I was a little hesitant at first about Scorsese making a family film, but I’ve got to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, so I checked out Hugo yesterday afternoon. It was… somewhat satisfactory…?
I have to disclose that perhaps my least favorite subject of movies is little British children escaping to a world of fantasy and wonder (excluding Harry Potter, even though that started this whole modern British kid craze). Especially if they are orphans. Little orphan British kids in movies just kind of piss me off. They are always living in crazy places and magical shit happens to them on a regular basis. It’s bullshit. They always have high, squirrelly voices and meet a magic person who helps them find a home somewhere. Every time. I don’t know why I dislike them so much, but I just do.
So Hugo is about a little British orphan who lives inside some clocks in a train station (SIGH SIGH SIGH SIGH SIGH). The train station is in Paris, even though seemingly everyone has a British accent… Hugo is trying to rebuild a robot that his deceased father had found, and it eventually leads to a neat discovery after like an hour of meandering screen time.
I think if this film wasn’t made by Scorsese, I would have ended up hating it. And actually, I really did not like the entire first half of the film. There was actually a moment, maybe 40 minutes in, where I asked myself “should I just leave? I’m watching the standard British orphan formula that I despise…” He’s stealing things! He lives in a clock! He’s under constant threat of getting taken away to an orphanage! Surely they’ll feed him gruel there and abuse him! Oh no!
I think I stuck through it out of pure laziness of not wanting to get up, and I’m happy I did, because the last 30-40 minutes or so of this film were actually incredible. The film makes almost a complete switch from orphan crap to a Martin Scorsese film history lesson about Georges Méliès, and it is amazing. It made me wish that Scorsese just made a 2 hour film about Méliès and early cinema instead. It was mind-blowingly interesting and well put together. It kind of justified the thought of a cinephile like Scorsese making a family film like this. Kind of in the same way that you wonder how a pop culture nut like Tarantino could make a WWII movie, then you realize it’s about Nazi filmmaking and blowing up a movie theater. The Georges Méliès sequences towards the end of Hugo are some of the best sequences I’ve seen in any movie this year. It’s too bad I didn’t like everything before it very much.
The acting is alright from most of the cast. The kid who played Hugo, Asa Butterfield, I did not like. I’m not normally a fan of child actors, because they usually can’t keep up with the adult actors. Of course there are exceptions, such as his co-star Chloe Moritz. But I thought Butterfield wasn’t that great of an actor. Especially in scenes where he was supposed to be emotional and crying, he wasn’t believable. I didn’t really like even looking at him because he was annoying me, and I particularly hated his voice/accent. Darn British orphans!
Sasha Baron Cohen was the comic relief character as the train station inspector trying to rid the station of trouble. At first he’s a terrible character; almost a Kevin James/Adam Sandler level of cheesy physical comedy (hahahahaha he got hit in the groin! Pass the popcorn, honey!), but eventually he becomes a real character that contributes to the story. Ben Kingsley is good as expected. And there are some good supporting performances by Chloe Moritz, Ray Winstone, and the great Saruman. I mean, Dracula. Sorry, I mean Christopher Lee.
The visuals are stunning throughout the whole thing, despite my complaints about the plot. They were good enough to keep me interested when I didn’t particularly care what the characters were doing. I saw it in 3D as well, and this was a another rare example of 3D being used correctly for a change. Though, you have to kind of assume that Scorsese wouldn’t mess that up, especially after how much he raved about it during the filmmaking process. Great use of depth throughout the whole thing. If you plan on seeing Hugo in theaters, dish out the three extra dollars, trust me.
Overall, the film is way too long. I’d cut out 30 minutes of it. And the awesomeness is definitely back-heavy. So if you are a fan of Georges Méliès and/or very early cinema, Hugo is a MUST SEE. You will be dazzled by the end sequences. In addition there are a lot of homages to the era in the cinematography during the whole film put in there by Scorsese. And, you know what, I’m sure most people will like the first half of the movie more than I did. I’m just irrationally biased towards hating British orphan stories. So my rating of the film probably isn’t the norm. A more tolerant person will probably give it 2 points higher. Spectacular third act, mediocre-to-below average first and second acts.
6.5 out of 10