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.

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

41 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: HUGO (2011)

  1. Great review, I loved everything about this film. The story was moving as well as entertaining. And of course the things about cinema itself just made me love the film so much more. Scorsese just did an amazing job with this and all of the 3D effects. Like I expected from him the visuals are so beautiful and enchanting. I can’t wait to own it on DVD and watch it all over again.

  2. Great Review, Ruth! I hope you go back and check out the spoiler section of my review now that you’ve seen the film. I never really touched on the relationship between Hugo and Isabelle. I got the sense that they almost wanted to make a young love story as opposed to friendship, but perhaps that’s just me reading into it. I thought Isabelle’s character was great with her insistence of using big words to prove her vocabulary. Come to think of it, she loses some of that charm through the rest of the film, but I guess that’s alright.

    1. Thanks Max, I’ll be sure to check out your post. Hmmm, I don’t really get the young romance part, even the friendship felt a bit awkward at times. I really thought Isabelle is a few years older than Hugo but apparently the actors are only a couple of months apart in age!

  3. I’m happy to say that this is the first Hugo review I have read. I was holding out on reading anything about it, but I just couldn’t resist checking out the FlixChatter take on it! Hey I liked Sheen in Tron! Anyways, glad to know it sounds like the 3D helps enhance the overall story. Like a lot of folks, I’m a little sick of 3D at this point unless it’s done well which it seems to be here.

    1. Well you flatter me Markus, thank you! Ha..ha.. sorry about Sheen, I normally like that guy but he’s just so over the top in that one, and not in a good way. As for HUGO, no worries about the 3D here. You are right in most movies the 3D is just worthless.

  4. When I wrote about ‘Hugo,’ I mentioned how we’re beginning to see more 3D movies that aren’t genre films. Scorsese is a big advocate of that. I’m still not sure if that’s the direction I wanna see movies go in, but given how well Scorsese pulled off 3D here, who knows?

    Ruth, if you wanna see more of the lighter side of Scorsese (i.e. fewer guns and gangsters) you may wanna check out some of his earlier films, in particular stuff like ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,’ ‘After Hours’ and ‘The King of Comedy.’

    1. Well after seeing this, I hope Scorsese will venture into this kind of family movies again.

      Great suggestions Rich, might check those out. I did love Age of Innocence, one of my fave period dramas.

  5. Ted S.

    Very nice review Ruth, I may have to check it out in theater because I want to experience it in 3D. Too bad Paramount didn’t spend much money on promoting this film, they prefer to push M: I-4 instead. Hopefully it will find more audiences when it hits DVD/BD.

    1. You should check this out if you love Scorsese’s work, Ted. Yes, do see it on the big screen as the 3D is really worth the price of admission.

  6. Matt Stewart

    Yeah, I talked about Scorsese’s ability to direct actors in my review as well. He really is incredible. I would rate the movie a bit higher though 🙂

    Nice work!

  7. Good review. I’m not sure whether i will see this in theaters, as i don’t have money for that right now. I might use the Fandango Bucks you sent me, although i was hoping to save that for The Avengers.

  8. Impressive review Ruth. I like how detail you write this. The actor who played Hugo intrigues me now…how good is he. I might see this afterall when it finally arrives here. Thank you for the review, Ruth.

    Hehe when I read cumbersome, I read it as Cumberbatch…Too much Benedict in my life lately 😉

    1. Thanks Nov, I think Asa is great in this but it’ll take a few more viewings before I can say if he’s an excellent actor or not.

      Ahahaha… too much Benedict in your life, kind of like me w/ Gregory right now. I feel like I just want to blog about him all the time but I’ve resisted the temptation … so far 🙂

  9. hey, Flixy, just dropping by to return the wishes for nice weekend 🙂
    I don’t like Scorsese, Kinsley nor the two kid actors (Asa was extremely frightening in BBC’s Merlin, and I don’t approve of Cloe’s choice of roles so far) but I’ve seen all of the trailers, and it seems it is a visually nice movie. I’d rather watch INCREDIBLY LOUD AND EXTREMELY LOUD film when it comes to this genre.

    1. Hey Dezzy! You might want to give Hugo a chance, Asa is definitely not frightening here, and it’s a warm-hearted film, not dark, gritty stuff that you’re not into.

  10. Great review Ruth. I really want to see this .I might even try the 3D now, though it usually gives me a headache.

    I haven’t seen all of Scorsese’s movies but he has influenced my taste in films quite a bit through his guest-hosting on TCM.

    1. Thanks Paula, I usually can’t stand those 3D glasses either but in this one it was ok, I had no complaints. I might get into more Scorsese’s films at some point (except the blasphemous Last Temptation of Christ of course). I learned that he’s apparently a huge fan of Gregory Peck.

