Movie Review: HUGO (3D)

Thanks to the folks from UIP, I caught famous American movie director, Martin Scorsese‘s newest and first 3D movie, HUGO last week at the Singapore preview screening.

Hugo movie poster
Hugo movie poster

Hugo is a 3D family mystery film based on Brian Selznick‘s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret; about a boy who lives alone in a Paris railway station and the enigmatic owner of a toy shop there. The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen (better known as Borat), Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law and Christopher Lee.

The film has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, making it the most nominated film of 2011, which include a Best Picture nomination and a Best Director nomination for Martin Scorsese.The film also won two BAFTAs and was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, earning Scorsese his third Golden Globe Award for Best Director.

Hugo has received almost universal critical acclaim.Review tallying website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 194 of the tallied 181 reviews were positive, for a score of 93% and a certification of “fresh”.

Despite the high critical acclaim, Hugo did not perform well at the box office. As of February 23, 2012, the film has grossed $67,843,944 in North America, along with $46,400,000 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $114,243,944, against its estimated budget of $150 million.

A pity.

I enjoyed the movie very much, but I do think the pacing of the movie may be a tad too slow for more mainstream audiences.

Hugo is a must-watch for film students, those working in the filmmaking industries, as well as amateur filmmakers. In fact, any serious movie buff should see it.

There were many references and tributes made to important moments in the history of filmmaking and film greats like French illusionist and fimmaker, Georges Méliès.

Méliès is a very colourful character for which a large part of the movie, Hugo is based upon. He is famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. A prolific innovator in the use of special effects, he accidentally discovered the substitution stop trick in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour in his work. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the first “Cinemagician”. Two of his most well-known films are A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both of which were featured in snippets in Hugo.

A Trip to the Moon still
A Trip to the Moon movie still

There’s movie still from A Trip to the Moon that featured prominently in Hugo. It depicted a rocket wedged inside one of the eyes of a moon face. When I saw the image on the big screen, I could instinctively recall seeing it before in one of my filmmaking 101 textbooks because of the strong visual imagery. That’s the magical appeal of Méliès’ works, brought to live again by a contemporary film great, Scorsese.

Hugo is very different from Scorsese usual offering of alpha-male film genre to the like of Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990) and Gangs of New York (2002).

Other than being the first 3D film from Scorsese, Hugo is also his first forage into the fantasy genre, targeted at a family audience.

The automaton on the right was a very important plot device to trigger imaginations
The automaton on the right was a very important plot device to trigger imaginations

There’s no overt fantasy scenes in Hugo where the protagonist gets to fly away into a magical far-away land of mystical creatures like in Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia; but subtle fantasy scenes that relies more on the wonderful world of imagination through a child’s eyes as well as the real-life “dream factory” of filmmaking.

Cohen as the evil one-legged station master
Cohen as the evil one-legged station master

The cast delivered a superb performance, including the two kid actors. I especially like Cohen’s character as a bitter-sweet one-legged station master who toggles between being the film villain and eventual hero.

Hugo is now showing in Singapore cinemas. Go catch it! 🙂

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