Thursday, March 8, 2012


photo: movie poster from Hugo's Wikipedia page

There are many reasons to see Martin Scorsese's movie, Hugo.  I saw it in the theatre, and I knew then that I'd have to buy it when it came out (which it has recently) and watch it again, which I just did.  Here are some reasons, with a few comments:

--The effects are incredible, and not just because they're 3D (at least in the theatre) and, I'm sure, heavily CGI.  (In fact, one might mandate the other.  Not up on my film technology, I'm afraid.)  Anyway, it's a great visual experience, especially in the theatre.  Watching it on the computer screen, which I just did, wasn't too bad, either.

--The directing is stunning as well.  You've seen good special effects pictures that had nothing else going for them, right?  This one has great flourishes, nice mise en scenes, and energy.  Even his minor films, like Shutter Island, are really well directed.  Like Spielberg, Peter Weir, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick, and maybe a handful of others, it seems that Scorsese cannot direct a film badly, regardless about what you think of the film itself at the end.  (Spielberg's Hook was directed well, though it sucked.)  The acting, led by newcomer Asa Butterfield and master Sir Ben Kingsley, is wonderful as well.

--The period detail is exquisite, from the production design, to the costumes, to the real history.  Everything makes you feel like you are in Paris at the time.  And the real history is a nice touch.  I knew a little about Georges Melies beforehand, and I knew the scene about the rocket hitting the moon in the eye, but the actual clips, and his real story, were very nice touches.

--You'll love the message about art, and artists, and creating, and all of that, even if you're not a writer.  It's got a nice message about how we're all here for a creative reason, not just for a practical reason--though one may still be the other, of course.  But when an artist isn't making art, he's a useless and depressed piece of mold, which is what Melies apparently became, and that's shown here.  Writers watching this movie will recognize the writer's block extended metaphor immediately.  When you're blocked, you're beyond miserable, right?  This movie explains maybe why that is.  The other messages about not giving up, and fathers and sons, and all that are done well, too.

--It's nice to see a Scorsese picture that doesn't have someone's head put in a vice, or psychotic characters shooting everyone in sight.  Not that Goodfellas and Taxi Driver were bad, of course, but it's nice to be reminded that Scorsese can do something else.  In fact, I have to say that I liked Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ just as much, if not more, than The Departed and all of those.  It is said that Scorsese wanted to direct this picture (as he calls them) because he wanted his then-12 year old daughter to be able to watch one of his movies.  Now she can.  Of course, this movie is wonderful for adults as well (and only the adults will get Cohen's character's quip at the end, about being a fully-functioning man.)

One last (and surprising to me) note is that this film performed poorly at the box office.  It cost between $150 to $170 million to make (that's technology for ya) and it grossed about $140 million, worldwide, only half in America.  This is surprising not just for the quality, but also because if you're going to see it, you'd be better off seeing it in the theatre, with its 3D technology and CGI.  You'd think the average movie-goer would know that.  If they did, they didn't care.

It is also true that Scorsese's non-violent--or, rather, non-criminal, as Last Temptation was still very violent in its way--do not perform well at the box office.  This says something sad and unnerving to me about the average movie-goer's need to tear the white sheet off the corpse, but I'm learning to get used to that.  Kudos to Scorsese, and artists everywhere, for creating their art without regard to their usual fan's appreciation.  That is, after all, the point of the picture.  Artists create for their own sake, and for the sake of their art.


  1. I agree-- I wasn't sure what to expect when I started watching Hugo. I knew it was based on a children's book, but I didn't really know the story at all. The film was fantastic.

    Did you see "The Artist"? or the Iranian film "A Separation"? I wonder what you thought about those?

    1. Watching "The Artist" is definitely on my short list of things to do. The plan currently is to watch it in the theatre on Monday. It was the only Best Picture nominee filmed entirely in Los Angeles--and, of course, it was French. And silent. Best Actor award-winner, as well.

      I haven't heard of the other one.

  2. I kid you not, I just picked Hugo out of my mail box this morning from Netflix. I was planning on watching it tonight. I will definitely post my thoughts in response to yours. I'm now looking forward even more to viewing it.

    By the way, Shutter Island is one of my favorite novels and one of the best movies I saw in 2010.

    1. I'd read the novel if I hadn't seen the film already. Scorsese films don't veer from original sources, so there'd be no reason to read it, unless I was in love with the author's writing and/or style. And I'm not. As you know, it's not like I have a lack of other reading options! Shutter Island is a good example of what I wrote--a Scorsese film that's exceptionally well-directed, though, only okay, or just good, as an overall film. But I'll take an exceptionally well-directed and visually-appealing good film any day.

  3. "If you lose your purpose, it's like you're broken". Very wise words indeed! What a visually stunning film. I can only imagine how it must have looked in the theater (though I'm not a fan of the recent 3D fad.) The CGI, while heavily used, only set out to heighten the storytelling and never seemed over done or distracting. I agree it was brilliantly directed and acted by all involved. As a lover of both film and books I felt this movie perfectly combined them along with a profound message of remaining true to your heart and dreams.
    I will add I am not surprised it did not do well at the box office. We live in a society where most casual movie goers do not want to think and instead prefer movies like The Hangover or Transformers. It's a shame, but all too common an occurrence in Hollywood. At least the Academy was able to recognize it's value! I, too, am planning on watching The Artist as well.

  4. I agree on all counts. One universal agreement about the film is that the CGI and 3D were used to enhance the storytelling, not to replace it. All too often the story serves the special effects (like Transformers); Scorsese allowed the special effects to serve the story. And so according to our cultural criticism here, the vast majority of moviegoers, as evidenced by the ticket sales of Transformers as opposed to Hugo, go to the movies to see the unthinkingly visual special effects and not the thoughtful story. Indeed this is not much of a surprise.