Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Upon the recommendation of Martin as well as its nomination for Best Picture, I went to see Hugo. I would have preferred the 2D version as I find 3D to be gimmicky and intrusive, but 3D was pretty much my only option. The 3D glasses needed to be in place for the trailers because they were all for 3D movies. I've no interest in seeing a mustachioed Lorax popping out of the screen, but I have to say the 3D effects for Titanic looked pretty spectacular.

Speaking of looks, that's something Hugo had going for it in spades. It's visually stunning. The intricate set design was reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie. And the self-contained universe of the train station had echoes of Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal." I was somewhat surprised that it was a Scorsese movie--it's not exactly his oeuvre.

As far as performances go, Ben Kingsley gives his usual excellent performance as George Méliès. Sasha Baron Cohen plays the station inspector with broad strokes but never over the top and Chloe Grace Moretz did a fine job as the adventure-loving Isabelle--even tackling a British accent with aplomb. (Her accent was even better than Gwyneth Paltrow or Renee Zellweger.) Why everyone in Paris had a British rather than French accent is a mystery to me...

Asa Butterfield as the orphaned Hugo Cabret was probably the weakest link. He was decent for most of the film, but as the central character whose journey the audience is following he didn't evoke much empathy. I was expecting that Hugo would have some Dickensian connection to George--or to the bookstore owner who seemed somewhat startled to hear his name when Isabelle introduced them. As it turned, there was no real connection between the orphaned boy living secretly in the train station and anyone else in the film. Nor was there much connection to the character for the audience. That combined with the overall detachment of the film (gorgeous on the surface, not much substance underneath) puts it in the "good, not great" category for me.

I did appreciate the film history lesson the movie provided by way of the character of Méliès. Much of what was portrayed in Hugo was accurate: Méliès was a magician turned filmmaker in the early days of movie making. He accidentally discovered the optical illusions created by stop action and became a master of early special effects. He did stop making movies working selling candy and toys at a shop in a Paris train station. Méliès, however, was "rediscovered" and honored in the late 20s rather than the early 30s as depicted in the movie--but that's a small quibble.

As an homage to early filmmakers and film making, Hugo has a lot to offer. But although 3D and the visual effects in Hugo are a natural update to Méliès movie making magic, I would have preferred a film that had more depth than dazzle.

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