Another movie from Mrs.5000's culling of the December “Best of 2011” articles.
Ebert: Four Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Hugo is a visually-oriented young adult movie about the adventures of a young orphan boy, the eponymous Hugo, who lives in the utility spaces of a Paris railroad station between the wars. He spends his days trying to repair a broken automaton -- a robot, basically -- and over the course of the movie, he will meet and have adventures with the owner of a small toy shop, a precocious young woman who takes a shine to him, a buffoonishly sadistic station guard, and an earnest young professor of film studies who has arrived on the scene about 40 years ahead of his academic discipline. The action is superbly acted and filmed. Although it is rather predictable, it is also fairly charming, and predictability is perhaps not all that important in a movie intended for young people.
I should mention that Hugo is apparently based on some a well-beloved children's classic that I've never heard of. Its depiction of a young orphan boy's life is also self-consciously Dickensian, as long as we're mentioning the literary grounding, and this works well even though the movie is set a good 50 years after Charles Dickens shuffled off this mortal coil.
Also, it was filmed in 3-D. I watched it in two dimensions, which is the form in which every movie will have to stand or fall in the long game; 3-D will ever be, I think, a sporadic fad. Having been filmed in the 3-D format probably contributes to a peculiar falseness in many of the film's visual effects, which often seem more appropriate to a computer game than to a feature film. There is a golden light suffusing the film with saturated colors and exagerated contrast, and whether this was done to create a magical world of imagination or is just another a side-effect of 3-D filming I don't know. There are certainly any number of scenes where things move pointlessly towards us through the screen. It's a minor annoyance.
Hugo is another movie about movies -- there seem to be a lot of these in recent years, but this is a good one. Hugo's robot is eventually going to connect him with the very early history of cinema, and he -- and we -- will get a fanciful guided tour of the birth of the movie industry. Although this history lesson completely derails the story of Hugo's personal adventures, it is very nicely realized and has an air of real reverence about it. This is clearly Martin Scorcese's great homage to the roots of his medium. (And not just the deepest roots, either; the opening sequence, although it's a showy piece of 3-D tech, is also a visual homage to Citizen Kane).
Prognosis: I'm not going to give stars, because I am not a young adult, nor am I in possession of a young adult. I enjoyed it well enough, but didn't think it was anything to write home about for me, as an adult viewer. I think, though, that I would really enjoy watching it with someone of the under-16 set. And, it's exactly the kind of movie I'd like the people I know in the under-16 set to be watching. It's evocative, humane, and fairly smart. It celebrates the imagination and the impractical. It is nice to see a wholesome quote-family-unquote movie that doesn't feel like it needs to throw in a bunch of innuendo and pop culture reference to keep the parents from checking out.
Alternatively, I also think I would have enjoyed Hugo more on the big screen, and with a couple of beers in me. Sometimes we grownups need a little help to rediscover our childlike sense of wonder.
A Note on the Title: The name of this movie's title was changed twice before release, from The Invention of Hugo Cabret to Hugo Cabret to Hugo. It is not hard to imagine the corporate thought process behind these changes, which progressively get rid of any suggestion that it might be an intellectual or European movie. Poor decision-making, but whatever. Still, it's too bad for Martin Scorsese that his movie is left with a name so bland, generic, and unmemorable that its legacy is pretty much doomed from the outset. Ten years later, you would have still remembered what "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" was all about. You won't remember "Hugo" two years from now.