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Movie Review: Hugo

November 25, 2011

Hugo – A Paramount Pictures’ Release

Release Date: November 23rd

Rated PG for some scary scenes

Running time: 127 minutes

Martin Scorsese (dir.)

John Logan (screenplay)

Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Howard Shore (music)

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès

Sacha Baron Cohen as Station inspector

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret

Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle

Ray Winstone as Uncle Claude

Emily Mortimer as Lisette

Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse

Helen McCrory as Mama Jeanne

Michael Stuhlbarg as Rene Tabard

Jude Law as Hugo’s Father

©Paramount Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) and Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Our reviews below:


Hugo Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

When I read Brian Selznick’s magnificent novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I immediately knew that the stunning mixture of text and pictures would be in good hands with master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.  Despite a seriously misleading trailer, Hugo doesn’t disappoint on any level.  From the story to the visuals, this is a magical film that is sure to be remembered at the Oscars.

The movie opens as we fly over the streets of Paris, throughout the train station and up into the gears of the clocks.  Here we meet a young orphan named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who secretly lives in the walls of the station amidst the clockwork.  With a station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) often on his trail, he stays hidden by making sure that the clocks are always running smoothly at the station. Stealing gears from a toy shop owned by the mysterious Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), Hugo is obsessed with fixing an automaton left to him by his deceased father (Jude Law).  Becoming friends with Georges’ god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the two kids go on an adventure that leads them on a journey of discovery about their own past as well as the history of cinema itself.

This is a movie in love with the movies.  At the end of it all, this is also perhaps Martin Scorsese’s most personal film.  His love of old cinema is so movingly on display here, especially when a character solemnly says that “time hasn’t been kind to old movies.”  This may be true, but we can all do our part to preserve them.  Themes of film providing a lasting legacy to those that might not otherwise have one are often brought up throughout Hugo, as we learn about the importance of cinema as both an art form and a means for escapism.  The story is representative of both, right through to the endearing side characters.

The visuals in Hugo are nothing short of mesmerizing.  We seamlessly fly through the inner workings of the clocks at the train station, with the camera swooping in and around gears.  This is also one of those times when I would recommend spending the extra money for 3D.  The smoke and steam that compliments every image seems to billow right into audience, but perhaps most hypnotizing is the way that we fly over Paris throughout the opening scene.  When a door is opened, not only does it stick out into the theatre, but it also draws us into the picture.  When a train comes barreling towards the screen in a way reminiscent of the Lumiere Brothers first motion picture, the experience is breathtaking.  This is the future of 3D moviemaking.

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time, and here he crafts a film that can be enjoyed by pretty much any audience.  Those who love movies will gain an even deeper appreciation for the story, as the history of cinema washes over us throughout several beautiful montages.  From the stunning visuals to the heartfelt story, seeing Hugo is a magical experience.  Not only has Scorsese made a strong case for the undeniable importance of old movies, but he has also used modern technology to craft a timeless classic that won’t soon be forgotten.


Hugo Review by Erin V.  

**** (Out of 4)

Back in 2007, I read a book by Brian Selznick called The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  With very little text, the 533 page book was filled with woodcut-style sketches and the experience was very much like reading a film with the visuals telling a lot of the story.  As a writer and artist, I thought it was brilliant.  Each image had so much detail and was so sequential that it read quickly and drew you in.  Even back then, it was announced that it would be a film directed by Martin Scorsese, and I knew that it had the potential to be something brilliant.

Then the first trailer was released.  Let me just say that this first trailer did not do the film justice (trailer two is fine).  With the music chosen (for the first trailer) and style of graphics for the title cards (often mixed over the visuals), the film looked bright and very much only for kids.  None of the sophistication of the book rang through – so I was anxious to see the final film and judge for myself.

After viewing Hugo, from the opening scene where the camera swoops in 3D over the city to the train station where the story is centralized, I was drawn in with the same magical power as the book.  The story (with only very minor changes from the book), the sets, the characters – they are all brought to life brilliantly on screen.  The casting is very well done, with good acting all around (both kids carry the movie well which was a relief), the music by Howard Shore is beautiful, and the visuals are stunning.  The use of camera work in order to best utilize the 3D is nothing short of amazing.  This is where the potential in 3D lies, to be worked to enhance the story, and allow you to forget that you even have the glasses on your face.  Watch for this one come awards season.

