Hugo is a very pretty movie. From its opening sequence as the gears of a clock morph into the streets of Paris, to the long shot of a little boy winding through the back corridors of a train station as he cares for all the clocks therein, to the shine of the automaton’s steampunked innards–it is a very, very pretty movie.
And not much else.
I know it’s based on a beloved children’s book, and I am certain that in that form, the adult characters make a strange sort of sense. In a book, the menacing stalking of the watchman and his dog is probably a real threat. You never know when he’s going to show up, after all until suddenly he is there, between the periods. In a movie, we see him. We know where he is looking and where his next step will take him. In a book, his pratfalls may be funny as we fill in many of the details through our own imaginations. In the film, they felt oddly contrived and lethargic.
In a book, the aloofness of the adults, their callousness, their refusal to listen is part of the language of children’s lit. The POV of Hugo or the little girl adds a filter through which we interpret adults as a child would. In a film though, I don’t give you that leeway. I have to interpret facial expressions and intonation as an impartial observer. And quite frankly, the adults in this story were, in a word, cruel.
So people stopped watching your films. How tragic, how terrible. How strange that men returning from war don’t want to see rockets piercing the eye of the moon. These men who had seen their friends and brothers and classmates choke to death on gases, their intestines explode outwards, full of lead and metal, how dare they ignore these happy, fantastical films. I am so sorry for you.
Sure being ignored, forgotten is sad but it is certainly no reason to be angry–to be furious at those black, clacking heels. It is not enough to steal the notebook of a small orphan boy, to allow him to walk in shorts through the snowy streets of Paris, to give him a handkerchief full of ashes when you know, for you must know, that this was the one precious thing in this child’s life. Does he owe you a debt for stealing your toys? Absolutely. Does that give you the right to steal from him? Hell fucking no.
Not to mention the wife who, upon being asked by her goddaughter to explain why her godfather doesn’t want to speak of his work, says ‘You are too young to bear such sadness.’
Umm. Her parents are dead. How’s that?
There were snippets of beautiful observed stories, things which I’m sure were more effective in the books and would have stood out even better had the main plot been worth following.
And the terrible unsubtletly of it all! Stare into space and suddenly find yourself in a flashback! There may have even been diddly diddly diddly music and hand waving… I can’t really remember. Witness awkward exchanges between children which did so little to advance the plot(?) I can barely remember them as distinct episodes. Mysterious book giving man! Mysterious librarian who knows everything! Mysterious key given for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!
Ugh. I think my brother summed this movie up best: Martin Scorcese thinks children are stupid.
The book was an amazing piece of art, only partly text and relying a lot on the atmosphere of the pictures–like a graphic novel, if there was a “literary” category for graphic novel. Not cartoon-like.
I can see how it wouldn’t be easy to adapt in a pleasing way–though now I am sad that I probably won’t enjoy watching this when I can get it from the library.
Should probably just buy the book so I own a copy to open up every once in a while, instead.
~ Bethany Powell