Hugo Review

Film Still
  • Hugo film still


Disjointed, indulgent and overblown yet still garnering huge praise. It’s Avatar all over again!

It’s fair to say that no-one was expecting this one. When it was announced that Martin Scorsese was directing a period kids picture in 3D, fans of his more left-field choices – The Age of Innocence, Kundun, etc – were likely to be intrigued as to how he would bring his authority to bear on something as delicate and whimsical as Brian Selznick’s novel-cum-picture book 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'.

Others chided themselves that they were less open to such an idea than they would be to see Marty take a trip back to the old neighbourhood with Pesci and De Niro in tow.

Already a success in the US, with firm box-office bolstered by ecstatic reviews, it would seem that Scorsese has hit this one for six, but while many will be caught up in the warm-hearted sumptuousness, more than a few are going to find themselves scratching their heads as to how such a disjointed, indulgent, overblown film is garnering so much praise. It’s Avatar all over again!

It’s Paris of the 1930s and after the death of his inventor father (Jude Law, in a cloying but mercifully brief cameo), young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is taken in by his gruff, drunken uncle (a wheezy and bewhiskered Ray Winstone) and set to work attending the clocks of the Paris train station.

When Uncle Ray dies, Hugo is left to scavenge a living whilst collecting the parts he needs to fix the automaton his father was working on when he died. His light fingers soon have him in trouble with gruff toymaker ‘Papa Georges’, which in turn leads to a friendship with Georges’ daughter Isabelle (Chloë Moretz).

After a slow, cautious, over-emphatically twee opening hour in which Hugo scampers around the vast, well-scrubbed station and we are introduced to the various vendors and officials – including Sacha Baron Cohen’s pathologically pernickety station-master and his flower girl paramour, played by Emily Mortimer – Hugo finally completes his automaton and the film spirals off on one long, looping wrong turn.

The remainder of the fairly generous runtime is given over to a treatise on the career of early cinema pioneer Georges Méliès and a plea on behalf of – this is ostensibly a kids film, remember – film preservation.

The clockwork motifs that have featured heavily throughout, combined with the poised halting relationships of the station inhabitants, has invited us to believe that everything will start clicking into place as Hugo’s adventure touches the lives of all (as in, say Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s The City of Lost Children), but this is all mere window dressing that’s dropped like a hot stone when Scorsese starts soapboxing about silver nitrate and the magic of the movie camera.

All this is quite probably meant to make Hugo a ‘movie in love with movies’ – as if this were, per se, a good and noble thing. But one of the central tenets of good filmmaking has always been ‘Show, don’t tell’. Scorsese has made a career making movies that show us that he’s in love with movies, and now he’s finally made one that quite insistently tells us that he is.

It not only diminishes the point significantly, but this narrative derailment also sees poor little Hugo Cabret shunted aside and relegated to the role of passenger in a film that bears his own name. No doubt Scorsese’s tribute is both sincere and heartfelt – and these lengthy sequences are indeed vivid and memorable – but quite what it has to do with Hugo’s story is quite baffling.

The film looks and feels wonderful, thanks to Robert Richardson’s sterling photography and Dante Ferretti’s grand production design, while the 3D presentation is wholly magnificent, lending even the most mundane shots a level of magic. Performances, however, tend toward a sense of wonderment that never truly arrives.

This may seem like a mean-spirited review, and many will see past the negatives (no pun intended) to find a magical adventure, but others will be left wondering if there was a name other than Scorsese’s on the credits would the film be basking in quite the level of praise it is currently enjoying.


It’s Scorsese in 3D – what part of that do you not want to see?



Beautiful but rambling opening section gives way to a history lesson better suited to documentary. The 3D is the one unalloyed treat.


In Retrospect

It’s possible to see the attraction, but when people break into applause over the credits, some are going to be left cold.

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View 16 comments


3 years ago
I've seen a lot of skepticism in reviews (both positive and negative) about the film history/preservation elements of this movie, and I think the above review says what a lot of people are thinking: that Scorsese's love of movies is so obvious in everything he does that there's something suspicious about him making a movie -about- that.

I think it was wonderful, and here's why: We don't all care about old movies, but Scorsese shows how seeing a movie in a theater is an experience that can be shared by people who are separated by vast distance or many years (Hugo and his father)--a piece of 1896 can still -exist- in the present.


3 years ago
I'm still very enthoused to see this one, though kinda shocked by the review. To bad it runs in februari in Holland


3 years ago
Hugo - best movie I've ever seen. Time to change your med schedule.


3 years ago
Thank you for your clarity. I found this film, despite the beautiful graphics and sets, uneven, emotionally perplexing, and ultimately unsatisfying. You captured it all in the phrase "a sense of wonderment that never arrives."


3 years ago
Thank you for the only accurate review I could find. Possible mild spoilers follow.

This is a confused movie that doesn't know what (or whom) it's about. Is it about a magical automaton whose secret will open the door to a strange and wonderful world? That never really happens. Is it about clockwork and how people fit together? Not so much. Is it about Hugo's struggle to survive under harsh circumstances? Is it about the filmmaker Georges Melies? Is it about film?

