Movie Review: Hugo (3D) (2011)

March 14, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

To 3D or not 3D, that is the question.

If you know me or have read some of my reviews, you’ll know I hate 3D films with a passion usually reserved for botched haircuts and cakes with hairs on them.  But I heard there were rumours on the internets that Hugo is the first ever film worth watching in 3D.  The Martin Scorsese directed family film (which is weird enough in itself) apparently utilises the technology wonderfully, so well, in fact, that it actually enhances the film rather than distracts it.

Is it true?  Mmm…that’s a hard one.  I haven’t actually seen the 2D version so it’s hard to make a comparison, but I can’t imagine liking the film any less just because it doesn’t have 3D effects.  To Scorsese’s credit, this is one of the rare 3D films that doesn’t make me squint because the screen gets too dark, since he always ensures that visuals are bright enough, even with the dimming glasses on.  The film also employs some neat tricks with the camera which makes great use of depth, but perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is that the 3D does not feel like a gimmick.

Anyway, all this discussion about 2D and 3D is ultimately kind of irrelevant because no matter how many Ds Hugo has, it’s still one of the best movies of 2011.  It’s so clever, so magical and has so much heart that I’m struggling to think of another family film that even comes close.

Set in the 1930s, Hugo tells the story of the titular character (played by Asa Butterfield), a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives behind the walls of the Paris train station.  Hugo has a secret project he needs to complete which requires him to steal spare parts from the station’s toy store.  The store’s enigmatic owner is played by a marvellous Ben Kingsley, and Isabelle, his goddaughter, is played by Chloe Grace Moretz. And Sacha Baron Cohen is the crippled station inspector who seems to like nothing more than sending little children to orphanages. I won’t reveal much more than that, and I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll try to go into the film knowing as little about the plot as possible.

If you love film, chances are you’ll love Hugo.  It’s really a love letter to the origin of motion pictures and the art of filmmaking that ingeniously blends genuine film history with a fictional story that is both beautiful and incredibly moving.  I really enjoyed the feeling of not knowing where the film was heading and not caring — I completely surrendered myself to Scorsese’s masterful storytelling and just let Hugo take me along for the ride.  Sure it was a little long at 128 minutes, and the film takes a while to hit its stride, but eventually I was immersed in Hugo’s world and  I actually found myself wanting more by the end of it.  Simply put, the film was exciting, mysterious, heartfelt, magical and absolutely stunning to look at.

The performances played a big part too.  The kid, Butterfield, was pretty good, as were Moretz and, surprisingly, Cohen (not a hint of Borat). Butterfield’s innocence and romantic ideals made Hugo a very likeable protagonist, and Moretz, after playing a kid assassin (in Kick-Ass) and a vampire (in Let Me In), demonstrated her versatility once again as the lovely Isabelle.  Even Jude Law was excellent in a small but important role.  But the movie truly belonged to Sir Ben Kingsley, who was utterly mesmerising as the heartbroken toymaker — you’d probably have to go as far back as his Oscar winning role as Gandhi to find a performance that rivals this one.  I know Hugo swept the technical awards this year at this Oscars but it’s hard to believe none of the actors even got nominations at any of the major awards.

That’s enough rambling from me. All I can say is that Hugo is not only one of my favourite films of 2011 (I am hoping to be able to get to that list I’ve promised to do…eventually), it is the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!