I think I watched Hugo at the wrong time. After failing to catch it in cinemas in December, I was forced to wait until the DVD release, and as such have only watched it now, in May. This is disappointing because it is the perfect Christmas film, upbeat and comic with a truly cosy atmosphere and I imagine that if I had viewed it in a more festive period I would have definitely gained a better experience. What is truly odd, is that I’m talking about a Martin Scorsese piece, a fact that you have to actively try to remember throughout the caper-esque, entirely mobster free story.
Hugo, based on the book by Brian Selsznick, tells the tale of a young, orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) living within the walls of an (oddly British) Paris train station, living off thievery and winding the clocks in order to escape being sent to the orphanage. In his hidey-hole he takes care of an automaton, the last remaining memory of his late father (Jude Law, killed by a very low-budget looking explosion) that has the ability to write. It is, in essence, the perfect Christmas story, full of snow, Dickensian characters and cockle warming changes of heart.
This Christmassy feel perhaps detracts from a real effort to pack the script with zinging, witty lines or subtle exposition, and as a result the whole thing can feel a little shallow and confused, particularly when it comes to characters (what kind of emotion are we meant to feel towards Sacha Baron Cohen’s station inspector?). The whole thing zips along at a nice pace, and at one point almost becomes an early Harry Potter film as Hugo and his only friend Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) enter the library and read a book regarding an old mystery. This created, for me, an actual cinematic joy, as it reminded me of a time before A-levels and other such soul sapping activities.
Obviously, in terms of the child actors, Moretz entirely outshines Butterfield (I probably shouldn’t say this of someone younger than me, but I never really enjoy Butterfield’s company), and the adults are an eclectic grab bag of famous faces. You don’t really expect to see the creator of Bruno and Borat in the same film as Christopher Lee, but it happens here, and both are a lot of fun on screen. Ben Kingsley gets the most time of the grown ups as Papa Georges, and is good but never really shines, in a similar fashion to Jude Law and Ray Winstone’s cameos.
But this is not a film to be looked at for its script or performances, but its art. The colour pallet reaffirms the festiveness of the situation, all deep cold blues and thoroughly warming oranges. Aside from some dodgy effects work, the whole thing looks incredible, a dreamscape of steam and metal reflecting the story an themes. I saw once in a comment thread that ‘you can’t warm your feet in front of a movie’, but Hugo proves that entirely wrong, even if occasionally it is reminiscent of a straight to t.v film, that only serves to heighten its appeal.
Hugo is most certainly not the best film of 2011 (hello there Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), but is superior to any other proper ‘family’ film of the last 12 months, an odd accolade for Mr. Scorsese, but fitting nonetheless. It is fully deserving of all its technical Oscar wins, and the warmth of the whole thing is something that no amount of stilted exposition or confused character work can dampen.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley
Run Time: 126 Minutes