Hugo tells the story of the title boy (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a Paris train station in the 1930’s, winding the clocks.  Every day, he tries to find gears and missing pieces to fix an old automaton (a metal clockwork man who once fixed will be able to write), in order to find a message from his father.  When he is caught stealing a windup mouse for parts from a toy shop in the station, the owner Papa George (Ben Kingsley) makes an agreement that he must work in his shop to repay for the theft, or else he will be reported to the station inspector (Sacha Baron-Cohen).  When Hugo meets Papa George’s goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) and realizes she holds the key to his father’s automaton, they end up on an adventure together that reveals so much more than either had previously imagined.

The story is so well written, and watching it unfold on screen, you feel a certain awe of the medium in which it plays.  Made with a love of old cinema and paying homage to it nicely, Hugo at the same time feels classic and timeless.  It didn’t feel like I was watching a new release, but (and maybe because I had read the book) rather like I was revisiting an older one that I’d always loved.  There is an intelligence and intricacy here that is not often seen in family films.  The film is 2 hours and 7 minutes, and although it feels the length, we are just taken in and glad that our visit to the world of Hugo doesn’t end any sooner.  Because of the running time and intricate story though, kids under maybe eight might find themselves a little restless.  But for the rest of us, this is a magical film that will be enjoyed, remembered, and revisited.


Hugo Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Based on the amazing picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a love letter to the history of film.  Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the clock tower of Gare Montparnasse train station.  The young clockmaker pilfers food to survive, always trying to keep out of reach of the station inspector (Sacha Baron-Cohen), who captures orphans as if they were lost dogs.

Hugo is also working to fix an automaton, a mechanical man with a message to bring.  The quest to discover the automaton’s mystery introduces Hugo to Isabelle (Chloë Grace-Moretz), the equally adventurous goddaughter of toy shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley).  He has his own secret past, which is where this movie’s heart really lies.  I won’t reveal too much, but I will say that this film is nothing short of magical.  Hugo captures the humour style of early cinema, as well as the wonder and awe that the first moviegoers must have felt.

The set designs are nothing short of brilliant, with impeccable attention to detail.  The quiet score by Howard Short captures Hugo’s childlike wonder.  The acting is also really good, keeping in line with many European family films.  But what makes Hugo stand out is the homage it pays to George Méliès silent films.  Created in a more innocent time, they introduced people to the magic of cinema.

Hugo keeps very close to Brian Selznick’s book.  The first 14 minutes of the film are nearly silent, taken from Selznick’s intricate graphite illustrations.  Both Selznick’s book and Martin Scorsese’s film are equally wonderful.  I would not be surprised if Hugo gets several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.  This is an amazing movie that all film lovers should definitely see.


Hugo Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

The opening scene in Hugo with its sweeping aerial view of the city and trains with the camera pulling in closer and closer inside the train station, then in to the clock tower, then inside the clock is breathtakingly beautiful.  The attention to visual detail at the beginning and throughout the whole movie is stunning.  Right from the start, director Martin Scorsese has managed to capture the intricate beauty from Brian Selznick’s wonderful children’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan secretly living inside the train station’s (Gare Montparnasse) clock tower.  Trained in the art of clockmaking by his late father (Jude Law), Hugo spends his time keeping the station clocks running and trying to repair an old automaton his father found abandoned at the museum.  Hugo’s only way to survive is to steal food from the station vendors and spare parts from the station’s toyshop run by George Méliès (Ben Kingsley).  Hugo also has to contend with always staying one step ahead of the station guard, Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen).  It’s when Hugo meets George’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) that the adventrue begins and Hugo is able to discover the mystery of the automaton.

The second half of the film is where the backcstory of toyshop owner George is revealed and the true movie magic begins.  It turns out that George Méliès was a pioneer in silent filmmaking including the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon.  At this point the film Hugo becomes Scorsese’s homage to early silent film with beautiful montages including the Lumiere Brothers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station from 1895.  Anyone with an appreciation for the magic and history of filmmaking will find this part of Hugo wonderfully sentimental.

The film comes back full circle to young Hugo Cabret’s storyline where Hugo, Isabelle and Papa George’s lives all intersect.  The charming sidestories of the many quirky characters who inhabit the train station are also wrapped up by the film’s end.  What makes Hugo so magical and special is the incredible attention to detail.  Every gear and mechanism in the train station clock tower and inside the automaton is shown closeup and with perfect clarity.  Hugo is visually stunning and the use of 3D actually enhances the film.  Howard Shore’s charming Parisian score matches the mood and atmosphere of Hugo beautifully.

