Coming after the implosion that was Clint Eastwood's J Edgar, Martin Scorsese's Hugo has to go down as the fall's second biggest movie disappointment. This film, which is virtually Scorsese's love letter to the world of cinema, is one which only movie purists could love. It is beautifully filmed, lovingly acted, but tedious in its telling of its story.
Hugo is based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It follows the plot of this novel and tells the story of a young boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the clock tower in a Parisian train station. At one time he lived with his beloved father (Jude Law) but a tragic fire destroyed his life. He was then seized by his drunken Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) and taken to live in the clock tower where he was taught how to keep the clocks wound.
After a short time Claude disappeared and Hugo was left to his own devices. He continued to keep the clocks wound and prayed he would not be discovered by the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). On one of his trips through the station Hugo meets up with Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) who runs a toy store of sorts. Melies seems to take an instant dislike to Hugo.
Melies' ward Isabella (Chloe Grace Moretz) does befriend Hugo. They become such good friends that he shows her his "automaton," a metal man that he is trying to make operative. The automaton leads them on a great adventure that changes Hugo's life.
The recreation of 1930's Paris is stunning and the visuals in the film are highlighted through the use of the 3-D process. If the film were to be rated on visuals alone it would go off the chart. But most people want to be entertained rather than just awed and the entertainment level in this movie is low. The storyline concerning Hugo is mildly diverting but when the story switches over to Melies it bogs down to a complete stop.
Butterfield is a good young actor but is limited in his range. The camera seems to focus on his large eyes in every scene. If he is excited, he is wide-eyed. If he is happy, he is wide-eyed. If he is scared, he is wide-eyed. Moretz is much more flexible in her emotions and creates a more endearing character. Kingsley is ominous at first and later gentle but the transition is not fully explained.
The film is rated PG for some mild violence.
There are subplots concerning the people in the station but none of those make an impact. The audience is left to stumble through the minutia of early cinematic history, and long for the ending to arrive.
It is apparent this was a labor of love for Martin Scorsese. But in making his homage he forgot about pleasing the audience. He has created an artistic piece but in doing so he has made a fairly boring film.
I scored "Hugo" a visual 5 out of 10.
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