|Included in Brian's Best and Worst of 2011|
|Hugo's secret screening title: Reverse Flava Flav - the Movie, Boyeeee|
Hugo follows the life and times of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan in 1930s Paris. Hugo lives an invisible life inside a train station, where he maintains all the clocks in the building and sleeps in the walls. How did he get there? Just about anywhere is better than the Paris orphanage, apparently. Since nobody knows he exists, Hugo isn't paid for his labors, which means that he has to scavenge and steal to get along. If he gets caught, or is even suspected of a crime or of being an orphan, the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) will lock him up and send him to the orphanage.
|"Be on the lookout for gingers without pupils"|
|Why would you create a robotic pygmy? Unless...the children are giants...!|
Hugo is a noticeable stylistic departure for director Martin Scorsese for many reasons, but I'm specifically referring to it not being propelled by a particular actor's performance. The two leads are some of the better child actors around right now, but they don't steal the show.
|They still look smug, though|
|You look about 70, your wife is about 40...nice job, man|
The thing about Hugo that struck me as odd was how inconsequential the hero was to so many parts of the plot. When the film began I thought it was obvious that he would try to help de la Tour and Griffiths overcome their dog-related problems and find love. At the very least, I thought he would have a hand in the station inspector falling in love, which would inevitably lead to the inspector giving him a free pass when Hugo was inevitably caught. It might have been a tad predictable, but that never hurt Amelie, did it? And yet, none of that actually happened in Hugo. The main character takes no action in these subplots, and they do not appear to affect him in any way that fits the film's theme. So why are they included? I don't have that answer.
|Sadly, it doesn't require a heart-shaped key|
Of course, it is not just the subplots that have little to do with Hugo and his quest to reconnect with his dead father. The main plot veers off from a touching --- if ill-advised --- quest of a young boy trying to (essentially) make the impossible happen (reconstruct the automaton) so something even less possible (his father communicating to him from beyond) could happen and winds up finishing with a touching story about the importance of film preservation. As someone who enjoys many films made before my birth, I understand and appreciate film preservation; I would pay through the nose for a good copy of His Girl Friday and have been contemplating upgrading my awful copy of Charade for its Criterion Collection version. That does not mean that this is necessarily the right venue for a treatise on film preservation.
|But who am I to refuse that adorable mustache?|
Despite my reservations, Hugo is a very well-directed and -acted film. Big surprise, right? Hugo gained some attention for being Martin Scorsese's first 3D film, so I suppose I should examine how well he did in this new/1950s format. The short answer is "good." There are not a lot of movies that make good use of 3D. For every Avatar, there are at least six Clash of the Titans. Thankfully, this is a movie that uses 3D for depth, rather than for machetes stabbing the audience. The 3D isn't essential, but it looks good and makes some of the clock scenes far more interesting than they would have been otherwise. Outside of the 3D, Scorsese did a great job. It has been a long time since he has made a risky movie (in my opinion, I would say Kundun was his last big risk), but adapting a children's book was fairly ballsy for a man known more for elevating Joe Pesci than his last family-friendly outing, the music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad."
Am I the only one who forgot about the keyboard solo in this song? I love call-and-response as much as the next guy, but how does Wesley Snipes not shoot MJ in the face here? Still, it is a pleasure to see a master director at work. He manages to blend conventional premises with the source material and winds up with a story that is surprisingly surprising and not nearly as conventional as it initially seems. Most importantly, though, Scorsese succeeds in his ultimate mission; I have to admit that, after seeing this film, I went home and quickly researched Georges Méliès (who directed an astonishing 555 movie shorts in less than twenty years) and was suitably impressed by what I saw. If that is not the ultimate goal of Hugo, I don't know what is.
Is Hugo a great film, worthy of comparison to Scorsese's best work? Definitely not. It absolutely is, though, adorable and heart-warming. This is a nostalgic movie, disguised as something that kids might want to see, and it is disguised well. Is Hugo manipulative? Oh, lord, yes. Thankfully, it doesn't leave you feeling dirty, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It is not a whole lot better than that film, though, for similar reasons. It barely made it into my top ten of last year, but it is still worth watching, especially if you have a fondness for older films. This may not make you want to watch silent movies, but it is at least as effective as The Artist.
My first exposure to Georges Méliès was this music video from Smashing Pumpkins. I don't know what made Billy Corgan choose this as a theme for his video, but it is still pretty cool.