Hugo – Review

Hugo – Review

By Henry Brown – 7.8/10

I probably wasn’t alone in raising an eyebrow when the news broke that Scorsese’s next project was to be a kid’s film. Admittedly, the guy has had a pretty varied career from his trademark gangster brutality (Goodfellas, Casino et al) to comedy (After Hours, King of Comedy) and religious epic (Last Temptation of Christ). But a kid’s film? Something just didn’t seem right.

Watching Hugo my apprehension quickly vanished. The film is in fact a blatant love letter to early cinema, which is a near impossible concept to mass-market (which is why, I assume, they chose to go with the kid’s movie veneer). Opening with orphan Hugo Cabret’s (Asa Butterfield) thieving shenanigans we see his attempts to procure the missing parts needed to repair a broken automaton. Caught red handed by a mean old man (Ben Kingsley), Hugo’s notebook guide to fixing the robot is confiscated, prompting the boy to retrieve it at any cost. Teaming up with the old man’s grand daughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), Hugo becomes embroiled in the mysterious past of the supposedly dead film maker George Méliès and his forgotten cinema legacy.

Early cinema is a topic that can understandably be seen as pretty stale, at least for the average cinema goer. For a generation that is used to fast, punchy media and films where anything can and will explode, Méliès’ 1902 picture A Trip to The Moon must seem positively brain dead.

But when Scorsese manages to wrap cinema’s roots around a touching narrative, shot in his trademark classic style, the results are far from dull. Grainy monochrome silent celluloid is replaced with lavish, colour drenched theatrical sets, as we journey back in time to see how film making really happened back then. Strongly comparable to pre-cinema Vaudeville displays, Méliès’ pioneering film methods appear far more creative, energetic and fun that today’s often sterile movie industry environment.

This alternative vision of early 19th Century film making not only livens previous dusty preconceptions, but also drives home the importance and financial risk of what these early pioneers were doing. Without Méliès crazy ideas and improvised visual trickery, without the Lumière Brother’s early film cameras, without the host of first generation film makers so eager to stake everything on this new visual medium, we wouldn’t have the tremendous global film industry of the present.

And that is really what Hugo is about: a nod of respect and the enduring affection Scorsese feels is owed to cinema’s humble beginnings. Around this core message is wrapped a conventional, yet heart warming story given gravitas by Kingsley’s usual high standard performance.

Hugo is not bereft of flaws however. While I loved what Scorsese was saying and this new angle to early cinema, I can appreciate the majority of audiences probably won’t share my passion. Certainly not the kids, who will undoubtedly become restless once the initial ‘mystery quest’ opener develops into what can arguably be seen as a beautifully told history lesson. Chloe Moretz’s acting fluctuates from passable to annoyingly forced and although I know she can’t help it, her face seemed disturbingly similar to James Franco’s.

All in all, I found Hugo to be surprisingly enjoyable and a clear labour of love for Scorsese. While not everyone’s cup of tea, for those with a genuine passion for cinema in its entirety, this is a film that you will certainly appreciate. Keep ‘em coming Scorsese, you still haven’t lost your touch.


About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

6 Responses to Hugo – Review

  1. Saint says:

    Nice review, but am a little disturbed by Chloe=James Franco? Do you mean his spiderman face which didn’t change for three films? Totally bemused by cameras and plot.

    Also, was it Hugo’s grandfather’s automaton? I wasn’t clear

    Much love!

    • As I recall, it was Melies’ automaton. It was discovered by Hugo and his dad. As for the Chloe Moretz – James Franco thing… she just seemed to have a very similar mouth and nose, which I found odd as I’d never noticed it before.

      Glad you liked the review, thanks for the comment!

  2. Matt Stewart says:

    Definitely would rate this one so much higher, but still, we agree on quite a few points here.

    Nice work!

  3. Blanche says:

    “her face seemed disturbingly similar to James Franco’s.”

    That’s a good indication that you need glasses

    • I do actually wear glasses. And considering the morons at my local cinema decided to screen a 2D showing in 3D for the first 15 minutes, the Franco thing could well be a result of eye failure.

      Thanks for reading!

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