WHEN YOU are rooting for a character – you want them to succeed, you don’t want them to die, you’d give up everything just to see them happy – then the film has made an impression to you. Just as “Hugo” did for me.
Emptying the pockets
“Hugo” tells the story of Hugo unearthing the mystery of a worn out robot after the wake of his father. On the process, he befriends Isabelle, a girl who fancies book adventures and is hoping to get into one on this quest. Together they not only discover the hidden message but also renews a man drained from his past.
Before you get all jiggly, the “adventure” I’m talking about is not where they cross vast ocean, ride a flying beast, slay monsters, or travel into the new world, which seemed implied by the misleading posters and trailers. This is not Narnia-and-Alice-in-the-Wonderland like, but it does contain the charm and stunning CGI from the two. The adventure here is about a boy learning his purpose, an event that mostly happens in the train station, and I don’t say that as a caveat.
An enchanted castle
By far, this is the first modern film I saw that cleverly enhanced the depth of the 2D medium by using dramatic lightning. In every scene there is always a touch of light and shadow, bringing you to the Romanticism period, it’s just “too good to be true”. Not to mention, the playful use of smokes. The film has “panache,” and you get the feel of it at the very start of the film where the camera tours around the train station.
I know this isn’t much but I had fun watching the scenes where it cut from an over-the-shoulder shot to a neutral shot. The other day I was reading a cinematography book. Seeing the shots in practice awakes my senses, its’ like the film saying “Look at this!” There are also some spectacular over the head shots and extreme below angle shots. Obviously, it’s more of an aesthetic intention than functional, but it gives the film a different look, telling you this isn’t your ordinary family film.
Surely enough, it isn’t.
Kind to old movies
When I was watching “Hugo”, it reminds me of “Super 8”. Both films are about films. “Hugo” teaches about film history, and “Super 8” celebrates the art of film making. Although unlike “Super 8”, “Hugo” doesn’t fall apart in the third act. You lose interest in “Super 8” after you find out what the hullabaloo is about. But, I’m happy to admit that these two films have a great job building up the climax. They spare you the thrill. Wanting you to want more.
Later in the film, Hugo and Isabelle go to a library, to further their research. They pull out a film book, and, as on that scene, a brief recap of the film history, where an actual footage of the old films are used. You’d also get the idea that the film pays homage to these classics. For instance, in the scene of the “Safety Last” (1923), where a man is about to fall, only hanging on the clock’s hand, is replicated on one of the climactic scene of “Hugo”, where Hugo is being chased by the train inspector.
Apparently, there’s still more. As I read on the internet, the ideas of some of the plot points of “Hugo” are “common” in early cinema. If you want to know more about “Hugo”, read a comprehensive analysis from davidbordwell’s site. It’s lengthy but rewarding.
People also say that the story of the film does not deserve a 3D feature, because it’s too shallow. Yes, it’s too shallow. But for me, one of things that I consider that a film is magical is that it transforms people’s small little concerns like it’s the world’s. This is basically what the film does. Maybe you don’t care of a child fixing a robot, but for that child and the owner of a robot, it means a lot, it means their life. And at the end of the day, provided that their characters are played out well, that is only what matters.
P.S. I’m just wondering, since this is set in Paris, why doesn’t the characters talk in French?
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR-kP-olcpM (not recommended)