions, if you will; the something to do when you have nothing to do at all. So our family-friendly trio opted to go see Hugo for this year's round of post-Christmas dead time.
Judging from what I had of the preview I was mostly going on the ideas of "this looks really pretty" and "omigod this is a kid's movie directed by Scorsese!" Admittedly, I was a little skeptical about how good it would be as the well-known director's first attempt at a different audience, but I was pleasantly surprised at the end result.
The film begins with the story of a young boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a Parisian train station. As we learn early-on, Hugo's father died in a museum fire and he was left to his uncle to help keep the clocks of the station in working order. But Hugo's uncle has since disappeared and he continues to work the clocks in order to keep himself off the radar of the bumbling station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). After getting caught stealing parts from the booth of a toymaker (Ben Kingsley) the boy's cherished notebook, filled with pictures of parts for an automaton that he and his father were repairing, is taken away from him. Hugo is extremely distraught, even following the old man back to his house to try and get it back. In an attempt to win back this notebook, he befriends the toymaker's foster daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Armed with a taste for adventure from her many books, Isabelle urges him to embark with her on an adventure to fix Hugo's broken "automaton" (robot, to you and I). During this journey, they find out a message that the automaton's been hiding, and with it Papa George's secret past.
Beautiful cinematography: ready, set, go!
Without giving too much away (or at least trying not to..), what they find out is strongly attached to the early history of film itself, making the film largely a love letter to cinema. Showcasing clips from early films such as Train Entering a Station, The Kiss, The Great Train Robbery, and A Trip to the Moon, Scorsese takes a young audience's attention and directs it to a subject that most children do not learn until they are college-bound. This movie sneakily incorporates a good deal of film history into a children's adventure plot, which of course makes crazy cinephiles like me absolutely delighted. It manages to capture the majority of film's modest beginnings without seeming like it's going off on a tangent, and thus keeps the mystery of the plot intact while teaching history.
In terms of the feel of the movie, I've got to say, it's beautifully shot. Everything is in crystal-clear high definition and the lighting in every shot is gorgeous. Each frame could be placed on a wall as art. The movie is also shot somewhat idealistically and romantically, reflecting in itself glamorous films of the 20s, and giving a nod to Oscar glam in the end scene.
What's the Great Depression?
That being said, perhaps the reflexive nature of the film is a bit much for a children's movie. Everything was just slightly heavier than most kid's movies are, which is a somewhat common mistake that directors make, in my own humble opinion (anyone else hate The Polar Express? Bleh.). For example, while I would say that all of the acting was very well done by the young actors Butterfield and Moretz (who I love. Please see Let Me In), there was a certain maturity to it that left them seeming a little unrealistic to some degree. Although that was probably on purpose (I imagine most children that live in train stations by themselves are slightly more mature than their peers), I had a hard time viewing them as regular children, and thus had trouble empathizing a little. Hugo has some moments that seem overly sentimental, which I feel is a little weird for a boy. Perhaps I'm being picky, but I should also admit that I have a low tolerance for sap (unless it's hilariously overdone. As in every Lifetime movie I've ever seen) and I have two extremely non-emotional little brothers who seem to foil Hugo.
Another qualm that I certainly have with the film is the creepy robot kid. In the days of such movies as Child's Play, I, Robot, and Surrogates, I was waiting for the damn thing to come alive and kill people for the entire movie. Also he keeps on staring at Hugo in, like, every scene. Dear Martin Scorsese: Why in God's name would you place a message from a poor boy's dead father in such a freakin' creepy "automaton"? Yeesh...
After a string of murders the children regretted ever fixing the damaged robot.
But besides Creepy Robot Child, the movie is actually quite a pleasure to watch. For those of you with a passion for film without much knowledge of how it came to be, I certainly hope that you will check this out and that it will pique your interest in learning the history of film (as I'm sure Sir Scorsese planned...sneaky man...).
Touche Scorsese, and well done.
Four outa five stars.
PS Sacha Baron Cohen is the funniest person in this movie. If for no other reason, see it to see his performance.
Also, here's the preview in case you need more persuasion to see how pretty it is.