"Well they delivered on the clockwork."
Hugo is a conundrum. The film is nominated for eleven Oscars. Eleven. If there was ever a measure of a ‘good film’ it should be that, right? That seems like it would be the entire point of the Academy Awards. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that, as much as I wanted to love it, Hugo never fully won me over.
A little while ago I wrote about Marley and Me cheating. This was in reference to its emotionally exploitative plot. Yes, I’m now going to compare a Labrador based romantic drama to Martin Scorsese’s love letter to film history. The truth is, much like Marley and Me, Hugo cheated and exploited my emotions.
As I watched the magic of early cinema unfold in arguably the most stunning golden/blue color corrected way possible, pure joy enveloped me. This movie is awesome, I thought. People are finally going to understand and appreciate stuff like A Trip to the Moon! The credits rolled and this feeling stuck for a few days. Then I thought about what I’d watched a little harder.
I had a set of expectations for Hugo. I expected an adventure. That’s what the adverts told me. They showed me a fanciful world of adventure and clockwork, lots of clockwork. Well they delivered on the clockwork. Unfortunately the adventure feels tacked on - as if the images of a child crawling places it shouldn’t equal fun for the audience. Automaton with a heart keyhole? Sweet! Let’s go on a Gooniesque trip through the station to find i- Oh, the key’s in your shirt. Okay. That’s over.
The film feels like it’s far more interested in the historical side of its story than the journey of its characters. The shallowness of the relationships within the station nails this point home. Hugo suffers from an attempt cram elements in. Some of these may be rewarding if the viewer has read the book, but I’m a firm believer that film adaptions need to stand on their own legs. (See the horrible mess that became Harry Potter)
On the subject of standing on one’s own legs, I realize now that the joy I felt in many of the scenes was nostalgia. Nostalgia attributed to the films of Georges Méliès and the Lumière Brothers. Joy Hugo re-appropriated. It isn’t that I didn’t adore parts of the film, how could I not? It’s built like a guided missile for film lovers. Rather I expected to love all of it, not just the Discovery Channel bits.