Based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s new feature film.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy whose father (Jude Law) died in a fire at a museum, leaving him to the care of his uncle Claude. The only possession left with Hugo is a machine called an automaton which he intends to fix. And so, Hugo is taken to work at tending to the clocks at a train station in 1930’s Paris. It is there that he has to rely on theft to survive and work on fixing the automaton, hoping it would give him some closure or information as to the death of his father. At that train station, he stumbles on a man named George (Ben Kingsley) who owns a toy shop. Hugo soon becomes friends with George’s niece, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who strangely holds a key to fixing the automaton and open an adventure for the two of them – all as the station’s Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) goes after Hugo, in attempts to take him to the orphanage.
Hugo is a stunning movie. It is beautiful, gorgeous, mesmerizing. The cinematography, the visual effects, the direction, the music – all of these combine together to give you a very pretty movie to watch. It takes you in. It fascinates you at many points. It captivates you. It transcends out of the movie theatre, taking you to Paris, the city in which it was supposedly set.
But all of the above combined also need a good plot or story to help the fabric be tightly knit together into delivering a full-package movie. So the central question regarding Hugo arises: is the plot engaging enough?
The answer is a succinct miserable no.
Not only is the story so bland that it makes the movie altogether boring, it really puts a damper into all that the movie had going for it. The cinematography, though as I said is beautiful, becomes emotionally ineffective. The movie starts to go all over the place, not knowing really the point behind making it – is it a tribute to old cinema or is it an entertaining children’s movie? Is it a fantasy or it is pseudo-reality?
Hugo, being a movie revolved around machinery and clocks, has very machine-like acting as well. The actors – all of them – deliver strained performances that never really hit home, even when there’s enough emotional material for them to deliver. The comic timing in the movie is off that you find yourself rarely laughing even at its heartfelt moments. The action buildup is theoretically there but in reality never happens. You can tell what’s going to happen from a mile away and eventually, it happens. There are no surprises, no twists, nothing to mentally captivate you.
Hugo is more a vehicle for its director, Martin Scorsese, to share his passion for movies – especially historic movies – than to actually deliver a movie that is truly great in its own merits. If you compare Hugo with Scorsese’s previous works, Shutter Island for instance as to not stray far, you’d find the latter way out of Hugo‘s league in terms of overall effect on the viewer even though there’s obviously more work done in Hugo than Shutter Island.
The main difference between the two, apart from the fact that Hugo is mostly a Christmasy children’s movie and Shutter Island a dark adult thriller, is that the former has a very weak story while the latter has a stunningly intelligent plot – although it’s not as captivating visually. For a viewer with a taste like mine, Hugo feels very empty overall but a movie like Shutter Island would be very satisfying.
Being voted movie of the year by the National Board of Review and being nominated for almost every award imaginable, my expectations for Hugo were rather high. And frankly, it has all the ingredients to truly take your breath away: good actors, Paris, breathtaking visuals, a great director…. Sadly though, despite all of its potential, Hugo fails miserably. It remains flat, convoluted, very useless and emotionally flat. It may be breathtaking visually but on the overall, it’s a clockwork lemon.
Perhaps instead of having “one of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on an extraordinary adventure” on Hugo‘s poster, the sentence should have really said: “One of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on a uselessly stupid adventure” – for a movie concerned with storytelling, Hugo sure fails at telling a very simple story.
Don’t waste your money on this if you want a decent movie for your children this Christmas. Just buy the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD. At least you’d want to watch that movie again. And at least that movie is truly stunningly, gorgeously, marvelously epic all around.