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Film / Hugo

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"If you've ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around... this is where they're made."

Hugo is a 2011 adventure film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and co-produced by Johnny Depp. Based on Brian Selznick's Caldecott Medal-winning children's novel The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, the film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Ben Kingsley, with Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Helen McCrory, Ray Winstone and Michael Stuhlbarg in supporting roles. The film is notable for being Scorsese's first family-oriented film as well as his first shot in 3D, and is considered the director's love letter to silent cinema.

The film centers on Hugo Cabret (Butterfield), an orphan boy who lives in a train station in 1930s Paris and whose only companion is an automaton discovered by his late father. He devotes his life to making sure the clocks run on time and to gradually repairing the automaton, under the belief that the message it is designed to write is a message from his father.

One day, he gets caught stealing a toy from Papa Georges (Kingsley), a melancholy man who runs a toy store inside the station. He finds the notebook Hugo carries containing drawings of the automaton by his father. Papa Georges takes the notebook, threatening to burn it. With the help of Papa Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Moretz), Hugo tries to get the notebook back and use it to discover the secret of the automaton. Along the way, he discovers the secret of Papa Georges, including his real name.

Selznick also wrote a companion book to the film, The Hugo Movie Companion, about how his novel was adapted to the screen.

Not to be confused with the Hugo video game series.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out:
    • In the book, Hugo eventually assumes the identity of Professor H. Alcofrisbas, which is given to him by Georges Melizes while he's performing magic tricks for an audience. This is nowhere to be seen in the movie, presumably since Professor Alcofrisbas writing the book the film is based on wouldn't have any meaning on its events.
    • Some minor characters, including Etienne (so that Hugo and Isabelle could have more independence) and Hugo’s school friends Antoine and Louis.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The title was shortened from the novel's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The Station Inspector, who is a standard Punch-Clock Villain in the original novel. Here, he gets his own subplot about being a cripple who pines for the station's flower saleswoman, and the reveal that he grew up as an orphan like Hugo.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick, the cafe owner and newspaper vendor, respectively. In the book, their only contributions were to call for Hugo's arrest by the Station Inspector, as they recognize him as having stolen their respective wares during his time in the station. The film shows them partaking in friendly interaction with each other and Inspector Gustave, and when Gustave apprehends Hugo, they argue in favor of his release as they aren't aware he's done anything wrong.
    • Hugo himself gets this to some degree. In the book, he's a little more of a self-centered jerk to Isabella at first, not being used to trusting others. He even goes so far as to steal the key for the automaton off her neck, leading to them briefly becoming hostile to one another when she chases after it to get it back. In the movie, Hugo simply explains why he needs the key, and Isabelle is more than willing to help him.
  • The Alcoholic: Claude, Hugo's abusive uncle, who is only shown either teaching Hugo how to maintain the station's clocks (which isn't often) and drinking. He ends up disappearing early on and found dead later on, almost assuredly because of this habit..
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Hugo's crimes are listed as: "Trespass, theft, pilfering, littering... mmmmlering... walking about... pilloryingnote ..."
  • Ascended Extra: The Station Inspector is a fairly minor character in the book, serving as an occasional antagonist that Hugo has to evade a few times, but otherwise contributed nothing to the actual plot. In the movie, his role is more fleshed-out, he's given a proper name, and his own subplot to make him more of a proper character than a mere obstacle.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Rene Tabard to Georges Méliès, since Tabard met him as a little boy and has dedicated his life to studying old movies.
  • Author Appeal: All of the talk of the importance of early film and its preservation is Scorsese himself speaking to you. Michael Stuhlbarg even grew out his eyebrows for his character in tribute to him.
  • Based on a True Story: Sort of. The character of Hugo is entirely fictional, but the life of Georges Méliès as presented in the film is pretty accurate.
    • Hugo's clockwork boy is based on Maillardet's automaton, a real-life writing automaton whose history parallels its movie counterpart: It was built by a mechanical genius, damaged in a fire, donated to a museum, had its origins forgotten, and was eventually repaired by a clockwork enthusiast, whereupon its automated drawings provided a clue to its maker's identity.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Hugo is going to be run over by an approaching train the Station Inspector pulls him off of the tracks just in time.
