Lowdown: An orphan child living in hiding tries to fix a broken robot left to him by his father.
There is definite pleasure in watching the final product of a world class director when that world class director decides to have a go at science fiction. The product in this case is the movie Hugo and the director is Martin Scorsese. Hugo, however, belongs to several other niches or genres, too: it is a kids’ film and it is also (and very notably) a film that has been designed to be viewed in 3D. Yes, definitely a source of potential interest.
Our story [mostly] takes place at Paris’ Montparnasse train station, shortly after the resolution of World War 1. We follow an orphan, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who seems to be in charge of winding the station’s clocks up. However, he does so in hiding, maneuvering around the station’s hidden alleys of metalwork and avoiding anyone’s attention – particularly that of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who seems to specialize in locating orphans and sending them to the orphanage. If there is any purpose to Hugo’s life it is the fixing of a mysterious robot his late father (Jude Law) brought home from a museum. It is the only thing he has to remember his parents by, and he will stop at nothing to fix that robot – including theft from a station's toy shop owner with an apparent dark side (Ben Kingsley).
The plot thickens as that shop owner catches our Hugo. That capture puts Hugo in a tight spot but also leads him to some key finding concerning his robot. Eventually, these findings lead Hugo to make some significant revelations in the field of cinema. Which, to cut to the chase, is the whole point of Hugo: what seems to be a child’s story is, very obviously and blatantly so, a song of praise to the art of cinema. In particular, through being fairly loyal to the truth in the telling of the story of Georges Méliès, one of film’s greatest innovators and the first to bring special effects to the reel, Hugo draws conclusions on the effect movies have had on all of us since.
That is the point of Hugo and that is also its downfall, if you ask me. Because its true purpose is to make a statement on the charms of cinema, charms that trigger the child like wonder built in to all of us (adults included), Hugo fails in its primary target of being a children’s film. It is too elaborate, too slow and too contrived to act as good children’s entertainment. Our proof came in the shape of our own boy, who found the whole movie a rather boring affair. Except, of course, for the rare scene involving the robot in action, which he adored.
If you ask me what I took of this particular tribute to the art of cinema then my answer would be that Hugo helped me realize how important institutions such as The Pirate Bay are to our culture. Hugo rightly mourns the loss of most of Méliès’ work; today, however, with movies copied across the world between users who share their copies with the rest of the world, the chances of such losses are minimal. The Internet has the potential to solve many of the grievances Hugo raises. Only, that is, if the movie studios allow it to do so instead of wage their useless war against the rest of the world. The movie watchers’ world.
Overall: An extremely well executed yet compromised tribute film. 3.5 out of 5 stars.