Feb 2, 2012
Wrong man for the job. Had this movie been directed by Steven Spielberg, it would have been much more fun, mischievous and magical. As directed by Martin Scorsese, even though its intentions are lovely, Hugo is a drag. It certainly does not deserve to be a contender for best film of the year. The Artist, which is a similar homage to the dawn of film, is a much superior movie in every respect. Martin Scorsese is out of his element telling a story for children, and no amount of camera pyrotechnics can add lightness and grace to this leaden affair. There are a lot of swooping computer graphics-enhanced camera moves, but they add no real excitement. Everything looks fake. The cinematography by Robert Richardson is garish. The music by Howard Shore is predictable and cliched. The story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan who winds the clocks of the Gare Montparnasse and discovers the forgotten film genius Georges Mélies (Ben Kingsley, excellent) is very dark, but neither Scorsese or screenwriter John Logan seem to know how to deal with an audience of children. Either Logan thinks children are dim and need to be hit over the head with basic, repetitive dialogue and endlessly telegraphed plot points that surprise nobody, or he was phoning it in. The kids (Asa Butterfield as Hugo, and Chloe Grace Moretz as his friend Isabelle) work very hard to act but they are not charming, through no fault of their own. 3D does not contribute anything of value, except perhaps remind us that it shares the Mélies spirit for experimentation.
In a movie that lasts more than two hours, there were only two instances where I was not bored to tears, my heart sinking with disappointment. Any time that Sacha Baron Cohen appears as the evil station inspector who likes to send kids to the orphanage, simply because he is fun to watch. And once Scorsese gets around to tell the story of George Mélies, which is when the movie finally blossoms. Scorsese's love of movies is heartfelt and evident in his moving homage to this great artist, a former magician who after being a prolific filmmaker and the first inventor of visual effects in silent film, ended up tragically impoverished and forgotten. Scorsese shares his love of movies by including footage of two of the first movies ever made, the Lumiere brothers' Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory and Train Arriving at a Station (1895), of one of the first fictional narrative movies made in the US, The Great Train Robbery (1903), and of Mélies' magnificent A Trip to The Moon (1902). There is a bit with Harold Lloyd famously hanging from a clock, just like Hugo does in the movie, some snippets of Chaplin and Buster Keaton. These old movies are still as potent and beautiful and modern and timely as the day they were printed. The story of Meliés is a good reason to see this movie, the only time it truly comes alive with a lovely, elegiac sense of awe. Scorsese is right to to share his passion with audiences that simply do not appreciate enough the astonishing wonder that is film. I suggest you get the DVD and skip to those parts, which are truly beautiful and moving.