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The Montparnasse station in Paris is home
To a lonely young fellow named Hugo Cabret.
He lives by himself and is quite free to roam
Through the walls and the clockwork he maintains each day.
 
Before Hugo’s father was killed in a fire,
He found an automaton up in an attic,
And Hugo’s continued to work and desire
The day it will function and be automatic.
 
Avoiding the vigilant Station Inspector,
He takes what he needs from the various stores.
One shop owner, Georges, acts like he’s seen a specter
When he views a notebook that Hugo adores.
 
The toymaker takes it and calls Hugo thief,
But Hugo then follows him back to his house.
The man seems unusually smitten by grief
And weeps with his knowing, compassionate spouse.
 
But Hugo meets Isabelle, Georges’s goddaughter,
Who uses fine speech that she learns when she reads.
A small, heart-shaped key that her godmother brought her
Turns out to be what the automaton needs.
 
The wound-up machine draws a scene Hugo knows
Of a ship in the eye of the man in the moon,
A shot from an old film that makes them suppose
That Georges used to be a filmmaking tycoon.
 
An expert on film says that Georges Melies
Produced hundreds of films ere the world war arrived.
Though sad for the end of his filmmaking days,
He’s gladdened by seeing one film that’s survived.
 
When Hugo learns that his mechanical man
Was built by Melies, the boy runs to bring back
The artist’s creation; the Inspector’s ban
On orphans, however, takes Hugo off track.
 
The automaton falls, but Melies doesn’t care;
He is touched by the boy and the efforts he’s made.
Adopting the lad who can fix and repair,
Melies finds renown as his films are displayed.
____________________
 

Hugo is an absolute feast for the eyes, especially for those who like gears. An oddity among the films of famed director Martin Scorsese, Hugo has none of the violence, profanity, and problematic content of his other films, such as Raging Bull, Gangs of New York, and the recent despicable The Wolf of Wall Street. Instead, he has replaced anything objectionable with an astounding sense of wonder and artistry, racking up at least as many Oscar nominations and wins as in the past. From the long, continuous opening shot to the similarly flowing final one, every scene has something interesting to absorb, and the whole film has a unique visually-enhanced look to it.

The acting is good for the most part, though, except for the always wonderful Asa Butterfield as young Hugo, I could have seen several other actors in each role. Sacha Baron Cohen brings some depth to the character of the Station Inspector Gustave, with his injured leg and hesitant romance with a flower shop girl, but his mannerisms are a tad distracting, if rather funny. Likewise, Ben Kingsley gives his usual nuance to the role of Georges Melies, but I found him unnecessarily mean-spirited at the beginning, making his mid-film declaration that Hugo was cruel frustratingly feeble.

My main issue with the film as a whole and the reason it is this low on my list is the pacing. I suppose Scorsese did the best he could, spicing up a relatively simple story with all the visual interest he could muster to drag it out to two hours, but I found it somewhat slow. I know I grew up when explosions and action became the norm in popular entertainment, but there are a number of slow movies on my list, so I don’t know if the fact that this one left me bored at times is my own fault or Scorsese’s. Considering that Hugo’s content is appropriate for children, I can’t help but think many kids would lose interest along the way too.

Part of this pacing problem is the fact that I thought the film was leading somewhere unexpected. With all the fantastic imagery with the automaton and Melies’s sketches flying around, I thought there might be some mystical secret to be revealed, but no, it was all just a metaphor for the magic of movies. Perhaps Hugo has some hidden power that can redirect trains?! No, it was just a cool effect in a dream. Perhaps Hugo is really an automaton himself?! No, it was just a dream within a dream. Did Scorsese see Inception? When the big “reveal” finally comes to explain Melies’s behavior, it’s because…people stopped liking his films. It’s understandable, I suppose, but, ultimately, as the explanation for this whole mystery and his bitter behavior, it’s a bit anticlimactic.

Nevertheless, Hugo is one of the most visually fascinating films out there, an homage to the original directors, like the real Georges Melies, who never could have imagined their work turning into billion-dollar blockbusters and special-effects extravaganzas. The end can’t help but make every viewer smile, and it’s enjoyable to see that a director like Scorsese can do something without constant shootings and F-words. If only he’d try it more often…

Best line: (Hugo) “Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”

 
Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 6
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: 10
Originality: 6
Watchability: 5
Other (aforementioned pacing issues): -9
 
TOTAL: 34 out of 60
 

Next: #273: Bambi

© 2014 S. G. Liput