I watched this film the same night as Shame (review to come tomorrow) and The Road, I didn’t know a lot about it before watching it, just had heard relatively good things from the bits and pieces I’d seen from reviews etc. It turned out to be a little different from what I was expecting (I thought it was based in the UK for example).
I should probably start with a brief overview, this film is about a clockmaker’s son, who lives in the walls of a train station in 1930’s Paris, and his journey to find out more of his father and a strange device known as an automaton. The first thing which struck me, was all of the characters having British accents, some of which were quite strong, even though it was set in France. Now, I was not expecting people to be speaking in French, nor to be speaking in English with a French accent, since, let’s be honest, that’s no more realistic than them speaking with any other accent, however my brain still found it slightly odd to begin with. The next thing I noticed was the language used, it was wonderful, it’s not often you’ll find a film where a small girl uses words such as ‘panache’ and ‘doltish’, and when one of the characters came out with the word ‘physiognomy’, I was almost certain he was making it up!
There were a couple of recognisable faces (such as Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick, and Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse) and M Frick, while his part was small, was a fantastic character in his own right, with a couple of amusing scenes with Madame Emelie (Frances de la Tour). I was impressed by the main 2 children, Hugo was portrayed by Asa Butterfield, most likely to be recognised as Bruno from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and his friend Isabelle by Chloë Grace Moretz, who I instantly recognised from Kick-Ass, although her role in this film was quite different. The other ‘main’ character was the Station Inspector, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, made famous by the film Borat. Now, in this he isn’t quite as ridiculous as his previous times on screen, but there is no doubt his character is slightly strange. I found him to be quirky and quite fun, although I can easily see why some may find him annoying and quite simply stupid. However, he does have one feature which makes him more than the annoying character he may otherwise have been – a metal contraption of sorts to deal with his leg which was injured during the war, and it gives him this sense of vulnerability, and oddly enough, humanity. Ben Kingsley plays M Georges Méliès, Isabelle’s grandfather, owner of a toy shop at the station, but someone who once was a great film maker and inventor.
Most of the film takes place in the train station itself, which feels very real, thanks partially to the heavy smog hovering above people’s heads. In fact the entire film gets the era spot on I think, with the characters suitably attired, the bustling masses as they move around on their respective journeys, and the general feel of it all. There a couple of lovely sequences where you see Hugo run through the walls, from clock to clock, peeping out at the people in the station. The film even manages to include a chase scene, where Hugo is on the run from both the Station Inspector and his dog. This is a scene which I defy anyone not to laugh at as they see the dog slipping and sliding, and the Inspector doing his best to run with his dud leg. But for me, the most amazing aspect of the entire film has to to be the automaton, a clockwork robot which can write. I mean, when you think about it, and when you see it, you can’t help but think that you’d need a little more clockwork, and a lot more winding up to get the results achieved, but as long as you don’t focus on it, it doesn’t detract from the otherwise near magical feeling you get from it. Throughout the course of the film you discover more about Méliès’s past, through a series of flashbacks, where you see him go from magician, and a successful one at that, to putting all his eggs into the film basket, as he purchases what looks like a giant greenhouse, where he wrote, directed and starred in hundreds of films, until the war, at which point he threw it all in once he thought no one wanted his films any more. He then retreated to become the distant owner of a toy shop, hiding from his past, until Hugo and his automaton dredge it all up to be seen once more.
Sadly it’s no without its flaws. The automaton can be a little creepy, especially its face in some scenes. Now whether this was due to the design of the face, or merely the directing I cannot be certain, but I wouldn’t worry, the moments aren’t too common.The other main issue I had were some unexplained sections of the story, such as the fate of the father, which while you see on screen, an explanation is never really given.
- Excellent characters
- A heartwarming (if not slightly unusual) tale
- Some beautiful scenes of 1930’s Paris
- Some bits are left unexplained
- A couple of moments where the magic is broken by the lack of reality (few and far between)
Should I watch it?
Most definitely. It’s a great film, a little quirky, but I think that’s what makes it so good, in both its setting, its character and the tale itself. Some may find the whole concept too bizarre/creepy, and it may not to be everyone’s taste, with no explosions or death defying stunts, but in the end it’s a film that’s enjoyable for the whole family, full of little flashes of brilliance to bring a smile and a laugh to the living room.