FlixChatter Review: HUGO (2011)

Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Based on a historical fiction by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This project wasn’t really on my radar at all until I saw the trailer a few months prior. I immediately took a liking to the visuals and the vintage setting of 1930s Paris. By the time I got to the theater, I had only glanced through a few reviews, not remembering much about the plot, so much the same way with Midnight in Paris, I only knew that a famous director had directed it, this time it was Martin Scorsese.

I haven’t watched many of Scorsese’s films as they’re generally not my cup of tea, but I was quite intrigued to see his foray into family movies… in 3D no less. It feels rather odd to hear Scorsese and 3D in the same sentence, but you know what, this is perhaps one of the best use of 3D technology I’ve ever seen. More on that later.

From the time the film opens, the visuals immediately grabs me. The train station with the giant clocks and the people in retro costumes are meticulously crafted. It’s just another day in the young life of Hugo Cabret, but for everyone watching him, it’s an enchanting world.

It’s a rather slow-burn kind of story, I didn’t immediately connect to this Hugo character other than deep sympathy for a lonely orphan left alone to survive in the world. In fact, his scenes of him running around in the cold, snowy weather with only a pair of shorts on reminds me of the tragic story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that since he lost his father, his most-prized possession is a broken automaton his father’s been trying to fix before he died.

The key characters Hugo encounters are a toy story owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). Who they really are is for you to find out for yourself, but lets just say that Mr. Méliès and Hugo did not meet on amiable terms. It’s through her friendship with Isabelle that things are slowly revealed and to me, that’s when the real story begins.

Most Scorsese fans probably already know that Scorsese is a master in coaxing great performances from his actors. Asa Butterfield who is 14 seems a lot younger than his age and has that melancholic innocence about him. I almost couldn’t believe that he and Moretz are the same age as she seemed a lot more mature in this one. In any case, both are quite good, and the Atlanta-born Moretz’s British accent is pretty convincing as well. Kingsley is excellent as the disillusioned Méliès, no surprise from a thespian such as himself, and Helen McCrory as his longtime wife is equally engaging. The cameo from Christopher Lee is pretty memorable as well.

I gotta admit I find Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Station Inspector rather annoying though. Not as annoying as Michael Sheen in TRON: Legacy but pretty darn close, he’s supposed to be a comic relief but I don’t think the story needs it, nor do I find Sacha to be all that funny either. Emily Mortimer is also practically wasted here as the object of Sacha’s affection, which is a pity as she’s a talented actress. I also have a bit of a quibble about the dialog between the two young stars, at times it felt rather awkward and their friendship lack warmth I’d expect from such a friendship.

Those are small quibbles however, as overall I’m really pleased with this film. The strength of this movie lies in Scorsese’s utter love for films and film-making, so naturally the last third of the film is the best part for me. It’s the Italian director’s love letter to cinema, the scenes depicting that sentiment is truly moving. The one particular scene that showed Méliès ‘get his groove back’ so to speak really packed an emotional punch! I was tearing up quite a bit and I didn’t happen to have any Kleenex on me which was cumbersome! In the first half hour or so, I kept wondering just what is the  Hugo and Méliès connection, but I’m glad to say that by the end Scorsese tied their stories together well. Without Hugo, Méliès’ life just would not be the same.

Back to the 3D effects for a moment…  now this is perhaps one of the BEST use of 3D technology I’ve seen so far. It looks seamless and enhances the story instead of hindering it, for a while I even forgot I had the 3D glasses on. Some of the lush visuals remind me of Pixar’s Ratatouille a bit as it’s taken place in the City of Lights as well, and the Paris scenery is almost a character itself here. I’ve always been fascinated with clocks, especially vintage ones and if you’re like me then you’re in for a treat as there are tons of gorgeous shots of them all over this movie!

I’m glad I saw this on the big screen, and if you’re looking for a family entertainment for everyone of all ages to enjoy, I highly recommend this one. And surely, any fans of cinema will love this one and would surely cherish this for years to come.
4Reels


Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!