  • Body Horror: Hugo experiences a nightmare where his body turns into the automaton, bit by bit.
  • Bookworm: Isabelle loves reading, and befriends Hugo hoping to have an adventure like the ones in her novels.
  • Clock Punk: The massive station clocktower, Papa Georges' clockwork toys, Hugo's old home filled with clockwork, the clockwork automaton, and the clockwork leg brace. The heavy use of fantastical clockwork can make one forget that the film is supposed to be set in a fairly realistic 1931 rather than a Victorian sci-fi setting.
  • Color Wash: As in-universe Aluminium Christmas Trees: clips of old silent movies played in the film were hand-coloured, creating a dreamy, phantasmagorical atmosphere.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Oh, quite a bit of it. For example, the Automaton which was taken by Hugo's father, just so happened to draw a picture from the movie Hugo's father saw. And it just so happened that Hugo lived in the same train station where the man who made both the Automaton and the film worked. Justified though - Hugo believes that the world is a giant machine. There are no coincidences, but only parts moving as they should.
  • Cool Old Guy: Despite setting himself as a Grumpy Old Man for the first half of the movie, Papa Georges slowly becomes more approachable and interesting to the child characters as more is discovered about him, namely that he's Georges Méliès.
  • Cool Train: Since the movie takes place in a busy station, there's a train visible or railroad noise in the background of almost every scene.
  • Covered in Gunge: Oh dear, the Station Inspector is about to slide into a gigantic cake. Then promptly subverted, as he winds up crashing into the band instead.
  • Creepy Child: Hugo to most who don't know him, mostly since his troubled past causes him to close himself off to many.
    Isabelle: Being enigmatic doesn't suit you!
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Twice; Georges giving Hugo a handkerchief of ashes as proof he burned his notebook to teach the boy life is cruel, and the Inspector sending the children he catches to an orphanage. Averted on both accounts, as the men are really just taking their pain out on children.
  • Cute Bookworm: Isabelle is a friendly, adorable little girl with an enthusiasm for books.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Hugo is having a nightmare where he gets killed by a train, which then derails and crashes through the station window. (The crash is based on a real one, and replicated in exact detail.) He has a false awakening in where he turns into the automaton. Then he wakes up for real. Later in the film, Hugo jumps in front of an approaching train, after he drops the automaton onto the tracks. The train crew reacts exactly as they did in the dream, but the Station Inspector pulls Hugo off of the tracks, and the train doesn't crash.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After spending decades bitter and sad, believing his life's work was all for nothing, Georges finally receives the acclaim he deserves as someone who helped make cinema what it is.
  • The Edwardian Era: The flashback scenes take place here and in the very late Victorian era. The story proper takes place in 1931.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Within the first minute of the movie we see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and the latter is visible from the main clock on the train station.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The opening sequence, which in a single shot goes from an overview of Paris, homes into the train station, swoops down to the doors ground level, zooms through the bustle of the station, then zooms into a large clock within it, revealing the first glimpse of the titular protagonist's face as he looks through it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite often being a Jerkass and getting kicked in his injured leg, Gustave still helps Hugo off the train tracks.
  • Evil Cripple: Played with where the Station Inspector is concerned - his bad leg is treated as one of his biggest humanizing elements.
  • Foreshadowing: The Inspector's concern that a tool dropped by Hugo (that he thought was dropped by Hugo's drunken Uncle) might have injured a child is another early sign that he isn't simply a child-hating villain.
  • Genre-Busting: A bizarre Bio Pic of a famous silent-era film director full of Steampunk elements, Street Urchin adventure tropes, and highbrow references for cinephiles and art majors.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The main plot is set in interwar Paris circa 1931.
  • Given Name Reveal: Papa Georges' name is revealed when the automaton signs its picture Georges Melies and Isabelle recognizes it. Finding the significance of it, on the other hand, requires a trip to the Film Academy Library.
