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.


15 thoughts on “Hugo

    • Sometimes it happens the other way around (i.e. “The Godfather”–the book is around 300 pages and bored me to death, but the movie at nearly 3 hours is thoroughly engaging), but you’re right for the most part. Have you read “Wonderstruck”? If not, I’d recommend it. It’s Brian Selznick’s most recent book–not quite as wonderful as “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, but still very similar and interesting.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to love Hugo. Martin Scorsese is one of my absolute favorite directors, and I give him credit for actually being able to direct a family movie. My family flipped when they heard that this was directed by Scorsese, because he’s so violent, and I’m sure we all got curious about how much of his style he’d put into it. A lot was the result, but none of it violent or brutal. I loved the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which this is based. I could read it every week, because it’s a) very short and b) very creative. I think what truly ruined this for me was Baron Cohen. There were probably some other flaws (I hate it when I overuse that word), but he was the one that stood out for me. Granted, some people loved him, and thought he was great in a dramatic role.

  1. I completely agree with you, would have given it B- if using your rating system (my review of this will be up soon). I think it’s a great love letter to cinema, but I feel it never rose above that. Nice review as always.

    • Absolutely agreed, and on top of that, it took a while for us as an audience to discover what it was (a love letter to the cinema). Had it been one bit lesser in its smallish plot, it would have been far too shallow to warrant a Best Picture nomination. I’m shocked, as I assume many people are, that it actually got a nomination for the Academy’s biggest award. Thanks!

  2. I remember after you read my review that I posted back in November, you wondered why I decided to even see the film. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t actually…lol Anyway, I’m glad I saw it in theaters because the 3D is the best I’ve ever seen. It really adds a lot to the picture. It won so many technical awards at the Oscars because it really is a beautifully looking movie, if not a particularly exciting one.

  3. I thought Hugo was incredibly uneven. It left me cold. I loved it towards the end, when it delved into the history of cinema but I hated almost every character. I found the movie extremely childish but at the same time I couldn’t imagine any child enjoying it. Chloe Moretz was so over-the-top.

    • I’d have to disagree with you. I did love it toward the end, and I learned a lot about Georges Méliès (assuming everything said about him was truthful, which isn’t all too probable). I didn’t find it all that childish; I thought the only puerile scenes were (as I mentioned) the ones with Sacha Baron Cohen. I thought it was quite dumb that he talked to his dog all the time and we were supposed to laugh when the dog stared back at him blankly. Chloe Moretz wasn’t all too over the top, I thought, but she was good. Good enough, also, to be in the category at the People’s Choice Awards for Best Performer Under 25, with 4 actors from Harry Potter, and win the award. Did you read the book? I’m not saying you definitely would have, but you probably would have enjoyed the movie a little more after reading the book. It’s called The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and it’s phenomenal. Thanks!

      • I have to agree with Fernando. I found the film to uneven also. It was stunning to watch but the story never really went anywhere. Scorsese did deserve his Oscar nomination though. I just felt it was a bit of all style no substance.

        • The story went somewhere, but not much further than where it started. Uneven wouldn’t be the first word I’d jump to using for this one, but I agree with your point that it’s all style and no substance, often times. The plot wasn’t all that great, and considering how limited adapting a book to the screen is, Scorsese and his offscreen mafia took the art designing to a nice level. Like I said, this had to be a hard one to make, and the book didn’t really seem like the right kind for adaptation, but it happened well, so I give it points in that area.

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