“Hugo” is the latest film by one of the greatest directors of all time, Martin Scorsese. It’s also his first attempt at family oriented entertainment. It’s a gorgeous movie, a visually beautiful film that has a lot of heart. Brimming with affection and carefully crafted with love for its subject.

Yet I can’t deny that, while I respect the film and its craftsmanship, there were times when I found it testing my patience… when I didn’t feel I was being sufficiently entertained.

It’s a pocket watch of a movie in the information age. There are people who will appreciate and cherish its charms, uniqueness, beauty, theme and strolling pace. While others will leave underwhelmed, expecting far more adventure out of this “adventure”.

“Hugo” is the story of a young orphan, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives within the gears and maintenance rooms of the clockworks of a sprawling Parisian train station. Prior to his untimely demise, Hugo’s father brought home a miniature mechanical man, in need of repair. Now that his father is gone, Hugo is driven to complete it and see what it does when it’s operational. Along his quest, he meets a toy maker (Ben Kingsley) and his granddaughter (Chloë Moretz), and has to avoid capture by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). His effort to reanimate the “Automaton” leads him to unexpected places. Friendships are formed, lessons are learned, and hearts are awakened.

I’m not going to connect the dots for you, but movies and the art movie making are prominently involved in “Hugo”. Scorsese crafts a love letter here to them. It’s a tribute to the genesis of motion pictures that is obviously deeply heartfelt. It’s an argument for film preservation, and a loving tribute to the art of motion pictures from their earliest stages. Here, Scorsese reminds us all that we’re really watching something of a magic act. A slight of hand trick on the largest stage, performed by an entire team of magicians. It winds up being very touching and sentimental and it’s handled very lovingly, that’s for certain.

I think, however, that from the promotional materials and due to my lack of any other knowledge of the material, I had assumed that I was in for a Goonies style action adventure here. Children find something unique and it sets them on an adventure, something wild and exciting! Exhilarating! I’m certain that I’m not alone in that either, I’m sure there will be viewers by the score heading into the theatres this weekend with that exact set of expectations.

In all honesty, and it does pain me to say it, the exhilaration? Not so much. I had expected a lot of running through the secret catacombs and gadgets and secrets and chase scenes and hair breadth escapes. And there was some of that. But in such light doses compared to – well, compared to what I would feel would qualify the film as an adventure film. The action sequences are very tame, the bumbling comedy of Cohen’s Inspector is not nearly present enough, and the end of the adventure’s trail is… much more grounded and realistic than you’d expect. The modern movie viewer is used to having their magic being delivered by…. more magical things. Like, literally, magic wands and flying dragons, etc etc.

I may be a cynic, but I can’t envision mainstream audiences taking to this. Some may wind up loving it for its unique, thoughtful pacing and charm. It stands out amongst the crowd in an almost anachronistic fashion. But I can mainly imagine people will be put off by its disregard for current pacing and action standards.

Cinephiles, of course, will take to it entirely differently. It’s a love poem to the art of the medium, written by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. It’s a history lesson, a love story, and impassioned plea all at once, all pertaining to movies. It has the feel of a final film from an artist, one who wants to make a tribute to the medium he’s worked in his entire life. Honestly, I’m going to have my fingers crossed for Scorsese until “Sinatra” is released, because this feels like of those serendipitous things where if something were to happen to him, people would wind up saying, “And how perfect did it work out that his last movie was HUGO? I mean, isn’t that IRONIC?”

I’m certain that this film will be in the mix come year-end awards time, and I won’t dispute anyone who wants to call it great. There’ll be no shortage of people who will, either. In fact, now that I have those pesky “expectation” things out of the way, perhaps my own assessment of the film may eventually change.

Still, for me, right now, I didn’t leave the theatre excited to tell people about it, like I did with “The Muppets” or “The Descendants”.

There are a number of ways for movies to cross the goal line and put points on the board. “Hugo” doesn’t attempt to win via comedy, and the “adventure” aspect of it is overrated. “Hugo”‘s game plan for victory is to connect with the viewer’s heart, charm them, and make them feel the love. And I can’t say I didn’t feel it, that I didn’t appreciate it. But I had expected something different, I suppose, and I couldn’t help feeling that I’d have rather have seen what I had thought I was going to see than see what I did see, if that makes sense. Once I revisit it, knowing what it’s all about, I’m certain I’ll re-evaluate. But in the meantime, I wanted to love it when I went in, and left thinking I should have loved it, but both more than I actually did love it.

B+    But I suppose it speaks to how highly the film is already regarded that I feel I need to justify not giving it an A

30 thoughts on “Hugo

  1. What have we here? Harold LLoyd hanging off the face of a clock? Steam train in a French railway station? Lumiere me brother! Do modern audiences get it or care? Show me the magic! Like a writer pandering to the critics. This sounds like a feast for the reviewers.

