For a movie that looks radiant – including the 3D – and handled with precision from behind the lens, Hugo is shockingly a numbing experience.
Chances are you will not feel a thing until the last third of the film. This is also the point where the purpose of the story is finally revealed. It’s the first time where yours truly had to wrestle with if a movie did in fact need a purpose or sturdy plot to be entertaining. Hopefully this will be answered in just a few paragraphs; or in this case, rambles.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young orphan that has a knack for fixing anything mechanical. The setting of this tale is 1930s Paris, at a massive train station in the heart of the city. Hugo spends most of his days adjusting all the clocks throughout the station – a job his drunken Uncle (Ray Winstone) should be doing. When he’s not adjusting clockwork mechanisms, he ends up fiddling with an over-sized mechanical doll with human-like features. Trying to get the automaton to function is proving quite the task for someone who usually figures out everything fairly quickly. He believes that this robot has a message from his late father (Jude Law in cameo mode), but learns that its history runs deeper than he once thought.
When he’s not working on the little metal man, he carefully maneuvers around the station, avoiding the shrewd station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his k-9 sidekick, Maximilian, who takes an unusual pride in catching shoplifting orphans. Hugo is also a watcher (no pun); as he peers through secret crevices taking in the daily people who work at small shops on the station grounds; his favorite being the quiet toy store operator, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley). Through his visual stalking, he coincidentally becomes friends with Georges’ daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). During their time together, the two explore the riddle behind Hugo’s wind-up robot; the interest Georges has, or doesn’t have, in it; and the magic of filmmaking. And naturally, the two do get into some mischief.
While Chloe Grace Moretz dazzles again, the young male lead is no slouch either. Their chemistry and emotional discharge is a pleasure to watch considering their young age. And with people like Ben Kingsley and the great Christopher Lee showing up in supporting roles, the veteran actors are able to anchor this down as the more-or-less wise mentors. Even Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Bruno) shows that he’s more than just a shock and awe actor. His timely and subtle comedy is right on for the family-friendly atmosphere. And if you listen closely, it does have some mature edge to it.
Having all these fine performances keeps your attention. Plus director Martin Scorsese creates an atmosphere that ushers in old-school and modern-day filmmaking aesthetic that will have your eyes constantly exploring. It’s definitely a holiday movie yet its purpose remains hidden for some time. Mainly because the script changes its mind on where the focus is going to be and the transition is anything but smooth.
And that’s why it’s amazing that this film can’t project any emotion off the screen to the audience. Aside from an educational montage that showcases the pioneer techniques of filmmaking, which is beautifully orchestrated, the direction or message this piece is trying to depict remains as mysterious as the mechanical robot angle. But it’s not the good kind of mystery. It’s the I-really-don’t-care-anymore feeling that will consume your mind. Very strange not to have any interest in the story yet you do not mind admiring the physical characteristics. Guess that’s similar to a conversation with a stripper…or watching Avatar again.
This flick may be worth the price just to see how aptly 3D can be used in conjunction with jaw-dropping set designs. Other than that, this would have been more moving and engaging if this instituted one of those old-school movie mechanics and ran silent for its near two-hour duration.
Overall, Hugo is quite frankly, attractively boring. The storytelling is lacking but the visual aspects and filmmaking mechanics can, and do, pick up the slack. All the production people deserve the utmost recognition, but this feature as a whole, just feels underwhelming, despite some exceptional performances from the entire cast.
RATING: 3 out of 5