Monday, March 5, 2012

Movie Review: Hugo

Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: adventures
Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Hugo is about a 12-year-old orphan who lives between the walls at a train station and whose only dream is to restore a robot his late father found in a museum. To do that the boy needs mechanical parts from a nearby toy store and that’s how he comes into the lives of store owner Georges and his goddaughter Isabelle. Georges turns out to be a legendary magician-cum-filmmaker in the pre-World War I era and the boy’s determination to realize his dream rekindles the old man’s spirit.

Hugo by Martin Scorsese

Hugo was nominated for 12 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. In the end it won 5 technical awards but none of the major ones. Martin Scorsese did take home a Golden Globe for Best Director as a consolation prize. The movie, with its fancy 3D animation and CGI effects, cost over USD150 million to make but grossed only USD137 million in box office worldwide. So what went wrong?

Hollywood is all about nostalgia these days. Even a black-and-white silent movie from France was able to scoop up almost every major award at the Oscars. Riding on the same nostalgia wave, Hugo looks back at old movie-making – indeed, the birth of movie-making – with fondness and deference. When Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore celebrates the magic of films with Cinema Paradiso, it is natural and heartfelt. But when a heavyweight American director like Scorsese does it with a big budget epic, it somehow feels forced and manipulative. Hugo is Scorsese's tribute to filmmaking, one of the last bastions of the American hegemony. But the movie leapfrogs tribute into self-congratulation, not unlike the annual Academy Awards ceremony where Hollywood celebrities hand out golden statuettes to each other.

An audience of self-congratulating millionaires at this year's Oscars

That’s not to say Hugo doesn’t have its redeeming qualities. The movie promises the audience adventures and magic – the same things Hugo promises Isabelle – and we get heaps of both. Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Schindler’s List) delivers a superb and nuanced performance as the dejected toy store owner with a storied past. So too does young actor Asa Butterfield who plays the character role with precocious conviction. Punctuated with occasional sweet moments, Hugo is a slow-cooked family epic that at times feel tedious and predictable. The movie has all the ingredients it needs to move us, but in the end it falls short of doing that.

Ben Kingsley opposite Asa Butterfield


  1. Jason,

    Very well said. Thanks very much for your pragmatic & enlightening views. So to speak, don't put too much expectation on the movie ! But I feel still worth to go for a watch somehow !



  2. Hi Jean, yes, Hugo is definitely worth watching. As long as you manage your expectations, you will have a great time!