    • Yeah, it definitely feel as though Scorcese went tribute film here, and the critics, reviewers, and film buffs of the world should have a field day. Well, already are having a field day actually.

      Which I felt like I should be attending actually, but I had to admit, as loving as it was, I didn’t know I had signed up to take the museum tour, you know? Now that I know what’s up, I suppose I can view it differently next time.

  2. Absolutely gorgeous film, which I was in love with from the opening shot, and yes, despite my absolute loathing for it, I did see it in 3D, and it is clearly the most beautifully artistic use of 3D I’ve ever seen.

    All that being said however, you aren’t wrong about its doubtful appeal to the general audience. I saw it with my 15 y.o. niece & my 13 y.o. nephew, both of whom professed to being bored out of their skulls. The 4 adults all loved it. A kiddie movie for adults is how one of us put it.

    Anywho, personally I give it an A+, but that’s just me.

    • Astoundingly gorgeous film, right? If it doesnt win the Oscar for Art Direction, something’s wrong.

      Expectations are a big factor for me. If a film gets… mismarketed, it can mess with my enjoyment. Not that this one was marketed that badly, I just expected more of a romp and less of a history lesson.

      It is gorgeous, it’s superbly well done, I wont argue with anyone who wants to A+ it or even A++ it, but I have to say… I saw three movies in three days, and on each of the other two I left the theatre thinking “That was incredible!” and on this one, I was checking my watch…

      • The marketting is completely seperate from the film! Scorsese has no control over how his film is marketed, and if we’;re being honest, how else would you market this film? Pitch it as an ode to art in filmmaking and then have it relegated to arthouse / rep cinemas instead of cineplexes?

        It’s a 100+ million movie, just seems a little silly to knock the film for trying to get some of that money back (even though it definitely won’t).

      • Just trying to explain some of my disconnect.

        I realize that what they’re advertising will sell better than what they have… but I think that supports my contention that this movie has some chinks in its “Wide Spread Appeal” potential.

        Expectations are an enormous part of the initial viewing – not just for me but for a lot of people. And in this one, there was really no doubt for me that the variance from my expectations was a big factor in the disconnect.

        If it would make you feel better towards the review at all, you can feel free to substitute a direct criticism of the movies languid, moseying pace. If the film felt more energetic, I’d have felt much better about it. At times it felt paced more like a museum tour than a movie.

  3. I know I should quit commenting on films I won’t be able to see for another couple of months… But I just can’t refrain. Aaaarrrrrghhhhh, I’m dying to see this one! And the fact that I expected a higher rate from you, makes me even more curious.
    Again, that’s a hard life for a film fantic.

    • My sympathies. BUt there’s nothing wrong with the “I can’t wait to see it” posts. I do that too.

      Not that you might not love it to death anyways, but I think if you adjust your expectations on the film’s pacing, you’ll stand a better chance of not being disappointed.

      I had pictured a movie with two kids running through the trainstation and the tunnels and being… well, if not “Fast Paced” at least “Joggingly Paced”.

      LOL, start thinking more like… two kids walking through a library, or strolling through a park to have a picnic. Not that that necessarily = bad… its just, different. And it helps to have proper expectations.

  4. Only a B+??? You impatient scrooge!! 😉 Looking forward to seeing this tomorrow. We are being spoiled this Thanksgiving weekend with all these good flicks

      • B+ was generous!!!! 😀 This movie was really slow paced for the most part and lacked momentum. It’s definitely different from your average family movie (as we should have expected from Scorsese directing) but yea, I’m not sure the average moviegoer is going to find this all that great. I think critics are loving it mainly because the subject matter is related to movies itself which, as we all know, is the easiest way to get to a movie critic’s heart.

      • Well… I still recognize its a better film than most, and if anything, I may grow to like it more now that my expectations are straight.

        But yeah. The pacing really killed it for me, and I expect a LOT of people are going to feel that way.

    • It is worth seeing. I think that that may get lost in the shuffle here.

      I landed on a B+, which is still indicative I think its a good movie.

      And frankly, the fact I have to justify not giving it an A so much should speak to what others are saying about it.

      But yeah, I think the Muppets and Twilight will swallow this puppy up.

  5. Sweet website! To me, Hugo only further proves Scorsese’s brilliance as a director. It is so touching, yet all of the film history makes it so much more incredible! A magical movie experience for sure.

    • He defiinitely do an awesome job. And its almost a given he gets nominated for best director I should think.

      I’m interested to sort out my feelings when I watch it through again. Thanks for stopping in and posting up, Matt!

  6. I’m kinda looking forward to seeing this. It looks beautiful and I love the cast, aside from Ben Kingsley who easily ruins anything he’s in these days.

    I’ll let you know what I think after I see it on Friday. Hopefully!

    • Good yes, please swing back through.

      I’m betting you’ll probably really like it, just be forewarned it’s not exactly action packed.

      But it is very well done, and a sweet message about the magic of movies…

  7. Man! an amazing review. The way you word things completely make sense Dan.

    “It’s a pocket watch of a movie in the information age.”

    “It’s a love poem to the art of the medium, written by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. It’s a history lesson, a love story, and impassioned plea all at once, all pertaining to movies. It has the feel of a final film from an artist, one who wants to make a tribute to the medium he’s worked in his entire life.”

    You really are talented with your words man! I agreed with your statements!

    Very nice review!

  8. This is the last movie I saw in theaters, and I also was expecting something far different than what I received with it. I think your review is pretty spot on, all things considered.

    I had no idea I was in for a history on film-making when I bought the ticket, and when I saw it headed down that path, I was happily surprised. It was a bit refreshing, like being in my college classes again. I got to see clips I’d only previously seen in textbooks. I got to see history I read about and heard lectures on in full cinematic glory. It was all very beautiful and personally gratifying.

    And then, with a nostalgic nod to its roots and a glance at some interesting history, the homage and film were over. And that’s when it started to turn in my stomach. I realized how out-of-sync the orphan’s story really felt with the tribute part. Hugo’s story really wasn’t all that interesting — not comparatively to the history it was tapping into. Take the tribute out, and I sadly think it’s a pretty weak movie. Which is *not* what the plot of a movie wrapped around an homage to Melies *should* be. I mean, you can see it from the clips and scenes in Hugo itself: Melies’ is a world of personified objects, goddesses, mermaids, devils, epic battles, aliens, odd plot turns, fairies, and all sorts of zany scifi/fantasy goodness. Melies’ is a world immersed in creativity, things never-before-seen, dream and adventure. And his homage is encapsulated by the story of an orphan who lives in a train station, is often almost caught by guards, and is surrounded by realistic characters with realistic side stories — striving for love, embarrassed by their inadequacies? It just doesn’t match up.

    I don’t think Melies himself would have enjoyed the film. And that makes me feel like it utterly failed at what it was trying to do. Furthermore, as I left the theater with my mom, she said something along the lines of: “Well, that was nice. Not what I thought it was going to be, though. I don’t know if I liked it that much.” I fear most people who see this will have that reaction. And when most people leave a tribute to one of film’s most incredible visionaries thinking, “I don’t know that I liked that,” — that *is* utter failure. They *should* be as stoked and amazed as audiences who saw Melies’ work when it was fresh. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening with Hugo.

    • I have to confess that when I saw you chose this one to comment on, I cringed. I was like Ohhhh… of all the old reviews to dredge up.

      LOL. I’ve had to defend my stance more than once.

      Thank you for having my back! You sum it up quite nicely.

      I dont know what Melies himself would have thought of it, but as you pointed out very well, this more is far less imaginative than his. Certainly true.

      The only point I’d disagree on is the feeling I had when I discovered we were in for a history lesson. While that was certainly the best part of the film, and I agree its a valuable lesson… there was a part of me that resented having it dropped in my lap. Kind of like getting a pop quiz in class.

      It’s a minor gripe, but I’ve often looked back and felt like I was “Obligated” to LIKE this movie just because I agree with its argument for historical preservation and appreciation, etc.

      • I really do sympathize there. I felt obligated to like it myself as someone who has studied and appreciates film’s origins. But, ultimately, the film is obligated, as a tribute, to have brought more game than it did. That’s my opinion, at least. I mean, it was truly beautiful and all, no doubt — but I think I would have given it a C, myself.

      • Yeah, well… that’s something that you* might* reconsider if you ran a movie blog. Its a tough line to balance on, but you have to mix your own personal tastes with a kind of objective judgement. I LIKED it around a C, but I recognized that cinephiles would really take to it, and it had a lot of high quality elements.

        Trust me, giving it only a B+ did the trick. LOL. I’m the Hugo hater now. 😀

  9. Well, I appreciate that you haven’t totally sold out to the movie critic clique and didn’t give this an knee-jerk A just for being a Scorsese or tribute film when you didn’t like it enough for an A. That speaks volumes about the genuineness of your reviews, and I’d rather know what a person actually thought about a film — not what they think they should think about it.
    That’s how elitist dreck gets Oscars. 😛

    • Ehhhhh…

      I mean, I started out that way and learned my lesson very quickly. I CERTAINLY dont write what I THINK people want me to write, nor am I clinically objective. That’s some dry, pretentious stuff when that happens.

      As I said though, its a balancing act. I started out erring on the side of “Im just going to write how I felt” and now have come to try to be a bit of a centrist between my own emotional gut reaction to a film and kind of an impartial qualitative analysis.

      There’s no recipe or formula, you know? I wish there was, it’d be easier! 😀

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