Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hugo - Will It Become a Classic?

Well, I saw my very first 3D movie last weekend...at least since The Three Stooges released a few in the 1950s to be viewed with red/blue glasses.  We saw Hugo (2011) at a Regal Cinema, and we enjoyed the movie very much.  But not everything about it.

The best part was that we went on a Sunday evening, with Monday being a school day.  There were, maybe, ten people in the theater.  No one was talking, no one was texting.  And there were also no employees anywhere to be seen.  We got tickets at the box office (one person), bought popcorn (two people), and saw no others working.  There was no one to take our tickets as we walked down the looooong corridor to theater #6 (of 24).  I guess you can skip buying a ticket on Sunday nights, but you didn't hear that from me.

The first disappointment was the insane number of ads and previews.  The movie was listed as starting at 7:25 p.m., but the titles did not roll until 7:45.  The 2D ads ended at 7:25 and the 3D previews started then.  After the previews there was an announcement to come even earlier to see more previews, but we won't rush to the theater next time.

Hugo is a wonderful story that takes place around 1930, and it includes a history lesson on early cinema that will make it a favorite of film buffs.  Georges Melies (1861 - 1938) figures prominently in the film, played by Ben Kingsley (b. 1943).  Much has been written about Hugo already, so I won't bore you with details or give away the plot.  These are just a few thoughts about the experience.

The story hinges on an automaton that is being repaired by a young, orphaned boy.  As a young boy, I used to frequent The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where they have an automaton (probably built before 1800) very similar to the one in Hugo.  In fact, the one at the F.I. was part of the inspiration for Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which the movie is based.

Franklin Institute Automaton
In the movie, after the machine started working again, it wrote down the name of it's creator, which was previously unknown.  When the F.I. received theirs in 1928, it had been damaged in a fire and also had to be repaired.  The automaton at the F.I. was mis-identified as being built by a French inventor named Maelzel.  After its repair, it also wrote the name of its creator, Henri Maillardet, and the mystery of who built it was solved.

As far as the movie, I loved the story and I loved the acting.  Everyone was perfectly cast and did their job well.  So what was wrong?

The effects were over the top.  This seems to be the way things are going.  As with Spooks and Pardon My Backfire, both from 1953 with The Three Stooges, the 3D effects are sometimes used just because they can.  The opening scene has us flying through the train station, between people and things and through clocks, and it sets you up right from the start.  There is no reason to have so many overhead shots with the camera pointing straight down.

If you stay for the credits (and I usually do) you will find 436 names under the heading Visual Effects Artists.  That includes matte painters, computer graphics people, animators, plus all of their coordinators, supervisors and managers.  I know its a big job, but that's a bit much.  I wonder how much of the $170,000,000 budget went to them.

Also, the use of hand held cameras to add instability to some scenes is not appreciated (by me).  I had vertigo last winter after a fall on the ice, and it was not pleasant.  Why has that become a standard in every new film with some action scene?  Is Steadicam so expensive to use?

All that being said, I will buy Hugo for my film library.  The story is simply that good.  Go to the theater and see it in 3D if you haven't already.  It is an experience.  Will it become a "Classic Movie?"  Who knows.  That's not up to me.  I didn't like The Polar Express (2004), but that is being shown every Christmas.

Below is a link to an article written by Richard Bann for the Laurel and Hardy web site.  He speaks about Hugo and Georges Melies in answer to someone's question about Stan Laurel embracing magic in his films.  I always enjoy reading items by Dick Bann, who has written several books on classic movies.

The link is not easy to navigate.  Go to http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/ and click on 'Did You Know' on the left side of the page.  Then, click on 'Ask Lois' at the top.  There is no way to give you a direct link...sorry.  Lois Laurel-Hawes is Stan's daughter.  Next, scroll down the page to the question from John Raynor, which is not too far down.  If you can find it, I hope you enjoy it.  And spend some time on that web site.  It is also worth the trouble.


  1. Like you, I rather enjoyed HUGO. 3D lost its attraction for me several movies ago, so I saw the "flat version" of HUGO and, perhaps, as a result, didn't find the SFX distracting. I typically loathe extensive use of hand-hand cameras (here's a second for more steadi-cams). But the handheld shots in HUGO weren't as bad as other films (I switched channels on BATTLE: LOS ANGELES after ten minutes because it was apparently directed by a three-year-old). But do I think HUGO will become a classic? Of that, I'm not sure...but it's certainly a loving tribute to the cinema.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rick. Regal didn't have the 2D option, and since Hugo's 3D was given such a glowing review by James Cameron, I figured it was about time. Some scenes took me back to the vertigo I had last winter after a fall on the ice.

    BTW, the fellow who invented Steadicam is another one from my area. I think he lived in New Jersey at the time.

  3. I think I'm going to go see this soon, because I keep hearing from friends that it is amazing. Plus, I'm a big Big Kingsley fan and I heard he's phenomenal in this. Plus, as you stated above, the visuals are awesome.

  4. Glad I could help, Kim. Hugo is very much worth seeing. I suggest you read a little about Melies just to acquaint yourself. Wikipedia has a decent article.

    I agree about Kingsley. He can play so many different parts...Gandhi, Melies, and he was in Species (a kind of a stinker sci-fi flick in 1995). I also liked him in a bit part as the vice-president in Dave (1993).

    Happy New Year!


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