“Hugo” is the latest film by one of the greatest directors of all time, Martin Scorsese. It’s also his first attempt at family oriented entertainment. It’s a gorgeous movie, a visually beautiful film that has a lot of heart. Brimming with affection and carefully crafted with love for its subject.
Yet I can’t deny that, while I respect the film and its craftsmanship, there were times when I found it testing my patience… when I didn’t feel I was being sufficiently entertained.
It’s a pocket watch of a movie in the information age. There are people who will appreciate and cherish its charms, uniqueness, beauty, theme and strolling pace. While others will leave underwhelmed, expecting far more adventure out of this “adventure”.
“Hugo” is the story of a young orphan, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives within the gears and maintenance rooms of the clockworks of a sprawling Parisian train station. Prior to his untimely demise, Hugo’s father brought home a miniature mechanical man, in need of repair. Now that his father is gone, Hugo is driven to complete it and see what it does when it’s operational. Along his quest, he meets a toy maker (Ben Kingsley) and his granddaughter (Chloë Moretz), and has to avoid capture by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). His effort to reanimate the “Automaton” leads him to unexpected places. Friendships are formed, lessons are learned, and hearts are awakened.
I’m not going to connect the dots for you, but movies and the art movie making are prominently involved in “Hugo”. Scorsese crafts a love letter here to them. It’s a tribute to the genesis of motion pictures that is obviously deeply heartfelt. It’s an argument for film preservation, and a loving tribute to the art of motion pictures from their earliest stages. Here, Scorsese reminds us all that we’re really watching something of a magic act. A slight of hand trick on the largest stage, performed by an entire team of magicians. It winds up being very touching and sentimental and it’s handled very lovingly, that’s for certain.
I think, however, that from the promotional materials and due to my lack of any other knowledge of the material, I had assumed that I was in for a Goonies style action adventure here. Children find something unique and it sets them on an adventure, something wild and exciting! Exhilarating! I’m certain that I’m not alone in that either, I’m sure there will be viewers by the score heading into the theatres this weekend with that exact set of expectations.
In all honesty, and it does pain me to say it, the exhilaration? Not so much. I had expected a lot of running through the secret catacombs and gadgets and secrets and chase scenes and hair breadth escapes. And there was some of that. But in such light doses compared to – well, compared to what I would feel would qualify the film as an adventure film. The action sequences are very tame, the bumbling comedy of Cohen’s Inspector is not nearly present enough, and the end of the adventure’s trail is… much more grounded and realistic than you’d expect. The modern movie viewer is used to having their magic being delivered by…. more magical things. Like, literally, magic wands and flying dragons, etc etc.
I may be a cynic, but I can’t envision mainstream audiences taking to this. Some may wind up loving it for its unique, thoughtful pacing and charm. It stands out amongst the crowd in an almost anachronistic fashion. But I can mainly imagine people will be put off by its disregard for current pacing and action standards.
Cinephiles, of course, will take to it entirely differently. It’s a love poem to the art of the medium, written by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. It’s a history lesson, a love story, and impassioned plea all at once, all pertaining to movies. It has the feel of a final film from an artist, one who wants to make a tribute to the medium he’s worked in his entire life. Honestly, I’m going to have my fingers crossed for Scorsese until “Sinatra” is released, because this feels like of those serendipitous things where if something were to happen to him, people would wind up saying, “And how perfect did it work out that his last movie was HUGO? I mean, isn’t that IRONIC?”
I’m certain that this film will be in the mix come year-end awards time, and I won’t dispute anyone who wants to call it great. There’ll be no shortage of people who will, either. In fact, now that I have those pesky “expectation” things out of the way, perhaps my own assessment of the film may eventually change.
Still, for me, right now, I didn’t leave the theatre excited to tell people about it, like I did with “The Muppets” or “The Descendants”.
There are a number of ways for movies to cross the goal line and put points on the board. “Hugo” doesn’t attempt to win via comedy, and the “adventure” aspect of it is overrated. “Hugo”‘s game plan for victory is to connect with the viewer’s heart, charm them, and make them feel the love. And I can’t say I didn’t feel it, that I didn’t appreciate it. But I had expected something different, I suppose, and I couldn’t help feeling that I’d have rather have seen what I had thought I was going to see than see what I did see, if that makes sense. Once I revisit it, knowing what it’s all about, I’m certain I’ll re-evaluate. But in the meantime, I wanted to love it when I went in, and left thinking I should have loved it, but both more than I actually did love it.
B+ But I suppose it speaks to how highly the film is already regarded that I feel I need to justify not giving it an A