Scorsese's homage to silent cinema, and in particular the films of Georges Mélies, is a beautiful looking film and, in some scenes, a wonderful advertisement for 3D. However, while Martin swoons, the nub of this children's movie - a forgotten boy and a forgotten machine - is overlooked and it's hard to see kids being all that interested in black and white French cinema from the early part of the 20th century.
When is clock-making father dies, Hugo (Butterfield) takes to living in the rafters and walls of a 1930s Parisian train station. Spending the time tending to the clocks and avoiding the angry station inspector (Cohen), Hugo spends most of his time stealing tiny cogs, wheels and other various bits of metal from George's (Kingsley) treasure trove stall in an attempt to fix his clockwork automaton, the last connection he has to his dead father (Jude Law).
Opening with a stunning wide shot of Paris in the snow, Hugo's opening salvo, a dialogue-free ten minutes as Scorsese's camera flies gracefully about the station, introducing all the characters and setting up the plot. Wonderful stuff. Butterfield, with his moon eyes, can carry a movie with his face alone. Hugo plays out almost like a dream and it's easy to just glide along with it. But there are too many nudges and bumps to wake you up.
Scorsese takes his eye off the ball. He sets up a film about a young boy and his quest to find a heart-shaped key to make his father's automaton work, but then it diverges into a myriad of tiny subplots. The reasons for Baron Cohen's love of florist Emily Mortimer and Richard Griffith's battle with Frances de la Tour's dog aren't strong enough to warrant time spent on them.
Disappointing too is Moretz; most impressive in Kick Ass and Let Me In, she looks lost here, displaying only a fraction of her talent. Sacha Baron Cohen, hampered by his straight character (a nod and a wink to old fashioned bad guys in children's movies from yesteryear), looks unsure as well. His station inspector just isn't funny enough. Scorsese can't find anything for Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee to do either, who pop up every now and then, add zilch to the movie, and disappear again.
A nice introduction to the dawn of film Hugo may be, it can be just a bit dull in the telling.
Story by Gavin Burke | 16:37 | Monday 2nd April 2012 | DVD review
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