Martin Scorsese's first foray into family film and the 3D format might be his most personal work yet. Hugo is an ode to the dawn of cinema. Marvelously shot, the famed auteur lavishes every scene with distinction and beauty. He is in love with his subject matter and it is clearly evident. Unfortunately, the magic that Scorsese feels is not what this reviewer has taken away. I found the film to be unrewarding, despite its impressive look. The story is trite, not fully developed, and a patchwork of obvious characters. Even the mystery that is central to the plot, I found underwhelming at the reveal. I'm clearly in the minority here, most reviewers who saw Hugo in the same screening were gushing praise. I am not. It's a well made film. Hugo has artistic merit, but is not nearly as rewarding.
Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo Cabret, an orphaned boy living inside a giant clock at a Paris train station after the first world war. His father (Jude Law) dies tragically in a fire, leaving him a wondrous machine, an automaton - mechanical man, that he bought from a museum. Seemingly abandoned by his drunk uncle (Ray Winstone), who was the clock keeper at the station, Hugo decides to fix the automaton. He begins stealing parts from the station's toy store, until the owner - Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), catches him. Georges take's a book that Hugo's father had found with the machine. And threatens to turn him in to the station's irascible constable (Sascha Baron Cohen), who enjoys nothing more than catching orphans. But Hugo finds a kindred spirit in Georges granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). A lover of books, she seeks adventure, and is enlisted to help Hugo fix the automaton.
The station is a lively place that is filled with many characters. It's pretty obvious what will happen to each character, as the happy ending is never in doubt; like laying breadcrumbs. So I do have a problem with the characters and the overall story of the station. That said, the station and the look of the characters is amazing. Scorsese's master stroke is on fire here. The clock, the bustling passengers, the steam from the trains, the camera angles, everything is wondrous to see. He also uses shots of Paris at night, where the central square of the Arc de Triomphe becomes a gear and the surrounding lights morph into a great clock. These scenes are very impressive in 3D. Hugo is definitely going to make a play for Oscars in production design, cinematography, and art direction. Scorsese's production team is first rate, and they show it every frame of this film.
As stated earlier, Hugo is Martin Scorsese's love letter to the birth of film. He adores the period, silent film, this time in France, it was an inspiration to him. As Hugo unfolds, the true purpose of the film becomes more evident. But it does not make Hugo more interesting or captivating. For all its efforts, I did not feel inspired or moved by Hugo. Case in point, remember the first time you saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or walking out of The Princess Bride. Those were films that truly left you enchanted. Films that every time they come on cable, I have to watch, even if just for a few moments. This is what Hugo is so desperately trying to achieve, but simply doesn't for me.