Welcome to Oscar Week at Kevin Reviews Things!
This is our (my) second theme week so far, after Super Bowl Week, and it takes place because of this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday at 6:00. We’ll get into predictions and my picks later in the week, but we’ll start things off with a review of this year’s most-nominated film: Hugo.
I believe I’ve only seen four movies in 3D in theatres (and if I’m mistaken, someone please tell me). The first was Spy Kids 3: Game Over. My aunt decided to take my brother, sister and me to the movies one day when we didn’t have school, and I suppose my parents were both working. Even as a 13-year old, I remember the hideous, soul-sucking effect it had on my mind. To date, it is one of the five worst movies I have ever seen. The second was Avatar, the best visual experience of this or any year I have ever had. The third was Thor, which was totally pointless to see in 3D, but two of my friends wanted to do it.
So I haven’t exactly been champing at the bit to get caught up in the 3D revolution. But when I heard that legendary director Martin Scorsese was making his first 3D feature, I knew there would be a fourth film with the bulky glasses on in my future. And Scorsese’s nailed it with Hugo, a visual feast for the eyes with a big helping hand from cinematographer Robert Richardson. It’s a film that is certainly best served to see in 3D, and I’m excited to see if Scorsese pursues the medium further in the feature. But unfortunately for Hugo, a good film but not a great one, the rest of the movie isn’t quite up to par.
Hugo, adapted from the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, deals with our titular hero, a 12-year old boy played by Asa Butterfield. Hugo works in a railway station in Paris, making sure the clocks work correctly and run on time. This is a job originally entrusted to his uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), but he’s an alcoholic who goes missing for the majority of the film. Hugo is essentially an orphan, left alone after the death of his father (played in flashbacks by Jude Law).
Every protagonist needs a goal, and Hugo’s seems rather modest at first. He’s collecting pieces to fix a broken automaton, a mechanical man who’s supposed to write with a pen, in hopes of finding a message from his deceased father. But in the case of a boy without a family or a home, collecting means stealing, and Hugo soon finds himself in trouble with toy store owner Georges Melies (Sir Ben Kingsley) and the local station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). With the help of George’s goddaughter Isabel (Chloe Moretz), Hugo must find the missing parts while managing to stay out of trouble.
Hugo has a bit of trouble keeping focus on its main plot thread. Keystone Kops-esque routines with a bumbling Baron Cohen and his dog pop in throughout the picture with little purpose other than to try and inject humor, a proposition successful only about half of the time, while sending the film into a dramatic tonal shift. And Hugo, out of necessity, has to focus on the two young actors as leads. They’re only sporadically up to task, with Butterfield providing a bevy of blank stares as the title character. The rest of the cast, led by a stellar roster of character actors, is largely up to par, with Kingsley providing the best individual turn. But the conflict here is a difficult one to solve – you want more of the kids’ side of the story, but you want less of the kids.
Where the film really shines, story-wise, is in the scenes of early cinema. Hugo’s been brought up on movies, while Isabel’s been brought up on books. There’s a reason for the latter, and eventually the kids become immersed in the history of the world’s first films. Hugo‘s been called a love letter to cinema, and Scorsese is like a kid in a candy shop filming the portrayals of these early movies – so much so that he even puts himself in a cameo as an early cameraman. (I won’t say exactly how the plot connects to early films, but Googling one of the character’s names might just give you that answer.)
And one more mention about the 3D – it’s a sight to behold. Where Hugo truly shines is in the visual aspects, as its 11 Oscar nominations reflect, and the 3D here is a standout. We probably shouldn’t expect anything more from Scorsese and Richardson in this department. I just wish Hugo had been a little better in some other areas. This is a pleasure to take in on the big screen, but probably less of an achievement for a home viewing.