Movie Review: Hugo
I have a confession to make: Up until now, I’ve never seen a film in 3D. “Not even Avatar?” my friend lamented. No, amigo, not even James Cameron’s fabled Avatar. On this night, I saw my very first film in 3D: Hugo.
It’s a movie that I don’t think earned enough attention- a real travesty. So what’s Hugo about?
The year is 1931. World War One has come and gone, and everything’s right as rain. Welcome to a bustling train station in Paris, the city of love (it is the city of love, right?) where, somewhere deep in the lazy hustle and bustle of everyday life, if you look closely, you might notice a bedraggled young urchin. Disregard him for now, please come see our flower sta- where are you going? You can’t just follow the orph- fine, follow that kid. You’re led into a maze of twisty passages, all alike. The little boy takes you up stairs, 300, 400 about? As you pant (the steamy air makes it hard to breathe), the boy shows you something, a secret. You draw close to him- you’re surrounded by gears and feel lost, terribly lost until you stare up into the eyes of what seems to be a mechanical man. Suddenly, the boy tells you that you must leave, and you’re whisked out swiftly as you came in.
This is essentially the setting of the movie, except there’s less random whisking. The films titular protagonist, Hugo, is an orphan living in a Paris subway. Each day of his life, he steals and dodges and weaves in order to survive. Life is tough, and everyday it could get tougher- there’s a police officer who positively itches to put our plucky young protagonist away in an orphanage, presumably until he grows up and can be accepted by society. Now this boy’s got something special going for him: he’s got an automaton. What’s an automaton, you ask? Good question- it’s something of a precursor to a robot. You see, an automaton was usually a device driven by gears that could be set to perform a single task. Returning to the film, this automaton is broken-Hugo has spent the better part of his days stealing parts for it, mostly from clockwork toys and such. One day, he’s finally caught- busted for stealing from a cranky old toymaker, who takes away his notebook, which contained diagrams and schematics of the automaton. I’ll stop myself right here- at this point it’d be far too easy to ruin the story. That’s actually something I loved about the movie- it kept me guessing. True, there were some predictable scenes and moments, but for the most part, it was a very engaging film.
While it’s a film primarily aimed at kid’s, Hugo manages to go beyond that- I found that the adults in the audience watched with rapt attention and wide-eyed wonder. At least, I think their eyes were wide, was hard to tell with 3D glasses on. This brings me to the 3D- it’s a film that seems to have been made for 3D. It wasn’t used cheaply, either- instead of just throwing items towards you, it seems the 3D is used for the environments. As the film opened, a few snowflakes drifted before my eyes. I’m not ashamed to say that I tried catching one. At the same time, it wasn’t particularly distracting- it blended right on into the movie.
As far as the acting goes, it was pretty good. My favorite character was the villain, a rather enthusiastic, eccentric police officer with a bum leg. Martin Scorsese did an excellent job directing the whole film- it was a really great experience.
As far as the film’s score goes, well- it’s excellent. There’s a central theme (that I’m pretty sure I’ve heard somewhere before…) that gets repeated and reused rather creatively through the film. According to Howard Shore’s website:
The Hugo score is based around a family of primary musical themes. “The themes are used for clarity of storytelling and they develop over the course of the film,” says the composer. The score’s central theme is a Parisian waltz that develops into the song “Coeur Volant.” Howard Shore invited renowned French singer Zaz to collaborate with Elizabeth Cotnoir and him on the song, which captures the lyrical essence of the world of Hugo.
The theme for Hugo’s quest begins the score with clocklike precision in piano octaves. A figure for strings, celesta, and ondes Martenot rotates downward through minor modes to depict the mysterious automaton that Hugo’s father left behind. The Station Inspector is portrayed by a marche comique featuring bassoon and striding snare drum, while the cinematic innovations of Georges Méliès – “Papa Georges” to Hugo and Isabelle – receive Shore’s most theatrical flourishes, which recreate the spirited energy of live theater orchestras and the very first film scores.
Overall, it’s an awesome movie that I certainly think deserves your attention- somehow, it managed to be a box office bomb. This makes me sad. Very sad. So while it’s still in theaters, go out and see it, or if you happen to be reading this review somewhere down the line, buy the film on DVD or Blu-Ray or digitally (February 28, 2012). Or download it directly to your brain if this is the really deep future. It’s just such a pity this film got buried- almost becomes ironic once you see the film (there’s a spoiler here that I can’t afford to give away).
I think what really went wrong was that nobody had any idea what the movie was about- I personally had a vague clue, but was mostly in the dark as to the movie’s contents. I know its just a silly critic’s dream, but I truly wish that there could be more films like this- original films that dare to stick out as being sharply defined, films that stick out as, dare I say, unique. Hugo was a special film, and I really hope to see more like it in the future reach the public consciousness that so often is left unaware of films that could be so readily described as special.
Please, watch Hugo. You won’t regret it.