The movie changes pace and focus throughout as the subject of attention changes, and I found it hard to care about the characters. It was especially irritating to watch Georges tell the story of his "tragedy", surrounded by family who loved him in an opulent house, when standing before him was a boy who had lost both parents, had no home, no income, no food, and no future - and this boy was supposed to pity him, more or less because he wasn't famous anymore. This is without even mentioning that this entire section of the movie is one big "tell the audience what the movie is about instead of show".

The visuals were beautiful, but the acting often required more than the actors were able to provide. The dialogue was hammy and obvious, a pain to listen to ("at one point the girl cries something to the effect of, "It's still working! Hugo, it's still working!", which sounded completely artificial). The music was overbearing. Cohen's character and sideplot were never endearing or relevant, likewise for the other side characters.

Indulgent is the perfect descriptive.


3 years ago
This movie was horrible. Absolutley brutal folks. It was boring, slow paced, not exciting and did I mention boring? The 3D was nothing special, there was probably 3 good 3D scenes and that's it. Final destination 5 and transformers 3 had amazing 3D. Please do not waist your hard erned money on this garbage of a film. It was boring. My girlfriend and I left the theatre before the credits came because it was literally that boring. I'm warning you.


3 years ago
If you just went to see it for the 3D then that's really shallow or maybe 12yo. How can you even make a judgement when you left before the credit? And you compare it to FD5 and Transformers 3?!! Definitely Oscar contenders...LOL!


3 years ago
The movie was terrible. I agree with your assessment on all the train station's denizens. It was set up to be something where the characters are affected by Hugo's actions...Yet we waste screen time on stories that in no way connect to the title character.
- The Macguffin for the first half of the interninably long movie is forgotten. It drove the plot, and then....didn't.
- Christopher Lee, why?
-Exactly how tall is the Eiffel Tower? Because it's above the train station, below it and on an even level with it depending on what scene we're in.
-The uncle appears, and then disappears, and we only know his fate towards the end.
-Can no one see that Ben Kingsley's motivation is....well...pretty petty and self involved.
-The kid has less presence THAN THE DOBERMAN. That's how ridiculous it is. I can see Scorcese saying "OH his eyes are so expressive". Great. Cause the kid does nothing but stare for three quarters of his time on screen.
. The 3D was useless and added something in MAYBE a handful of scenes. "Hey! That gear really looks like it's in front of his face!" Big whoop.

This is a vastly, vastly overrated movie. Not poorly made, but poorly paced and edited. There are nothing but talented actors on screen(with the exception of Stare Kid), but used to ill effect.


3 years ago
I completely agree. My friend picked this movie. I stayed because it was his choice. He stayed because he didn't want to admit the movie was bad. Both of us almost turned to the other, twice a piece, to say that we wanted to leave. Absolutely stultifyingly boring movie.


3 years ago
Richard, you really need to watch more movies. You're lucky. If this is your high water mark, you have literally THOUSANDS of movies that will top it. Hell, the "A trip to the moon" short that this movie flogs beats this pile of


3 years ago
i really wanted to like this, but its sadly just another bloated, largely charmless blockbuster. its overlaboured, overwrought, with a lot of clunky dialogue and just too expositional. more crucially, the film is barely interested in its main characters. the only thing scorcese is interested in is melies - he should have just made a proper biopic about melies as he didnt seem at all interested in the kids or their stories, only melies. that would have made a far better film. scorcese should probably never do a film about kids again cos its clearly not his forte. and the 3d does very little, like pretty much all other 3d films but after reading other reviews i expected better, but the 3d here is no better than any other film using the technology. basically then, its just a huge empty spectacle, well made of course, and not a complete disaster, but apart from a few scenes involving melies, its just bereft of anything a film like this should be. its not loveable, its not lovingly told, it just seems like any other much touted seasonal blockbuster, overworked to the point where all its life seems to have been sucked out of it. if anyone else had made it, nobody would be looking so valiantly for signs of greatness where tragically, there are so few.


3 years ago
also, far too many strands of narrative that were stretched out for far too long in the first place, then just left as if they meant nothing. the film seems like two films stuck into one, with neither all that satisfactory. if we were wondering whether scorcese has basically lost it or not, i think hugo might be proof that maybe he should stick to restoration for a while, or documentaries,


3 years ago
Yep, good review of a pretty bad and very boring film.

Myrna Miller

3 years ago
Totally agree. A very bad and boring film. A potentially charming story ruined by scorseses heavy hand and bloated head. .Wonder what Spielberg would have done with it.???


3 years ago
Christ, what an awful review. You lack so much in your writing by jumping onto your angry independant band wagon. I thought this was a good website!


3 years ago
I enjoyed Hugo personally and felt completely thrilled by the film's reveling in the cinema of Melies and felt somewhat swept away by the Parisian imagery and sweet film romanticism. The cast were on fine form and the effects and 3D were put to good use, as with anything its each to his own but I loved it. Certainly not Scorsese's best but a fine film all the same, although its mis-marketed as a kids film.
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