Bottom Line: Beautiful, but flawed.
“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” –Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Sacha Baron Cohen
Artistically amazing (but not nearly as much as the book) family adventure about a young boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), living in 1930s Paris. After the tragic death of his father, he continues working on a project they had worked on together: building a mechanical man, or an automaton. When the man at a local toy booth (Ben Kingsley) catches him thieving, his notebook is stolen and he is told that it will be burned. Upon trying to retrieve the notebook containing every note about the process of constructing the automaton, Hugo meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of the toymaker. After forming an unlikely friendship, the two discover that Isabelle’s godfather was at one point a great filmmaker, and their family also plays a part in the history behind Hugo’s project.
HUGO was clearly a hard movie to make. The book on which it is based was only half of what we usually find in books, with the other half made up of art. Though this source medium is about 500 pages in length, 60% of that consists of pictures to tell the story. Having read the book only over this weekend, I was able to point out a good amount of discrepancies between the two works, but someone who read the book a while ago would not be able to point put one. As this was directed by Martin Scorsese, who had probably never directed anything that would pass with a modern PG rating before this, I expected a few scenes here that would give the average child nightmares, none of which appeared at all in the book. Not only do I realize that Scorsese actually DOES understand what a family movie is, I’m aware that he also can direct a faithful, non-violent adaptation.
I was excited to see this when I heard Sacha Baron Cohen was cast for this film. I’d only seen him in comedies, and I was interested to see him in a more serious role. Apparently, he cannot do anything but a comical role. Baron Cohen portrayed the station inspector, who, in Brian Selznick’s novel, was just as straightforward as every other character. Every scene featuring Baron Cohen as this character was an absolute debacle. He turned much of the film into what we expect kids’ movies to be: fluffy, silly, and a bit nonsensical. It’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to punch him in the face.
Aside from a few missteps, HUGO was a good movie. With a high entertainment quality as well as high sound and visual qualities, it’s no wonder this was the winner for most of the technical Oscars. As a period piece, it works well, too, with abundant nods to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Georges Méliès. If you’re looking to see this merely because it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, skip it. The nomination is proof that the Academy will jump to nominating any film that praises Hollywood.