Hugo Review: Paris Je T’aime…Kinda

HUGO: On General Release From 2nd December 2011

The 3D bandwagon has had some extra weight thrown on to it since Martin Scorsese decided to use the technology to make Hugo, a charming Christmas movie based on the book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’. Going up against other three-dimensional fare like Arthur Christmas, Hugo may be able to hold its own but this Parisian adventure might not be quite the draw Scorsese hopes it will.

Orphaned Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is living inside the walls and clock towers of a large Paris train station, keeping the clocks in working order and avoiding the vigilant station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). In his sparse living quarters, Hugo spends his time desperately trying to repair an automaton his father had found before his death. Confident that the secrets of the strange machine will provide meaning for Hugo, he resolves to fix it with stolen parts from a toy booth within the station, run by Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloë Moretz).

When Isabelle reveals that her heart-shaped necklace is the key to Hugo’s machine, the pair embark on an adventure to find long-forgotten dreams and the people who create them.

At least, that’s what most of the film is about. The rest is filled with Scorsese’s infatuation with cinema and film restoration – kids love that, right? Many parents may find young children quickly losing interest while older viewers are more likely to appreciate the rose-tinted 1930s version of Paris with an illuminating story about the magic of cinema. Trying to find a balance between a history lesson and the plot of the movie, John Logan’s script struggles and, what was intended to be a love-letter to early cinema, turns in places into a lecture, with the biggest cinephiles wondering where the plot of the movie went.

The beauty of Scorsese’s Paris matched with the dreamlike quality of Georges Méliès films are wonderful see, especially in 3D, but the visuals don’t save the film when the storylines begin to drag. Of course, it’s always better to have a tedious but beautiful 3D film by Martin Scorsese than it is to have to endure the usual converted Summer trash. While Scorsese is a good choice, at several points during the film I wished it had been made by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie and Micmacs has the magical sensibilities and the playfulness that is missing from this version. Unfortunately, Jeunet struggles with American productions and so would have made this in French, which means UK audiences would never bother to see it.

Asa Butterfield is a standout performer whose Hugo is beautifully subtle, especially when compared to Chloe Moretz who, though arguably a more mature performer, hams things up a little more than she should. Butterfield’s portrayal of a desperately lonely child is thrilling and ensures that he will go on to bigger roles. Hugo and Isabelle’s sweet friendship develops nicely through the film but is ultimately abandoned in the last act in favour of another cinematic seminar. Moretz’s Isabelle is also a little too stereotypically French for her own good; she wears a striped jumper, a beret and early on she delivers a loaf of French bread. If she cycled past Hugo wearing a string of onions, it would surprise no one.

Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory as Isabelle’s Godparents are superb, providing a parental influence for the children’s adventure, while Sacha Baron Cohen’s Inspector walks the fine line between absurdity and menace. There’s also delightful support from Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour and Emily Mortimer as a romantic interest for the Inspector.

There is definitely a feeling of magic and wonder about Hugo but it’s not enough to sustain a two-hour film that, no matter how beautiful, is still tedious.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Steve Moulder
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 14:30:22

    Good review looks like it has a lot of atmosphere


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