Hugo Review

poster from the GK Films movie Hugo

I was really looking forward to Hugo, so much so that I actually wrote an angry email to our theater when it didn’t get Hugo in last week, when it was released. The trailer made it seem like an awesome children’s steampunk adventure. I didn’t know why it had to be directed by Martin Scorsese, a big shot of the “intelligent film” persuasion. You would think a children’s steampunk adventure would be more Chris Columbus territory, but I figured he was doing it for his grandkids or something. The story was certainly cool enough to appeal to kids:

An orphaned boy living in the walls of a Paris train station unlocks a mystery when he meets a girl with the key to his dead father’s clockwork automaton.

I was expecting something along the same lines as City of Ember (which, by the way, was fabulous) or A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the automaton’s clue leads Hugo down the path to danger, adventure, and the truth about his parents, but that wasn’t what I got at all. Instead, I got a thinly veiled lesson in the history of film which felt like nothing more than an ad urging people to support The Film Foundation’s restoration efforts. This explains why Martin Scorsese wanted to direct it – he’s the founder of that organization.


There’s nothing I hate more than paying good money for the privilege of being maneuvered into a position to be asked for more money. True, Hugo doesn’t go so far as to actually ask for anything, but it couldn’t have been any more obviously an ad unless they put the Film Foundation’s URL at the bottom of the screen.

Asa Butterfield from the GK Films movie Hugo

It’s like if UNICEF decided to make a thriller where a woman gets a mysterious package from her missing husband sent from Africa and goes over there expecting to uncover the truth about his disappearance, but instead spends the rest of the movie touring refugee camps while the workers go on about how important it is that someone feed the orphans. Like this fake story, the mystery Hugo (Asa Butterfield) uncovers doesn’t really have anything to do with his father at all.

Jude Law and Asa Butterfield from the GK Films movie Hugo

Dad, if you don’t really need to be here, why are you Jude Law?

The real kicker, for me anyway, is that the Film Foundation’s efforts could be fully funded if just one of the people begging for money on their behalf refrained from buying yet another house in Vail. Martin Scorsese is a film juggernaut with buckets of money (that came from our pockets in the first place), so you can understand why I get a little pissed off when he and his Film Foundation pals come round asking for more, even if it happens to be in the form of a story conveniently written by someone else.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The movie is a faithful adaptation of Brian Selznick’s enormous
novel-picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I could have forgiven him for his obvious manipulation if the movie itself had been good, but it really wasn’t. The promised adventure element isn’t there. After Hugo and Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) put the key in the automaton the mystery is essentially over and we move into the film history lesson, which centers on a historical figure named George Melies (Ben Kingsley), a toy shop owner and former silent filmmaker who just happens to be Isabelle’s godfather. From now on their idea of an “adventure” is to go to a movie and at one point they’re even reading aloud from a book on the history of film!

Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield read a book from the GK Films movie Hugo

Oh Isabelle, old films are just so IMPORTANT. What a TRAGEDY
it is that they were melted down to make high heels, etc.

There’s also just not enough action. Apart from a few token chases through the station by the cranky Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who wants to put Hugo in an orphanage he could easily escape from, there’s no danger to Hugo at all.

Sacha Baron Cohen from the GK Films movie Hugo

I think the chase scenes were mostly to show reaching arms in 3D anyway.

In fact, John Logan’s screenplay gives Hugo and Isabelle so little to say and do that they mostly just stand around silently staring at things or each other, with Asa Butterfield resorting to flaring his nostrils to let us know that no, the projector hasn’t stalled. The movie really is this slow.

Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield stare at the key from the GK Films movie Hugo

Maybe the nostril flarings were Morse code messages. H-E-L-P M-E S-O B-O-R-E-D

Hugo is so slow and lesson-oriented that it really wouldn’t appeal to kids at all. I’d say it was earmarked for an adult audience, but my mom and I were bored with it too. So who IS Hugo meant for? From the reviews I’ve been seeing by the “real” movie critics, I would say Hugo was meant for them. As fellow members of the film intelligentsia, Scorsese must have felt he could count on them to do their bit for the Film Foundation by pimping his movie to their unsuspecting readers. He did throw 3D into the mix to distract us peons into thinking we were entertained, but that only worked for the first few minutes of the film.

Paris train station in winter from the GK Films movie Hugo

Here’s some snow and trains, and now we’re done.

This movie is an epic steampunk fail. Steampunk should never be this boring. It should have action and airships and danger and goggles and mysteries, and not just as a red herring to get you into the theater.

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz with the automaton from the GK Films movie Hugo

Oh good, now that we’ve unlocked the secret message, we can get to the boring part.

Scorsese and the members of the film intelligentsia might appreciate this movie’s message, but we normal people do not appreciate being so obviously manipulated unless it’s for the purposes of entertainment. So fellow normal people, I urge you not to waste your money on Hugo. Take your kids (and yourself) to something else, like Arthur Christmas, and be properly entertained. Scorsese and his little club can go on patting each other on the back without us.

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