I have been trying to figure out how a movie reportedly costing close to two hundred million dollars has failed to find a paying audience. The reviews have been either glowing or certainly respectful.
The enormously talented Martin Scorsese directed the movie based upon a successful children's book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which deals with the adventures of a 12-year-old boy who literally lives within the cavernous confines of a massive Parisian train station in 1931, whose principal chore is to keep the numerous clocks in the station in working order after the death of his drunken uncle, who had been charged with that operation.
A host of actors are on board, including the young boy played by Asa Butterfield, an old man played by the brilliant Ben Kingsley, a young girl played by Chloe Moretz, and a station policeman played by the actor and satirist, Sacha Baron Cohen.
The subtext and probably the inspiring motivation for this film comes from the fact that it is also about the movie pioneer Georges Méliès whose 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, was the harbinger of what we now know as the movie industry.
There is no question that the technical aspects of this movie are spectacular, the craftsmanship is fantastic and every background aspect of the production, the sets, the costuming, the music, the lighting and the sound are worthy Academy Award prospects. There is an unmistakable sense of absolute fidelity in the re-creation of the times and the beauty and authenticity of Paris between the wars.
With so many talented people involved in this production, I feel somewhat of an ingrate to inject my own humble critique into the conversation, but the flaws seem obvious, especially to a storyteller in another medium.
The magic of this movie is everywhere but in the story. Technology seems to have trumped the essential ingredient of storytelling, which is "what happens next." There is too much distraction and repetition. Close-ups of the boy actor and his emerald eyes seem excessive and disruptive.
There are too many holes in the logic of the story and too many scenes where the boy runs through the hidden network of spooky tunnels that form the labyrinth of the massive railroad station. The novelty begins to wear thin and the pacing seems to slow to a halt when various transitional materials kick in.
The film history references, while creative and interesting by themselves, do not seem to fit with the story and the central risk to the boy's freedom. Because his father has died and he is an orphan, his most persistent danger is that he will be caught by the station cop and sent to an orphanage.
There is, of course, an attempt to wring pathos out of the boy's plight and Ben Kingsley's character develops arc from mean-minded to nice guy, but there is something missing. Perhaps the characters are too flat to be sympathetic and the absence of real evil perpetrators offers no real risk to our intrepid hero.
To give the devil (in this case, me) his due, perhaps maturity and the repetition of experience has wreaked havoc with my sense of wonder, but the poor attendance to this movie might indicate that I could be, at the very least, half right.
It seems obvious that the obsession with movies, their history, massive influence, remarkable technological advances, inner workings, glamour and joyous devotion to creating a parallel world to feed the dreams of millions was so tempting to Scorsese that he moved this project forward with his considerable clout, letting the story take a secondary role.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses," "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at warrenadler.com.
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