With the Oscar nominations announced, I was made aware that I hadn’t even seen the two frontrunners, Hugo and The Artist. So, I organised a trip to the nearest place with a pulse and a multiplex and remedied the embarrassing situation I found myself in.
The Academy are a funny old bunch, aren’t they? To me, they seem like a typical elderly man character in a bad sitcom. For instance, they frequently show how out-of-touch they are, overlooking culturally important flicks in favour of schmaltzy toss. Also, they seem to forget things only to remember them much later, such as Scorsese’s Oscar for The Departed and Gary Oldman’s “oh, fucking finally!” type nomination this year. Coupled with The Artist, a more cynical man than I would point out that both these films are just pandering to the Academy, knowing full-well that the voters fucking love films that boil down to talking about how bloody brilliant films are and how movie-making is, like, really important, yeah? However, I’m not that cynical and am happy to say Hugo and The Artist both won me over with their charm and general rocking of the shit.
Asa Butterfield plays the titular Hugo, an orphan boy who secretly lives in the walls of a bustling Parisian train station, constantly having to duck and avoid Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) who would like nothing better than to send our grubby hero off to the orphanage. Things change when Hugo meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), an adventurous bookworm who is in possession of an unusual key that may unlock the secret to Hugo’s prized possession- a broken automaton left by his father. I hate to sound like I’ve read the official namby-pamby PR blurb for Hugo, but it actually is a magical, fun-filled, family film. I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything more fitting than that. It doesn’t talk down to its kiddie audience and actually deals with some pretty adult stuff. The performances are all great, with Asa Butterfield doing his wide-eyed best as Hugo. Chloë Moretz aka the foul mouthed Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, is charming as Isabelle, also nailing the British accent that everyone in 1930s Paris seems to have. Sir Ben Kingsley is predictably good, but the surprise for me was Sacha Baron Cohen. After initially dismissing his character as childish slapstick giggle fodder, I was taken aback at how much I warmed to his friendlier take on the Child Catcher.
Hugo is a love letter to cinema. It’s a tribute to the early innovators of the art and in particular, the work of Georges Méliès. This is done tastefully and isn’t the frantic, uncoordinated suckjob I expected all of this “love of cinema” stuff to be. I got the feeling Scorsese has genuine admiration for these pioneers and it permeates the film. However, as enthralling as I found all of this to be, the thought occurred that all of this may be a bit too boring for some kids. There are no “comedy” CGI creatures that run into walls or fart, for instance. There’s also a nightmare sequence where Hugo turns into the metal faced automaton which may disturb the wussier kids in the audience. Still though, what the hell do I know? Haven’t been a kid for a long time and don’t plan on becoming a parent any time soon.
So, the 3D. The fucking 3D. I hate to say it, but it was good. Before I start telling you about how well Scorsese handled the technology and the like, I want to make it clear. Hugo has still not sold me on 3D. It’s still an overpriced gimmick that I cannot wait to see the back of. Having said that, this is the best 3D integration I’ve seen. The opening shot is of a snowy Paris, with snowflakes falling before your eyes and the film continues impressing from there. That’s not to say it’s in your face the entire time. Like the best 3D, you sort of forget you’re watching one until the next thing gets all up in your grill. Whilst added dimensionality usually adds something between “fuck” and “all”, I get the feeling Hugo might not be quite as much fun without all the whizz-bang 3D when it comes to DVD. Time will tell on that one.
I left Hugo with a big smile on my face. It’s an immensely enjoyable family film that manages to be a fun kiddie flick and a film fan’s wet dream at the same time. It’s genuinely affecting at points too, which has made me think I was too soft on War Horse and all its forced sentimentality. I hope Hugo is the start of a smarter breed of kids films and that studios realise that 3D can be used to great effect when a) you have a great director in charge or b) when it suits the mood of the film. I realise I may as well wish for fucking wings, considering Ice Age 4 and Madagascar 3 are farting into your local multiplex soon, but I can dream, can’t I?