Sunday, August 5, 2012


Directed by Martin Scorsese.
2011. Rated PG, 128 minutes.
Asa Butterfield
Ben Kingsley
Chloë Grace Moretz
Sacha Baron Cohen
Jude Law
Ray Winstone
Helen McCrory
Richard Griffiths
Frances de la Tour
Christopher Lee

Hugo (Butterfield) is a tween-aged boy who lives alone inside the giant clock at the train station. Sort of. He’s supposed to be living there with his uncle Claude (Winstone) who is responsible for keeping the clock wound. However, Claude is a drunk and hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Hugo’s dad was already a widower when he died leaving his son in the care of his not-so-responsible brother. So Hugo keeps the clock running all by himself. He also works feverishly to fix the automaton his father left him, a robot that supposedly writes. Hugo has never seen it work.

Much of our hero’s day is spent scavenging food and parts from the shops in the station while avoiding station cop Inspector Gustave (Cohen). His favorite target is the toy store owned by crotchety old Papa Georges (Kingsley). When Georges catches Hugo, he makes the lad work for him to pay for all the stuff he’s stolen. He also confiscates the kid’s notebook which looks like a manual for the automaton. In an effort to get his notebook back, Hugo recruits Isabelle (Moretz) who lives with Papa Georges and his wife because her own parents have passed away. The two embark on a book retrieving adventure.

Eventually, we find out Hugo isn’t at all about the notebook , the writing robot or even the title character. Like Super 8, which I’ve recently watched, Hugo is actually a movie about movies. In this case, it focuses on the earliest days of filmmaking and how magical moving pictures must have been to people who had never heard of such a thing. By extension, it’s also about when we in the contemporary audience first fell in love with movies ourselves. After all, even the most cynical of us has been awed by a film and transported wholly into its world at some point in our lives. Finally, it makes an eloquent point about the need to step up the effort to preserve old films. If the viewer misses all that stuff about movies and merely focuses on the surface of Hugo, they’ll still get an enjoyable film.

Hugo is also about the visuals. That’s not quite right, the visuals are there to enhance the feeling that watching a movie is akin to witnessing magic. They are an important part of the film. Each shot is beautifully framed and the fluid movement of the camera has the effect of sweeping us away into this world. Unfortunately, I’m ill-qualified to comment any further. My lack of technical expertise aside, it’s a movie designed to be a 3D experience that I watched in 2D on a not-so-wide screen. Though I’m not a huge fan of the medium I would like to see this as it is meant to be seen.

Even without the funny glasses, I still had a good time watching Hugo. The story is thoroughly sweet and touching. Admittedly, that’s not what I’m normally looking for out of my Scorcese, but he makes it engaging. Interestingly enough, my children didn’t enjoy it as much despite the two youthful protagonists. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you do need to understand a bit about the history of movies. After all, it is an adventure that leads not to a treasure of gold or something they deem tangible, but to an archive of silent films (I’m not spoiling anything). Maybe when I’m old and they’re making one of their obligatory visits I’ll force them to watch it with me just to see if they get it.

MY SCORE: 8/10

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