Watched Apr 01, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
Several years ago I read Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and whilst won over by the world created I was left bitterly disappointed by the story. Not long after, Martin Scorsese showed an interest in adapting the book for the silver screen and I was actually quite hopeful as film was the natural medium for a story about the magic of cinema. Yet, despite my optimism all of the novel’s failings are present in the adaptation and it ends up being just as frustrating and disappointing as it was back in 2007.
The production design is sensational, capturing a romanticised Parisian train station in all of its bustling glory. The cinematography is equally impressive and it isn’t hard to see why Hugo has walked away with so many technical awards. Sadly, it is not too surprising to see why it didn’t fare as well in other categories. In many ways it is a flawless adaptation, capturing the essence of the book whilst losing nothing during the transition to a different medium. If you loved the book, and many clearly do, then this is a blessing. If, like me, you have major reservations about the source material then the film becomes a wasted opportunity in righting those wrongs.
My issues are that the story is so unbelievably clunky, be it in the way the narrative progressives, the uniformly weak dialogue or the flat characterisation. For a story that espouses adventure it is surprisingly light on excitement, thrills or a genuine sense of peril. The only threat really comes from the station inspector, and whilst the film features him heavily, you never really get the sense he is a worthy antagonist. The quest the children go on maybe a deeply personal one but its progression is so laboured and without incident. In fact the entire film is tonally flat. Many reviews have cited how the film is a love letter to cinema and that it captures the magic of the moving picture yet I don’t see it at all. The films it references (Safety Last, A Trip to the Moon etc.) are as magical as ever but they would be if they had been shown during The Human Centipede 2. Yet Hugo is strangely absent of magic, bar a few bravura moments (such as the tracking shot through the station at the beginning of the film), and it is certainly not a film I would use to show a young audience the true power of cinema.
In the end, Hugo is much like the automaton at the centre of the story: A technical triumph but its heart is creaking and incomplete.