MFR Rating: ★ ★
There’s an irony about seeing a film about the magic of cinema, shoved to the back of a multiplex in a tiny tinpot screen, in a freezing cold under-heated room and staff who clearly hate their jobs and try to wrongly charge you for 3D glasses. Forget that, you think I’d pay for this service?Personal grudges against Holloway Odeon aside, admittedly these weren’t ideal circumstances to be watching Hugo in 3D. Scorsese’s marks this as an unusual venture into wholesome kids films and his first foray into 3D film-making. Except Hugo in 3D isn’t really a kids film. Well, it is a kids film because the two leads are kids but I can imagine lots of bitterly underwhelmed children who I can sympathize with. Certainly from the trailer and marketing it feels like a children’s adventure/fantasy story, but if it’s made for anyone it’s made for film critics adoring its commentary on early cinema. No wonder the product doesn’t match the hype.
Hugo in 3D is the story of an orphan boy living, hiding and secretly working in a train station. Hugo lived with his father, a clockmaker who used to take Hugo to the cinema before his untimely death, leaving Hugo in the care of his good-for-nothing Uncle, who teaches Hugo how to take care of the station’s clocks before he disappears. Hugo lives in between the station’s walls, while trying to fix an automaton, a project started by his father which Hugo hopes will contain a message. He starts a friendship with Isabelle, who he hopes will help him fix the automaton. Isabelle has never been to the movies and the movies provide the protagonist for the film.
It’s a film about the magic of film-making. It’s incredibly self aware and it does feel a bit nauseating it this respect. Personally, I was very happy with the kids story about an orphan living in a train station trying to fix clocks while getting by undetected in a strange little fantasy world, but Hugo in 3D has much wider intentions. Incidentally, the reason why I’m referring to it as Hugo in 3D rather than merely ‘Hugo 3D’ is because that’s the official title. It being in 3D is considered an essential part of what it was trying to say about the evolution of cinema. I’ve heard 3D deniers admitting that this is the first time the 3D has worked, but personally I couldn’t disagree more. 3D is supposed to ‘immerse’. What Hugo in 3D does is try to immerse, and the first scene sprawling through the station does it nicely but then it continually takes the viewer out of the film by saying “hey, cinema – kinda cool huh?”.
Essentially, I wanted, expected and thought this would be a lot better if it was just a straight kids story, then it could have been truly cinema magic. The performances from the kids, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) are perfectly fine without quite earning the outstanding accolades they’ve been given, maybe I’m being harsh. Isabelle is a girl who loves to read but the range of her vocabulary is a bit like how a screenwriter wants a 13 year old to talk, rather than how they actually would. Sacha Baron Cohen tries to offer some comedy relief as a station guard but that doesn’t really work either.
There are some positives, it’s a nice world that’s been created but just doesn’t quite contain the magic it aspires towards. I’ve heard people describe it as a masterpiece, an assessment which feels wide off the mark. It falls down by trying to be too clever and spends too much time trying to get people to say “oooh isn’t that clever”. I get it, you’re being clever. Now try and give me a bit more magic and excitement. It’s one of those films I by no means disliked and probably enjoyed more than the two stars suggest, but I just feel rather disappointed. And I think the kids will too.
Hugo in 3D is out now in 3D and 2D in the UK and US. Running time: 126 mins. Certificate U (UK).
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Review by David Rank