  11. Looks like that movie really moved you! Glad you enjoyed it as much as you did. As you already know, I had some issues with the major tonal shifts as well as the fact that Hugo kinds of get lost in the shuffle after the first hour.

    1. Yeah, the story about Méliès was quite moving towards the end. I don’t think Hugo was lost in the shuffle though, I think he’s still an integral part of Méliès’ story and Scorsese tied them both quite well. My quibble is more about the beginning, it felt a bit long for me.

  12. Great review, Ruth. Your paragraph about Mr Méliès and Isabelle is intriguing… I want to know why Hugo and Mr Méliès didn’t meet on amiable terms!

    I really want to see this but haven’t had chance to yet. My local cinema is only showing it during the daytime and I’m at work! 😦

    1. Hi Claire, thanks. Well I don’t want to give too much away, I think when you see it you’ll know. That is too bad they’re only showing this during daytime, but hey at least you’ve got Tinker Tailor and Coriolanus in the UK, who knows when those’ll arrive in Minnesota! 😦

  13. It’s interesting, because the quibbles I have with the film, which lie solely in the first half, don’t feel like quibbles at all because Scorsese’s such a masterful director. I feel like Hugo approaches its central mystery almost lackadaisically and doesn’t really accomplish much until we learn that Papa Georges is Melies himself; at the same time, neither of those problems matter in the slightest because Scorsese is casting a spell on us and transporting us into his world and into his vision.

    And I think that that’s appropriate. This is a movie about the power of narrative films, not about the importance of tight scripting; this is about how a movie can inspire us, move us, shake us, heal us, delight us, and comfort us, so it’s only fitting that the heavy narrative lifting be done by the director and not by his script. Scorsese makes Logan’s (who is quite a good writer all around) script’s flaws irrelevant; we never feel them because Scorsese is that good when he’s at the reigns.

    Scorsese caught me. He enchanted me and captivated me with his narrative skill, with his attention to minute character and set details, with his eye for composition and some gorgeous cinematography, and with his gift for bringing out the best in actors.

    I think this is maybe one of the best “movies about movies” to come out in the last ten years (probably twenty), probably because Scorsese has so much insight and so much to say about cinema, but I think that this is less an ode to early cinema and Melies specifically than it is a general purpose thank-you note to cinema as a whole. This is a film that’s all about what attracts us to the movies, what compels us to watch them– and why we love them. Easily one of my tops of the whole year!

    1. Yo! Best comment ever Andrew, thank you. I think you’re right, though I still stand by my views on Sacha’s character, the slow burn of the first half perhaps isn’t really a ‘flaw’ at all as it really made the revelation all the more impactful (if that’s even a word). I don’t love Scorsese as much as you but yes I’d agree with you that this is one of the BEST movie about movies I’ve seen in a long time. The last one I saw that’s equally moving was Cinema Paradiso.

      1. Best comment ever? I’m flattered, very much so!

        I think when a film draws favorable comparisons to Cinema Paradiso, that says something for sure. (Cinema Paradiso is an amazing film! Nice to find someone else who’s fond of that one too.)

        And I love Scorsese. You will find better-versed Scorsese fans out there, certainly, but he’s one of my favorite directors and a credit to the medium. Maybe this won’t rank on his short list of most valued films, but it’s still great nonetheless.

  14. Glad you saw this in 3D and loved it! I have to agree with your statement: “Emily Mortimer is also practically wasted here as the object of Sacha’s affection, which is a pity as she’s a talented actress.” When I read that, I said out loud “That is So true!” haha

    It seems that most of us in the review world tend to agree on the general score for this film! Loved your review! Asa Butterfield is quite captivating is he not?

    1. I guess Emily must’ve just wanted a chance to work with Scorsese as it was really a thankless part.

      Asa has an interesting look about him but I was more captivated by Méliès story and his wife than his own to be honest, though of course in the end it became ‘their’ story.

  15. Wonderful review, Ruth! I plan on catching this over the weekend – one of the rare movies I feel I must see in 3D. Glad to see it has received your recommendation as well.

  16. Bloggers Be Crazy

    absolutely adored this film,thought it was beautiful, even the 3D worked well.Not too in your face and helped create a lovely setting that I just kept being lost in.One of my favourites of the year

  17. illuminati7590

    Thank for your review Ruth.I haven’t watched this one yet. May be I missed the opportunity to watch it in 3D on big screen. I’m waiting for it to come in DVDs. Unlike you I’m a great fan of Scorsese, watched almost all of his movies and it’s quite a surprise for me because he never did a family movie that too with child actors.

  18. Pingback: FlixChatter Review: The Great Gatsby (2013) |

  19. Pingback: MSPIFF 2015 Reviews: Bogowie (Gods) + To Life! + A Brilliant Young Mind (X Plus Y) |

Join the conversation by leaving a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s