Review: Hugo (U) / Director: Martin Scorsese / Screenplay: John Logan/ Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen / Release Date: April 2nd
If your film gets nominated for a stonking eleven Oscars you can be pretty certain that it’s going to come home with something. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was nominated in almost every category this past February and walked away with five of the technical awards. In cinemas, Hugo made the best use of 3D so far. Every shot was composed to make the most of the format with several details sticking out and a real sense of depth to each scene. Sadly without this 3D ‘wow factor’ on home video, some of Hugo’s deficiencies as a film become clearer.
Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film version follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan living with his drunken uncle in the walls and rafters of a Paris train station. He is put to work changing the clocks and the only connection he has with his late father (Jude Law) is a mechanical man who doesn’t seem to work without a missing key. During his time in the station he meets a grumpy shop keeper (Ben Kingsley), who has a connection to the automaton and Hugo’s father, and his adventure-seeking goddaughter (Chloe Moretz). The three find themselves linked by a mystery that relates back to the birth of cinema itself.
Much of Hugo is wonderful. The production design, the cinematography and the performances in particular are all top notch, as you would expect from a Scorsese film. There are some wonderfully sketched characters, including Ben Kingsley giving his best performance for ages and Sacha Baron Cohen as a station attendant with a big heart. As Hugo, Asa Butterfield is solid and rises to the task of being the heartfelt centre of the film. The problem is... well not much really happens.
There are some lovingly crafted scenes depicting the creation of some of the first cinematic works and these are breathtakingly done (especially if you have a home 3D set up). The whole film is very much a love letter to the pioneers and the geniuses that propelled cinema from the silent era to what we know it to be today. Sometimes that’s enough, as the success of The Artist proved, but with Hugo it just feels that this is all there is. Looking at the film with the benefit of hindsight you realise that there are not that many scenes. Scorsese favours the long take and lets sequences breathe for a while rather than deploying his rapid technique seen in films like Goodfellas and The Departed. Effectively the pacing and subject matter alienate much of the younger audience in favour of older cinephiles.
Despite these criticisms, Hugo was still the best film that came out last Christmas that not a lot of people saw. Hopefully now it’s out on home formats it will gain more of an audience. For those of you who enjoyed the cinematic 3D presentation and want to keep the magic going at home then it may be time to invest in the Blu-ray 3D home set up. For the rest of us, it’s a solid Sunday afternoon watch.
Extras: Shoot the Moon: Making Of, The Cinemagician: George Melies, The Mechanical Man in the Heart of Hugo, Big Effects Small Scale, Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime.