Hey, PG! How you doin'? I love that this movie is PG. It hits this really sweet spot for kids and adults. Like, the movie is genuinely moving and engaging, which allows me to watch this year after year. But it also grabs my kids' attentions enough to let them watch it all the way through. I feel like this kind of movie was a standard when I was a kid. Not so much. I mean, the Station Inspector and his dog can get slightly intense. Also, Hugo has some messed up dreams and some messed up dream fake outs. But besides that, this is a valid PG.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
How have I not reviewed this movie? You know how I remember that I didn't review this yet? I haven't reviewed Birth of a Nation. That is a dark connection to make. You see, for my film class, their summer work is to watch Hugo and The Purple Rose of Cairo as a form of appreciation for film. Then, the first unit culminates with Birth of a Nation, which is super dark. I've always dodged that bullet when it comes to my film reviews. I'm not looking forward to writing that review, so that's that. But I don't want to taint my Hugo review with a discussion of the most racist film in film history. I was first introduced to Hugo Cabret when I was working at the video story. I was working a shift with my man Jeff. This is all super vivid for some reason. He was working at a book store named Book Beat at the time and he just kept gushing over how great The Invention of Hugo Cabret was. Little did I know that it would be so peppered with film history stuff, but I always remembered that. When Marty (we're friends) announced that he was making this movie, I knew that it was going to be something special. He was right.
There's something magical (pun intended, but not for comedy's sake) about the story of George Melies. I read the Wikipedia article. It's not as touching as the movie. But there is something very fundamental about the early history of film. These were people who made movies as roadside attractions. It's appropriate that both the book and the film tie heavily into Melies's magician / illusionist roots because there is an element of showmanship to it. It's hard to explain why I love movies so much. I like movies for entertainment value, sure. But Hugo taps into something primordial that a lot of people ignore. I can't really hold people to this standard. I get it. Films are meant to be entertaining to a certain degree. But there's something so fancy and artsy fartsy about paintings and opera and novels. I love all of these things by the way. But I also love film when it hits the level of art. What is odd about Melies's story is that he was a con man and an artist at the same time. He liked tricking people. He liked seeing people laugh and he loved the joy that his movies brought. But he wasn't filming on a level that anyone else was. If you study the chronological history of film, it totally was a gimmick up to Melies. It was people kissing and feeding their babies. I know that the Lumieres eventually came around to the artistry of film, but they were playing with rudimentary narration. Melies was hand-coloring his films with these insane sets. I know, I'm not going to throw everyone under the bus during this era. There were certainly people who were artists. But look at those sets. Scorsese manages to really make people understand the majesty that went into these movies. I also love how causal the whole thing seemed. It was a time before studio systems and celebrities as actors. There were craftsmen who experimented with form. There was no returns or success to be considered. Rather, these were stories to be told. Melies made movies because he needed to express himself. That's why he did magic. That's why he made movies. Man, Scorsese is an amazing guy. I'm writing all this stuff about Melies and that's what Scorsese is preaching. He's just communicating this love for this forefather of film and he's nerding out while staying technically proficient. I love it so much. Honestly, I don't cry at movies. But this is one of the movies that actually gets me pretty darned close.
So I just read the book with my daughter. It was the first time I had read it. When I showed her the book, I thought she was going to faint. It's huge. But honestly, just flip through the pages. Most of the book is composed of all these amazing drawings and photos. It's gorgeous. (Jeff was right.) But it is a very short story actually. There's a very odd padding to the movie that works better than most books. My wife often gripes when short children's books are adapted for feature length films. I remember getting all excited for Where the Wild Things Are because I both love the book and love Spike Jonze. But she was right, as she often is. These short books often have a bit of a struggle when it comes to the feature length versions because they have to make up all of these side plots to fill up the film. Hugo is actually kind of a long movie. While watching it, we were an hour in and an hour left of the film when I realized that the book was practically done. This is where I had to analyze the subplot that is completely added to the film. In the book, the Station Inspector is barely a character. The threat of him is pretty much the extent of his involvement until the end. But the movie treats the Station Inspector as a fairly major character in the story. I think a lot of this comes from the casting of Sasha Baron Cohen. Again, I don't know what process went into casting. I'm sure that the script probably padded out the Station Inspector before he signed on, but this character really got some meat. It's odd that the Station Inspector gets so much attention because he serves both as comic relief (It IS a kids' movie) and provides some depth to the man. It's like Scorsese saw the placement of the film and realized that there was far more going on when it came to the storytelling elements. The juxtaposition of the war to Melies's life actually adds this deeper layer. SPOILER BUT IT IS HISTORY: Melies was disenfranchised by the war. It's kind of interesting having the Station Inspector as a veteran to make Melies's frustration personified. This man is the antagonist of the story, no doubt. But his silliness and mission are part of his adjustment to society. Cohen's Inspector gets a brace as a constant reminder of his war injury. He is less than a man and devoid of the humor that he might have had before the war. Also, the parallel of the automaton is actually really cool. The idea that this little boy could fix him, but that never could enter his mind adds this depth. To really top all of this is the idea that the train station is the Station Inspector's world. Hugo is physically removed from the biodome that is the train station. He knows everyone but has little interaction with them. Rather, we experience their lives from the perspective of the Station Inspector. They do not see him as an evil man. Rather, we view him as evil because Hugo sees him as evil. But everyone in the station seems appreciative of this man. It's a kind of cool dynamic. Yeah, he's the comic relief. In isolation, many of his antics could be considered cringe-worthy. But Scorsese doesn't allow him to simply be a prop or simply padding for the film's fairly short plot. It provides this amazing context while telling jokes. I couldn't pull that off. Mind you, I've also never directed a major motion picture (or a minor one, for that matter). But it's still very impressive.
Isabelle's story always kind of rubs me the wrong way. Chloe Grace Moretz is a very talented actress. I know this. I normally get pretty jazzed to see her name attached to projects. She's just not awesome in this. I think it's the accent. Like, it seems like a little kid playing acting to choose that acting out of all the accents that could exist. I mean, Asa Butterfield doesn't have an accent. Also, they are in France. Why choose that accent? It is a thing that, when people show that they are being translated, they choose the upper crust British aristocracy accent to show that they are not from America. I don't know why. It worked for Jean-Luc Picard, but it sounds really odd coming from Moretz. I also know that Isabelle serves an important function in the story, but her aggressive invasiveness into Hugo's life is troubling. I mean, the movie even toned it down a bit from the book. She gets full-on furious with Hugo in the book for keeping secrets. But Isabelle really doesn't have a sense of boundaries in this movie. I know. She's a kid. Some kids are like that. But she's also one of the key protagonists in this story. Why can't we just sand off some of those aggressive traits a bit more? Okay, Scorsese did that already. But I still want to go a bit further with it. I know that main plot points of the story wouldn't make sense, but it does get under my skin a bit. Is she so bored with her life that she has to aggressively invade anyone else's problems? It seems like Hugo has a pretty rough life. Why would you be mad at him for keeping things from you? Also, you just met him. Give him a chance to invite you into his world. I'm glad that you invited him to meet the bookstore owner, but not everyone is that outgoing with their family secrets. I know. She's a kid. I don't even dislike Isabelle, but there's always those personality quirks that kind of drive me up the wall. I just need her to tone it down a bit.
Regardless, I love Hugo so much. I'm still baffled by the fact that I haven't written a Hugo review in the past. If you love film, watch this movie. It is a celebration of film as an art form. If you don't love film and just love entertainment, there's plenty here. Also, it's just a genuinely uplifting piece. Honestly, I can't find a demographic that this movie wouldn't work for. Angsty teenagers?
Oh no! That's whom I teach!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.