I will admit to coming to Hugo somewhat later than many (having only just watched it), so it was that I picked up a copy with a fair bit of the excess baggage of expectation based on good reviews and many recommendations.
That said, beyond a good film, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – I knew the film was a family film and that it dealt with the early days of cinema but to be honest I wasn’t sure how those would fit together, and having watched it, I’m still not sure.
Telling the story of the adventures of a boy living inside the clocks of Paris train station is a great sounding set up to a film, but, rather than taking us on a typical adventure the journey the boy goes on explores not only the loss of his father but the story of Georges Méliès and his work in early cinema.
This is what makes this film odd, but also, possibly, much more interesting. We seem to live in a world now where major motion pictures can be clever, Christopher Nolan seems to get a lot credit for this down to his Batman films and Inception, but Hugo seems to fall into this same area too, albeit not quite as successfully.
Firstly I’ll look at the story of Hugo’s family. Hugo’s quest for knowledge of his father seems to be something of a macguffin to lead us into other areas and the whole story involving the station policeman, winding the clocks and Hugo’s uncle (a Frenchman played by Ray Winstone?) seems to end up oddly under developed, despite the fact in almost any other family movie this would be the main thread.
While this story is fascinating and, seemingly, based on the true story of Méliès’ life, I found it hard to connect to the characters, particularly Moretz, and ended up not really caring about any of them except for at one point not wanting the policeman to get Hugo because I wanted to find out more about Méliès.
If that sounds a bit confusing, I think maybe it’s because it is.
I certainly think Hugo will take another watch to try to see if I missed something crucial, but in general, while it looks great, Asa Butterfield puts in a good performance in the title role and all the stuff about early cinema appeals to the geek in me, I ended up thinking that a documentary about Méliès would probably have satisfied me much more.
But if nothing else, I guess it’s a good thing that any youngsters who did see the film might have learned something about early cinema they didn’t previously know, but they may have come away thinking it was all just a story.