  • Groin Attack: The Station Inspector's crotch runs into some luggage while he's being dragged by the train.
  • Happily Adopted: Isabelle, by her Godparents, Papa Georges and Mama Jeanne. And in the finale, Hugo by them as well.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Papa Georges: Actually Georges Méliès, acclaimed film director from the silent movie era, who has lived for decades with the heartbreak of believing that his life's work is all gone and meant nothing.
    • The Station Inspector: His leg was crippled in World War I, and beneath his stern, relentless persona is a lonely man who is harsh on orphans because it reminds him of the pain of being one himself.
  • Hypocrite: Georges keeps calling Hugo a thief, all while keeping his notebook. In his defense, though, he didn't think the notebook belonged to Hugo at first.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • It turns out that Papa Georges is actually the filmmaker Georges Méliès.
    • James Joyce, Django Reinhardt, and Salvador Dalí appear in the background.
  • Holding Hands: Hugo gives Isabelle's hand a squeeze when she's worried about Papa Georges.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The Station Inspector is the closest thing the film has to a major antagonist for Hugo, as his profession puts a direct threat to Hugo's livelihood. He is also the prime source of comic relief, as his thwarted attempts at doing his job properly and catching Hugo often leave him without dignity.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Lisette, who sells flowers in the train station the Inspector is sweet on.
  • Inspector Javert: The Station Inspector that Hugo spends the entire film hiding from. By the end, though, he's taken a level in kindness.
  • Insult Misfire: When Gustave yells at an orphan about his "filthy mitts," the policeman takes offense, thinking Gustave is making disparaging comments about his wife.
  • It Will Never Catch On: According to Méliès, this was the reaction of the Lumiere brothers to their new-fangled "moving pictures."
  • Left the Background Music On: A few of the scenes in the station had their music provided by a band in a restaurant, most notably the first chase scene between Hugo and the Station Inspector.
  • Lighter and Softer: Easily the lightest, most cheerful film ever directed by Scorsese, which is quite rare considering the usual content of his films. While it still has its fair share of dark moments, it's TV-PG and never goes beyond the TV-PG range of content. A Cherry on top is it's one of the few films made by him to get an Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Malignant Plot Tumor: The movie looks like it will be about mechanics and trains (and the former does play an important part of the plot). But then Hugo mentions seeing the film adaptation of a book and we eventually learn that this is really a movie about... movies. This is one of the cases of a "benign" tumor, as the film takes pains to show that movies are like machines with many moving parts, and the transition works quite seamlessly.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Station Inspector's initial conversation with Lisette is played for broad laughs, until his leg brace suddenly locks up again. Cue the very not-funny revelation that his leg was badly injured in fighting during World War I, which is the first sign of his Hidden Depths.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Hugo gets hit with two of them back-to-back. One involving him getting hit by a train and the other where he turns into an Automaton. It's a little... jarring.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: To an extremely deliberate sense. Beyond merely lighting or a Color Wash, the sets and costumes were specifically designed to be broadly orange and blue tones. This ends up lending a stylized, Deliberately Monochrome effect highly reminiscent of the black/white films this movie itself celebrates, just with a modern tinge.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: After his father dies, Hugo has to live with his abusive uncle, who forces him to quit school and work as his assistant. Hugo eventually has no choice but to steal food to eat when his uncle vanishes/drowns.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The automaton, passed down to Hugo from his late father, who had uncovered it from in a museum from an unknown source. Hugo developed an obsession in making it functional using stolen spare parts and his own ingenuity, believing it to contain a final important message from his father. It doesn't, but it does turn out to be way more important to Papa Georges.
  • Parental Bonus: At the end of the movie, Gustave remarks that he is a "fully functioning man" and asks his girlfriend for corroboration.
  • Photographic Memory: Monsieur Labisse knows the exact location not only of every book in his shop, but also the Film Academy Library as well.
  • Pick a Card: After Papa Georges starts teaching Hugo card tricks, he's shown practicing in his room, holding up a card to the automaton and asking, "Is this your card?"
