Hugo is based on a relatively recently released (2007) award winning book by Brian Selznick. It is not surprising that the film rights to the book were quickly sold, and certainly not to the least of directors either: Martin Scorsese. He has a career spanning decades and has directed a string of movies in recent years which I liked, among which: Shutter Island, The Departed and Gangs of New York. However, those were admittedly all in different, less family friendly, genres. Nevertheless, I went to Hugo hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Hugo starts off with a flight over Paris and a long, cinematically pleasing, opening scene in which we follow the main character: Hugo, as he makes his way through his home: the Parisian main railway station. We quickly learn that Hugo is scavenging materials to restore something which he holds very dear to him: an automaton. We later learn more about his motivation for doing this, and also the consequences this has for him, but particularly for other people that live and work in the station.
The movie nicely interleaves various smaller subplots which are not essential to the main story-line, but serve as welcome variation and add to the broader feeling the filmmakers try to elicit. However, if anything, Hugo is a tribute to the early days of film making. It is full of references to this period, and while the story is fictional, if you’re into seeing some actual old film history, this movie is a treat.
Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baren Cohen all give excellent performances in their respective roles. Both cinematography and sound design are beautiful, something for which the film has deservedly won Oscars. 3D is not exactly necessary for a movie like Hugo. However, apart from annoying strobing snow near the start, the effect is used very well and does subtly add something to various scenes. This shows that, while not essential, 3D is not a domain exclusive to summer action blockbusters.
Hugo is fairly slow moving, something which can also be seen in previous works of Scorsese. However, this serves the purpose of drawing the viewer in more effectively as we marvel over the presented visuals, something in which Hugo also succeeds. There are some moments wherein revealing the motives of characters leans to strongly on dialogue for my taste. Nevertheless, there are enough twists and turns to make the audience care for the characters, and that’s what it’s ultimately about. All in all Hugo is an entertaining family friendly ride that transports you back to 1930 Paris. Recommended!