The acting is excellent all around particularly with Ben Kingsley as Papa George Méliès.  Children and adults who love adventure and those who appreciate the history of slient film will want to see Hugo on the big screen and, if you can afford the annoying surchage, in 3D.


Hugo Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan left behind by his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) to mind the clocks in a Paris train station. Living behind walls, he pilfers to survive, always wary of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his guard dog. Hugo learned his trade from his father (Jude Law) who like his uncle was an horloger (clockmaker) and archivist at a museum where he perished in a fire. The only thing Hugo had left from his father was an automaton (clockwork robot) that he was restoring.

When Hugo attempts to steal from the station toy shop to get parts to complete the restoration, the shopkeeper Georges (Ben Kingsley) catches him and puts him to work under threat of betrayal to the inspector who would send him to an orphanage. Hugo makes friends with Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), also an orphan living with her godparents Georges and Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory). She helps him get the automaton working, leading to the discovery that her godfather had been the brilliant conjurer and filmmaker Georges Méliès who, having believed his life work was destroyed during the Great War, became depressed and unwilling to look back. With the help of a film scholar (Michael Stuhlbarg) the kids prove that all is not lost.

Directed by Martin Scorcese, Hugo is simply a masterpiece, capturing all the magic of the book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, written and richly illustrated by Brian Selznick. Brilliant as it is anyway, in this case I would recommend the 3D version to be worth the surcharge as it is the best 3D film yet (even according to James Cameron). Every detail is perfectly realized, thrilling all but the very young over its more than two hour length. The camera work is breathtaking throughout, from the opening tracking shot through the cogs and pendula of the clocks to the reenactments of historical film.

We are drawn into the lives of even the minor characters: the awkward inspector with a wonky leg brace interested in the florist (Emily Mortimer); the stout gentleman (Richard Griffiths) flirting with the coffee shop owner (Frances de la Tour) and finding a way to distract her aggressive dog; the kind librarian (Christopher Lee). The musical score from Howard Shore fits the period perfectly, with classical selections including Saint-Saens and Satie,  and an onscreen station jazz band, all cleverly mixed at times with the “musique concrète” of clockworks.

I was curious to look into the historical accuracy of the story. Méliès (1861-1938) was indeed a brilliant magician and whimsical film pioneer with a collection of mostly lost automatons, though he apparently didn’t make them or the cameras himself. His life’s work was largely destroyed during the war, film stock later turned into plastic heels, and he then did run the toy shop at the Gare (train station) Montparnasse and live near the adjacent cemetery. The actual Gare was torn down to build the controversial Tour Montparnasse and what is seen in the film appears to be a composite of several Paris Gares. There was an actual runaway train crashing through Gare Montparnasse in 1895 reenacted by Méliès in one of his films.

Sadly, there was no real Hugo in 1930, but in 1928 there was indeed a retrospective showing of restored Méliès work found by scholars in various places. Scorcese himself of course has continued the tradition through this film with clips of Le Voyage dans la Lune and other Méliès work as well as the classic comedies of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, the latter’s clock hanging scene from Safety Last being shown and later mirrored by Hugo himself. The most moving tribute to the world of Méliès is the recreation of the glass Star Film studio with Georges and Jeanne making the magic (and Scorcese himself in a cameo as the studio photographer). On a personal note: my own interests in film making and trains got a boost in the mid 1970s when like the kid in Hugo I first watched a film being made. I just happened to be in Toronto’s great Union Station where Canadian director Arthur Hiller was shooting the final scene, following the crash of another train through the station wall, of Silver Streak.

Finally, don’t be put off by the trailers. They can’t do justice to a film that like all great art is equally accessible and satisfying at all levels.


Consensus: With beautiful visuals that are made even more immersive by the flawless 3D and a heartfelt story filled with endearing characters, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a modern classic about the importance of old movies.  **** (Out of 4)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    December 4, 2011 1:11 am

    Finally I was able to see this movie. Loved it!!!!!!! Great 3D, the way you think 3D should be in a movie. I loved the story and the acting was fantastic. Loved the metaphors of trying to find one’s purpose in life. I also thought it was great to show the behind the scene’s of early film making and I was glad to read Tony’s account on the historical accuracy. I loved movies because they can take you to a time or place or fantasy and bring the story to life. Fantastic movie!!!!


    • December 4, 2011 12:22 pm

      We agree with everything you said – Hugo is a great movie that reminds us why we love movies.

      As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      -John C.


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