Martin Scorsese is one of those directors that couldn’t really be considered child-friendly. Most of his features are, quite rightly, for adults only. Even when he does a film with a broader certificate rating (like Age of Innocence and Kundun, for example), it's unlikely to appeal to the Harry Potter crowd.
Hugo, however, must be considered the first family film that Scorsese has made in his career. Unfortunately for him, it might not be as friendly for younger audiences as he might have hoped, or any other for that matter.
Railway stations are busy places, but even more so in a big metropolis like Paris. In one such station lives young Hugo (Asa Butterfield); since his father died (Jude Law), Hugo has been living behind the scenes in the station, maintaining the clocks that are so vital where trains are concerned.
He learnt his skill from his clocksmith father, who dabbled in all kinds of mechanisms. One that the pair had been working on together was an automaton; a sublime piece of engineering that had the look of a human form, despite being made of cogs and wheels.
Hugo was now in charge of the automaton, and was keen to continue the work on it that he and his father began.
Finding parts proved to be difficult however. Luckily for him there is a toy booth in the station, where he can acquire parts, that is when its owner George (Ben Kingsley) isn't looking. Then one day he does look, and catches Hugo in the act. Noticing that Hugo has a talent for fixing things, he allows him to work in the booth; this way he can work to pay back for all the parts he's stolen.
Whilst working there he gets to meet Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), George's grand-daughter. After spending some time together, Hugo notices that Isabelle has a key around her neck. On closer inspection he discovers that it's actually the key to his automaton. But how can the automaton his father found and Isabelle be connected? Perhaps the automaton itself has the answer...
This is Scorsese's first film in 3D and you can tell he had a lot of fun with it. Throughout the entire film there's no denying the great sense of depth. Unfortunately it's the only thing of any sense about it.
How someone of Scorsese's calibre can get a film so wrong is beyond comprehension. He's proven time and again in the past what an impressive storyteller he is; here though, the story is deeply fractured and makes little in the way of sense.
First it appears to focus on Hugo's story, and then about halfway through it shifts over to George. In between he throws in some other characters in a paltry attempt to breathe life into the truly dull proceedings. One of them is the station inspector, played by Sacha Baron Cohen; there's no denying his other alter egos are larger than life (Ali G and Borat), but here he's as lame as his character's leg. But he's not the only one; there's something flat and lifeless about all of the performances.
Scorsese was obviously trying to create a magical journey, but it has about as much magic as a cheap cracker at Christmas. It is devoid of all humour, excitement and warmth.
Even though the film has a wider certification, it has to be seen as a tough sell for a younger audience. The only good thing you can say about it is that there's no chance of Scorsese being a paedophile, as this film proves without a shadow of a doubt that he has little interest in children. There are certain requirements a film needs to meet if it hopes to hold the attention of the young, and this one fails on every count. Take a child to this at your peril.
The only thing that has any appeal for adults is Scorsese's brief history of film. The only time the film sparkles is when Harold Lloyd appears on the screen, hanging of off a clock face. It's ironic then that the director chose the most insipid manner possible of presenting his love of film in the emptiest of celluloid shells.
To make matters worse, the film is awash with annoying niggles. Although the film is set in 1930s Paris, the mainly British cast speak the Queen's English with no sign of a foreign accent throughout. On top of that, these 'French' characters talk about their love of 'movies' – an American term that would most certainly not have been uttered by Parisians of the thirties. Have you heard of Cahiers du Movie? Exactly.
There's a reason why Scorsese doesn't make child-friendly flicks and that's because he isn't good at them. He just doesn't have the same ability as someone like Spielberg to produce films that spellbind all kinds of audiences.
The overriding emotion from watching this film – other than boredom – is disappointment. No-one likes to see one of the greatest modern-day directors take a fall, but that's exactly what Scorsese has done. There are one or two delightful visual touches, which you would naturally come to expect from someone with Scorsese's remarkable talent, but they are not enough to recommend this film to anyone.
If he ever gets the idea to make a more accessible film for a wider audience, someone should send some Goodfellas round to act as a deterrent.