Hugo Netflix Streaming DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Richard Griffiths
Originally Released: November 23, 2011
With all the praise surrounding the immersive 3D experience of Hugo, I truthfully didn’t think I would enjoy watching the movie on the small screen in a streaming viewing experience. In fact, with the “kid’s movie” stigma attached to it, I’m fairly sure I wanted to dislike it.
But it is impossible to dislike a Martin Scorsese film.
Despite the deficiency of 3D immersion, Scorsese had my attention riveted from the very beginning of the movie. With several early sequences that embodies his trademark single-shot “how the hell did he film this” technique(s), connected with high standard acting from a stellar cast, Hugo stands well enough on its own without that 3D garbage, thank-you-very-much!
Actually, the coupling of Scorsese’s filming and direction techniques, with the excellent cast make this a superb movie experience. And when it comes to the cast, Scorsese most definitely has an eyeball for talent: Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law, and more all favor the screen in Hugo, but it is Asa Butterfield’s performance as the title character that tremendously grabs you.
Butterfield’s penetrating blue eyes are almost haunting at times – sometimes reminding me of a very young Elijah Wood – captivating the central point of nearly every shot he is in. He brings the essence of innocence into the movie, and likewise brilliantly tugs on the emotions. This young man is going to have a tremendous future in acting, with an incredible dynamic and repertoire of styles, skills already. You will be considerably impressed by young Butterfield as Hugo.
Nevertheless to me it’s the wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz who is my personal favorite. I have no shame in admitting bias in this, having been a fan of Moretz for several years; but I am increasingly impressed with this young woman’s fascinating adaptability in acting, being able to convincingly take on a wide range of roles in movies. Here, in Hugo, her role is a more positive one, that fits in with the style of family movies. All in all, Moretz’s character is another impressive accomplishment from this fabulous young actress.
Uncompromising biases aside, in truth, it is Ben Kingsley who steals the show. His performance is beyond impressive, forming the initial adversary for young Hugo, but yet becoming an essential and central part to the story. His role is so important to the story, that if I elaborated on who and what he represents, it would spoil the viewing experience for you. In spite of this, believe me when I tell you, Kingsley brings his ever persevering style forth with a wonderful performance that will impress viewers both young and old.
Also, Helen McCrory puts in a nice performance, as do many others in the cast. Sacha Baron Cohen puts in a nice effort as some comic relief for the movie, as the menacing Station Inspector, though this does turn out to be stock-standard for him after a while – yet manages to complete his own character journey as well. The enigmatic Christopher Lee is also incredible addition to the cast, providing yet another iconic and unforgettable performance. The entire cast overall are brilliant!
The story of Hugo embarks upon a classic kids’ theme of a hidden/secret world hidden beyond the walls of regular life – a dream of adventure and journey and destiny that fall upon our main character as he comes of age. It is a template, but a timeless one, that works very well in many movies and with Hugo; I’m reminded of many classic stories, including ones such as Bridge to Terabithia.
In this case, we follow the life on young Hugo, subsisting behind-the-scenes of a Parisian railway station. Having been orphaned after the death of his father, he finds himself all alone, while attempting to complete his father’s final project: a clockwork automaton. Notwithstanding this small description, the overall story only uses this protagonist journey as a foundation for something far more impressive and memorable.
The complete success and charm of Hugo is in its symbolism, but also in its timelessness (pardon the pun) that gives it an almost fairy-tale quality. Like most Scorsese films, within the text and context, there is a profuse depth of subtext and meaning, providing much direction and entertainment on subsequent viewings. In turn, with connections to his filming style, everything ties together on multiple levels in telling the tale, including with the CGI.
The visual effects are immersive, even devoid of the 3D specs, and the set dressings and set design are incredibly detailed and help create a universe the viewers can escape into. There are some sweeping moments of CGI that come across as somewhat cartoonish in pieces, providing an unreality, but I think this is actually deliberate on the part of Martin Scorsese’s direction.
The universe of Hugo is a secret world, with a great deal of unrealism involved as well. While numerous backdrops are incredibly realistic, there are others that add to the mythical element of the tale. Where some directors may strive for realism, Scorsese here has opted for a balance of the real and the unreal, the equilibrium of the mundane and the fantastic: for Hugo is a tale that balances how we perceive reality and fantasy, and in some ways, I think Mr. Scorsese found something of himself in young Hugo…
In truth, as you progress though the movie, there are many characters that Scorsese seems to see his own self (past, present, and future) deep within. Without giving away spoilers or plot points, I can see how the script appealed to the director, considering his long history in film. Hugo is a movie with a lot of depth, across the board, across all characters; and I see a lot of Martin Scorsese in multiple levels of the movie.
Even with all this, for a story called Hugo, it ends up being less about Hugo, and more about the characters who surround him. Every individual Hugo touches on his own journey set forth a chain of events that conduct you to finding that the story is not simply just about a boy on a journey of discovery and maturation. Instead, the entire movie is an illusion – you are lead to believe that Hugo is about Hugo; but instead is about another character completely. It’s a magic trick, with an incredible payoff, resulting in a majestic film that you will want to watch again.
There are countless historical references in Hugo, and many of the elements focusing on Ben Kingsley’s character are strikingly accurate, though woven through the elements of balancing between reality and fantasy. Indeed, while the historic accuracies are important, it is this balance that makes the movie what it is: dreams coming to life.
Do not fall for the marketing of this being a kids’ film. Hugo is most definitely an adventure for all ages of movie viewers. I can only imagine what the experience would have been like in the theaters with 3D, for the film on its own stands tall with much depth and strength. Hugo is a high quality viewing experience, and I highly recommend you check it out if you have not seen it yet.