I saw the trailer, and I saw that it had little kids in it, and I wasn't interested. I generally don't like child actors or actresses, because they seldom deliver convincing, layered performances. I've seen some good movies with child actors, like Let The Right One In, but those good ones are few and far between.
Fortunately, I'm fallible. So I was wrong. I went to see Hugo last night, and I was very strongly affected.
It didn't hurt that Sir Ben Kingsley and Sir Christopher Lee, two of my all-time favorite actors, had important screen time. It didn't hurt that the script was close to perfect. It didn't hurt that the score was even closer to perfection.
To be honest, though, what I appreciated most was how self-referential the film was.
Now, self-absorption and self-reference are almost always pitfalls, vices to be avoided. Even in the right circumstances, the execution of the concept must be perfect. One film that achieves this circular reference is Singin' In The Rain. Its plot simultaneously parallels and links to then-current advances in cinema AND the movie-goer's experience.
Hugo is, in essence, a fable. It sets forth a fantastical tale with magic and a happy ending, one that "only happens in the movies". And it has a moral, which I won't spoil by revealing here. As I finished the movie, I felt no sense of reality in my mind. The film had not asked me to suspend disbelief. Rather, it told me, "What you are about to see is illustrative of truth." In short, Hugo was filmed like one of the films of Georges Méliès: it is intended to prime the dream-pump.
Much may (and perhaps should) be said of Scorcese's vision of himself as Méliès, but that's a post for a different time. For now, I give Hugo Five Reels in Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.
Long live rarity!