When I saw “Hugo” last week, never before was I so acutely aware of the difference between a 3 and 4-star film. At no point in “Hugo” was I not entertained. It is a visually splendid experience, which goes a long way in impressing me. But usually when I “like, not love, not dislike” a movie, I make my conclusion sometime after. Maybe it didn’t stick with me like an great movie should. Maybe the movie derailed at some point. Not with “Hugo”. Throughout the whole film, I was aware that I was enjoying myself, even if I was never thrilled or truly moved. I never got chills.
At no point was I compelled to extreme emotion. You know that Dungeons and Dragons “alignment chart” meme that’s gone around the internet? I think movies, at their best and worst, compel us to the far corners of the chart. They stir those emotions by evoking those feelings or confronting us.
“Hugo” didn’t do that for me. Part of it was the story. Its stakes, while involving and interesting, were never particularly moving. Not until the end of the film, when Ben Kingsley’s character is revealed to be the heart of it, is there a revelation about a character with some legitimate stakes involved. Surprisingly for a Scorsese movie (but perhaps to be expected in a family movie), its storytelling is perfunctory. It does what it needs to move the plot forward, and little more. That means it relies on its plot to be compelling. Some movies thrive on this. “LA Confidential” is the best example. Its plot twists and turns through the underbelly of film noir Los Angeles, and I’m more than happy to let it take me. “Hugo” is a notch below that. Its story is fun. That’s about it, and that’s totally fine.
I guess I expected to be more impressed by “Hugo” visually. Like “Avatar,” I think it’s being overpraised for the lushness of its visuals, instead of its creativity. Martin Scorsese’s famous Goodfellas tracking shot was sumptuous and fascinating, Scorsese at his most creative. The tracking shot at the beginning of “Hugo” was pretty and impressive, but it called attention to itself more, and lacked the little details that made the similar shot in “Goodfellas” come alive.
I don’t mean for this to sound like a negative review of “Hugo”. I would heartily recommend it to anyone. The moment I was done seeing it, I knew I would recommend it to anyone, but it wasn’t going on my top 10 list either.