  • Poor Communication Kills: Hugo could've potentially gotten more information about the automaton much sooner if he'd been honest and told Georges about it at the beginning of the film.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Bookworm Isabelle clearly enjoys trotting out ten-dollar words. She compliments Hugo when he lets loose with one of his own.
  • Shout-Out: Many to classic silent films.
    • Hugo hanging off of the clock hands is a shout out to Safety Last! by Harold Lloyd, which is also the film that the two kids sneak into the theater to view.
    • Hugo's nightmare about the train crash recreates a famous 1895 photograph of a train that had crashed through the back of Paris' Gare Montparnasse (the very station in which the film takes place).
    • If seen in 3D, the train scene is also a shout to the first film ever made, a train pulls into a station with the train coming towards the camera, which is also featured in the film.
    • Isabelle references Sydney Carton, Heathcliff and Jean Valjean.
    • If you listen carefully during scenes taking place in the train station, you can hear two songs that are present in The Grand Illusion.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: It's a somewhat fictionalized biopic of Georges Méliès from the perspective of the fictional Hugo.
  • Silence Is Golden: It's at least not nearly as talky as most children's holiday films typically are.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Extremely idealistic, and easily the most optimistic film in Martin Scorsese's body of work. Despite the tragic pasts of most of the main characters, they all in some way or another romantics who dream big and hope for a happy ending, with the ultimate moral being to share in each others' dreams.
  • Spoiler Cover: The tagline spoils the plot, to those aware of early film history: "One of the most legendary directors of our time" refers to Papa Georges' real identity.
  • Staggered Zoom: On the train in the first dream sequence, directly referencing the way it was portrayed in the book.
  • Stock Clock Hand Hang: The movie shows the iconic part of Safety Last! where the main character hangs from clock hands in a movie theater. Later, Hugo escapes from the Inspector by crawling out of a large clock and hanging from its hands. The scene is also shown on the poster.
  • Stop Trick: The real Méliès' main special effect. In-universe a flashback scene demonstrates how it was done.
  • Supporting Protagonist: While he remains the point-of-view character for much of the movie, much of his the conflicts centering around him are resolved by the second half, turning him into one of these for the new main focus of the story: Papa Georges, aka Georges Méliès.
  • This Is Reality: Papa Georges tells Hugo that life has taught him happy endings only happen in movies.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers showed the automaton functioning after Hugo discovers that Isabelle has its key, along with the kids finding Georges' artwork for his films.
  • Translation Convention: The film is set in France, but most of the cast speaks English with a British accent.
  • The Un-Smile: The Inspector pulls one when trying to speak with the florist he has a crush on. At the end of the film, after they've gotten together, he claims to have "mastered three of them."
  • Verbal Tic: The Station Inspector has a habit of repeating what he is saying at least three times whenever he is making an accusation in slightly different words, presumably because it's the only time he gets to show off his vocabulary, as in another point he tries to pretend to have a wide understanding of poetry — he would really like to come off as intelligent and sophisticated.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • According to The Other Wiki, sets and costumes for Méliès' movies were painted in shades of gray (not in their natural colors, as depicted) to avoid unpredictable tones in black-and-white film. The film take artistic licenses with Méliès' life. In reality, he sold his props to open a traditional theater, and his films are collected by the government to recycle for silver.
    • The real Isabelle is called Madeleine, and actually Georges' biological grand-daughter. Jeanne is not Georges' first and only wife, however.
  • Villainous Friendship: The Inspector seems to have one with the man who takes children to the orphanage, talking about his wife's leaving him, and later asks Gustave to be his child's godfather.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of the movie, even though Papa Georges and Hugo have developed a close relationship, the notebook that Georges took from Hugo never turns back up. This is an artifact of adaptation compression; in the book, it turns out the ashes Georges presented were faked and Isabelle manages to recover it, though it's debatable whether or not the item still warranted relevance by that point.
    • However, in the movie, Isabelle also says that the ashes were fake, though Hugo still doesn't get it back.