“Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”
Martin Scorsese is a legendary filmmaker that has given audiences many terrific films such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York and The Departed and has more recently given audiences the mind-bending thriller Shutter Island. The interesting thing about the director is that his films have traditionally been very violent, vulgar, and overall more adult in their nature and content. Needless to say, when I heard that Scorsese was doing a family friendly film(in 3D no less) I was very intrigued to see how he would handle this new territory. Does Scorsese bring his mastery of film making to his unexplored territory in genre, or does Scorsese lack the inner child and imagination to make this story of an orphan boy work?
Hugo follows the story of the orphan Hugo Carbret (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the clock tower of Gare Montparnasse in Paris. After the death of his father(Jude Law) in a museum fire, Hugo is taken in by his uncle(Ray Winstone) who is an obsessive drunk who fixes clocks in the train station. Shortly after teaching Hugo how to work on all of the tower clocks, his uncle disappears and leaves Hugo to do the work. Hugo appears to be very lost and alone with his only goal being to fix an automaton that his father left behind. Hugo survives by stealing food from various stores in the train station, and is constantly evading the train station Inspector(Sacha Baron Cohen) who wishes to cleanse the station of orphans. One day Hugo is caught by the toy vendor(Ben Kingsley) who lectures Hugo on the consequences of stealing. The vendor then takes away the only possession that Hugo has which is his father’s journal. The vendor seems to recognize some of the works mentioned in the journal(particularly the automaton) and keeps it and refuses to give it back to Hugo. Hugo is crushed as it has all the information he needs to fix an automaton. At this point Hugo meets Isabelle(Chloë Grace Moretz) who is the vendor’s granddaughter. Isabelle really sympathizes with Hugo and wishes to help him reclaim his book and even takes Hugo to her grandfather’s house to look for the book. While they are in the house they stumble upon a chest full of sketches and designs for movies right before the vendor catches them and sends Hugo away. After doing some investigating Hugo finds out that the vendor is a former filmmaking legend named Georges Méliès who has become aged and jaded. Many people actually believed that Melies had passed away as his works had become a thing of the distant past. Hugo returns to confront George for his book and George acquiesces by giving Hugo what appears to be the ashes of his father’s journal back. From this point the characters begin to learn about one another and grow to understand each other to resolve this deep pain that has been caused. The story holds plenty of surprises and character revelations that will certainly please both critics and audiences.
The film does unfold in some very surprising ways that will certainly please anyone who is studying film or is interested in the history of film making. Beneath the story of the orphan Hugo, there lies a greater tale about how film making can inspire people to dream and pursue dreams. Once George’s identity is revealed, the movie takes a rather different direction than what the initial premise of the film leads you to believe the movie is going to take. The story that begins with Hugo’s desire to fix the automaton becomes a story about Hugo redeeming George Melies by inspiring him to fall back in love with film. The movie essentially becomes a tribute to this man and the very influential work he did in the era of silent film making. While this turn was certainly unexpected, it does turn into something that lovers of movies and film making will instantly latch onto for inspiration. Movies give us the chance to dream big and see our dreams come true; they can inspire us to do great things and change the world as well as ask take a hard look at ourselves. These are just a few of the many ideas about film that Hugo shows us and as a person who has grown up watching movies and hopes to have a future in the industry, I can’t help but love all of the things Hugo shows us about film and how it can change not only lives, but the world. This is a story that is nothing short of inspiring to me. That being said; the average film goer will probably not see what the big deal with the movie is and see the last leg of the film as self conceited, but I assure you this is not the case at all. Hugo’s greatest strength is the rich history of film it digs up to show audiences just how important and inspiring film can be the world. This dynamic plays very heavily into lives of the characters because in the end; this great love is what brings everyone together. Aside from the love of film, the story also works as a story of a hopeless orphan who not only finds hope, but a purpose and meaning in life. There are certainly times that Hugo feels like it is moving at a slow pace, but once the whole film is said and done, the slow pace was very necessary to build this very layered story that can be viewed from many different perspectives.
