BANG Movie Review: Hugo

Like The Muppets, Hugo is a children’s holiday blockbuster sitting at higher than 90% at Rotten Tomatoes (93% today).

Hugo Cabret Asa Butterfield French Poster

It’s a story about a young boy who lives alone in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s; the film is based on Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I perused in its French translation the other day at the bookstore, having just seen the movie.

the invention of hugo cabret brian selznick book cover

It’s an extraordinary book, with more pictures than text. It appears Selznick had a very strong vision, and Scorcese didn’t really stray from it – just translated it to three-dimensional colour.

hugo cabret clock

hugo clock

  • Before seeing the movie, we had heard it would make us smile and cry – and that the 3D techniques were breathtaking.
  • I can emphatically agree with the latter: it’s dizzying (in a good way) from the first moment, as we zoom from the Paris cityscape into the train station, and follow the protagonist through the concealed innards of the building, where he is ostensibly responsible for winding the giant clocks by hand. It’s fascinating, somehow eerie and glorious all at once.
  • [Side note: Did you know that there are now seven major train stations in Paris? Here I was, fixing to tell y’all that there are six (besides Gare du Nord, there are Gares de l’Est, de Lyon, d’Austerlitz, Montparnasse, and Saint-Lazare)… and it turns out they built ANOTHER one! Gare de Bercy, in 2002. Damn, I need to go back there and see what else they’ve done with the place.]
  • It seems the train station itself is meant to be just a “generic” Paris terminus, but it reminded me a lot of MY train station, the Gare du Nord. Okay, it’s not actually MINE, but it was the one that took me homewards (to Dunkerque) when I lived in France. It’s pretty. (Below are Selznick’s drawing, and the real Gare du Nord.)



  • A historian named Clive Lamming acted as a consultant on the train station imagery in the film. Gare du Nord is his favourite, too. He says 80% of his inspiration in working on Hugo came from its architecture. I think this may be true of Selznick as well.
  • And then there’s Hugo’s dream, in which he basically dreams this:
  • gare montparnasse train wreck 1895That’s a photo of the actual train derailment at Gare Montparnasse in 1895 – yeah, SCARY.
  • Anyway! All righty! Perhaps that’s enough about trains. Back to the movie. (So much for bullets keeping me on track – pardon the pun.)
  • The cast is crazy-awesome. Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law: great folks.
  • I enjoyed that there were also three different actors from Harry Potter (at least!): Narcissa Malfoy, Madame Maxime, and Uncle Vernon were all present in new incarnations.
  • The kids did a great job, too: Asa Butterfield is a good little actor as Hugo (he wins the award for Most Mobile Nostrils) and Chloe Grace Moretz is also fairly adorable.
  • The automaton delivered a moving performance as well (insert jokey rimshot).
  • The plot was interesting, enjoyable, but I’ll be honest: I expected it to be a little more magical/fantastical, based on the trailer.
  • And it does always bum me out when children are orphaned. So, so sad.
  • I was glad that they didn’t give the characters French accents. That’s one of my pet peeves in movies: “Hey, let’s show that we’re in Mexico [or wherever] by giving everyone a Mexican accent as they speak English!” It makes NO sense. In Hugo, we had consistently British accents, and it worked for me.
  • There’s one thing that kept distracting me from my enjoyment of the film. I know I harp on dialogue pacing a lot, but so be it. I thought the dialogue was too slow – dead air strikes again. It’s not that I need movies to progress at breakneck speed – far from it – but I need conversations to sound natural at least.
  • Sean would add here that it also doesn’t make sense for a character not to act in his own best interests and to the best of his abilities. He felt Hugo, to be believable, should have been a smoother pilferer, and spoken more when it behooved him.
  • In case you’re wondering, yes, we did laugh quite a few times, and I did get teary-eyed at one point. It was near the end. If you see the movie, I think you’ll know what part I’m talking about.

To sum up: We liked it. We didn’t love it, but it was good entertainment, full of neat stuff. And definitely worth the 3D, big-screen experience.



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