Hugo is an orphan boy living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. He learned to fix clocks and other gadgets from his father and uncle which he puts to use keeping the train station clocks running. The only thing that he has left that connects him to his dead father is an automaton (mechanical man) that doesn't work without a special key. Hugo needs to find the key to unlock the secret he believes it contains. On his adventures, he meets George Melies, a shopkeeper, who works in the train station, and his adventure-seeking god-daughter. Hugo finds that they have a surprising connection to his father and the automaton, and he discovers it unlocks some memories the old man has buried inside regarding his past.Written by
When Hugo shows Isabel the clock passageways, she says "I feel just like Jean Valjean!" Jean Valjean is the protagonist in the Victor Hugo novel "Les Míserables". Sacha Baron Cohen, who played the policeman in this movie, played the con man Thernardier who bothers Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (2012). See more »
The movie is set in 1931. From 1925 to 1934 the Eiffel tower had illuminated signs for Citroën adorned three of the tower's four sides. However in the movie the lights on the tower are as they are today, with no Citroën sign on it. See more »
I enjoy the poetry of Christina Georgina Rossetti. She wrote, "My heart is like a singing bird Whose nest is in a watered shoot; My heart is like an apple-tree Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit."
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There is only one opening credit, the film's title, which does not appear until nearly 15 minutes into the film. See more »
This movie is a homage to the invention of movies (especially to Georges Mèliés). For all I know, much of this is available to film school students; for the rest of us, this is as good as it will ever get, far better than even serious amateur cinephiles have much chance of seeing. Hugo is a real live breathing movie, not at all a pedantic history lesson or a viewing of archival footage; but all those history lessons and archival footage are woven in.
I happened to be reading a book on the history of film when I saw this, and several of the still photographs from the book came alive as fully moving pictures occupying the whole screen: Arrival of a Train, Workers Leaving the Lumiére Factory, A Trip to the Moon, The Great Train Robbery, Intolerance, and more that I didn't immediately recognize. There are also bits of early animation techniques: a "flip book" and a "lightning sketch" drawn live on stage. We're shown a library and museum of very old movie research and memorabilia and equipment, including a hand cranked projector with a a rotating butterfly shutter wheel to block the light between frames.
The production is thoroughly modern, using giant realistic sets with hundreds of extras and some CGI magic. (One nice bit of CGI is watching a glass studio building age over several years in real life from proud use to derelict, very believably and all in the space of only about twenty seconds of screen time.) There's no feeling of being confined to either a sound stage or a frame here; there are believable aerial views of Paris nearly a century ago.
At the same time as the film is thoroughly modern, the story "feels" like those very first movies: Many of the principal characters wear garish colored costumes that stand quite apart from what everyone else is wearing, reminiscent of the way some of those old movies were hand-tinted. The sets are huge and unmistakably simple, yet intimately detailed at the same time. Each bit of architecture in isolation is quite believable, yet taken all together it can only be a fantasy. Today we'd call the story a melodrama; the personalities of the principal characters are exaggerated; and there are plenty of thrilling foot-chases and sight gags. Things are not so far over-the-top as to be hard to believe, yet they're plain enough so it would be clear what the general outline of the plot is and who the "bad guy" is even if there weren't any sound. (Yet, there are a few things not found in the old movies too: one would never expect to find any Freudian personality subtleties in old movies, yet here they are in "our" movie.)
What we see is a seamless combination of new footage of this movie, clips of restorations of old movies, and thoroughly convincing modern recreations of parts of old movies. The blending is always believable and realistic: For one example, many of the restoration clips are screened as movies within the movie. For another example, some of the characters in what appear to be old movies are recognizably the same as the characters in the "new" movie. For a third example, a few times the camera starts by showing us a bit of an old movie, but then draws back to show us the whole old studio creating that bit (including quite a few insights into early special effects).
A few visual idioms are repeated to emphasize they're still current: First we're shown the original, then we're shown how it fits into a modern story. The man hanging precariously from the hands of a high outdoor clock may be the best example. First some of the characters sit in a movie theater and watch the original on the screen. That fairly long screening shows what leads up to it, with scaling a brick wall, standing on a ledge, and a bit of slapstick with a window that opens by revolving. Later, one of the characters in "our" movie hides by going outdoors and hanging from the hands of a tower clock we're familiar with in "our" movie.
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