The main characters of Hugo have many different dimensions to them and not one of them is as simple as is seen on the surface. Hugo himself is a rather intricate child as he searches for meaning and purpose in life after the death of his father. For a while he believes the automaton is his answer to everything, but he then discovers that what he thought was his purpose only led to more questions. Hugo’s journey in the film is a rather interesting one as we have to see him deal with the reality of the positioned he is in as well as his internal struggle to decide what it is that gives him meaning an purpose. Asa Butterfield does a pretty outstanding job playing this young, but troubled child who seeks purpose. George Melies is portrayed by the excellent Ben Kingsley who really does play all sides of this rather interesting character. In the beginning of the movie George is portrayed as very cold and unwelcoming, but as the film progresses we get to see his transformation into someone who does have a love in life, and is driven by his passion for film. Kingsley does an excellent job at not only showing the different sides of George, but also showing his change as a progression rather than an instant change from evil man to loving grandfather figure. Sacha Baron Cohen as the inspector brings most of the comedic relief in the film, but still manages to give the character some level of depth as he is actually in love with a woman who works in the train station. Even though the inspector is usually shown as incompetent and inhumane, he still has a soft side that allows for the audience to care for him. The main characters in this film feel very well rounded and there isn’t one of them who feels uninteresting or two dimensional. The acting in this movie is certainly top notch as even the child actors seem well fit for the roles.
The direction in this movie is nothing short of exceptional. Martin Scorsese gives this movie a very distinct look, feel, and atmosphere. The cinematography in this movie is truly something to behold as scene after scene is filled with terrific scenery and detail. There was more than one occasion when I gawked at just how well framed many of these scenes looked(and I didn’t even get to catch the movie in 3-D). The art direction is also very strong one as the film has a darker color palette in most scenes, but as the tone of the movie become lighter and more exciting these colors shift to something much brighter which echoes these sense of hope that the movie ends on. The special effects of this film were also some of the best I’ve seen this year as many of them go unnoticed. There were several times I had a hard time distinguishing between the physical sets and props and the ones that were CGI which speaks volumes to just how well done these effects were. Above all of these technical categories; the thing Scorsese does that is commendable above all else is how he brings all of these elements and makes them work in a story that is as deep and full of subtexts and ideas as Hugo. For a man who has built his career on making movies that cater to more sophisticated and adult audiences, Scorsese shows no difficulty crafting this very layered but family friendly tale about the impact of film making. He is able to bring his mastery of film to a tale that is not only outside of his expertise, but to a genre that really needs more multilayered and inspired films.
The biggest fault with Hugo is that it is almost too sophisticated for its supposed target audience which is families. It may great, but its hardly accessible to the average film going families. The movie is certainly family-friendly and there may be many families that can enjoy Hugo, but due to its slower pacing and lack of Hollywood gimmicks that family audiences have become accustomed to; I do not believe that this film will resonate with the mainstream family viewers. The movie is certainly going to be for film buffs to show to their kids(if their kids have the patience to sit through it), but the average adult probably won’t see what the big deal is, let alone the average children viewers who have come accustomed to far less sophisticated entertainment. Hugo may be one of the best films to come out in 2011, but its target audience probably won’t latch onto it as much as film buffs or critics.
Overall Hugo is a really unique and exceptional film that is filled with terrifically written and acted characters, a multilayered story that will remind audiences why they ever fell in love with film, a visual aesthetic that will have the audience gawking, and a masterful direction that will inspire young film makers around the world.
Hugo’s story is far more layered and sophisticated than it appears upon a first look. The movie provides the audience with a redemption story for a man who has lost faith and purpose in his passion. Hugo leads this man to redemption, and in his redemption we get to fall in love with film right along with the character. The movie has many different threads that run throughout the film and it is entirely possible that different viewers will have a different interpretation of just what the film is about. There is no doubt that this movie is a love letter to film, but in many ways Hugo becomes far more.
There isn’t a single main character in Hugo that is flat or unexplored. Every character feels organic and realistic, showing both the good and the bad of their character. The cast pulls off these characters without flaw with Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, and Sasha Baron Cohen leading the excellent cast. Hugo may be a movie about the history of film, but make no mistake, its just as much about the characters as it is its message.
Martin Scorsese does a fantastic job at bringing in the layered story, terrific cast, gorgeous cinematography, great script, and top notch special effects altogether into a movie that is certainly one of the best of 2011. His vision is the glue that holds all of these elements together, and without his direction the movie would not have become all it could have.
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 9
Hugo succeeds on so many levels, but I question whether this movie would work for the audience it was marketed to. This movie is almost too impressive and sophisticated for the average family as the film has a slower pacing and more meat than what that audience is looking for. This really says more about the audience than it does the film, but I believe that it is worth noting for the many people who see this movie as one for the family. This movie is certainly not one that is easily accessible to most families. While family friendly, I think it is far from a movie for everyone. This complaint aside, I think that Hugo is an incredible piece of cinema and is one that is sure to remind anyone who has a love for film just why they love it so much.
Overall Score: 9.5