“Hugo” vs. “The Fablemans”: It’s better when it’s personal

Screenshot from the cinematic trailer of the movie "Hugo" (2011)

Martin Scorsese and Stephen Speilberg may be the greatest directors alive. They have made some of the most influential films in cinema history. For Scorsese, films like Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) only scrape the surface of his filmography. Speilberg influenced pop culture with Jaws (1975), E.T. (1982), and the Indiana Jones franchise (1981).  

While finding common ground between both director’s styles and genres can be challenging, there is one film each director has made that makes for an interesting comparison; Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and Speilberg’s The Fablemans (2022). After viewing both films, it’s clear that both directors genuinely love the art of filmmaking. Interestingly, how this affinity is communicated correlates directly with how much I enjoyed both films. 

The critical difference between how the directors communicate their love of filmmaking is how personal they make their films. Hugo is about the history of early cinema and the wonder one experiences from it. As a lover of the film myself, I enjoyed a plot centered around uncovering the secrets of early cinema and the majesty these early films maintained long after their creation. Still, after watching the movie, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something important was missing.  

Hugo is fantastical in its presentation. This makes sense in the context of the film as the movies being accentuated are fantastical, but a certain relatability is lost. Hugo is flashy with CGI, a dreamlike setting, and a dramatic sense of adventure, but it’s not relatable. In this film, Scorsese explains what makes film great, but not what makes film great for him. 

I don’t think I entirely realized this until I watched Speilberg’s The Fablemans over the winter break. This film communicates a love of cinema from a realistic and personal perspective. Special attention is given throughout the movie to expressing a young filmmaker’s struggles and how a love of cinema can change your worldview. I’m unfamiliar with Speilberg’s journey to being a director but based on how decisively personal The Fablemans becomes, I’m certain some aspects of his life are referenced in this film.  

The love of film history is still expressed, but this is done from the main character’s perspective and in a realistic way. The fantastical elements of cinema are still there, but they are restricted to the screens within The Fablemans world. They don’t take over the film and remove the viewer from the experience. 

Even if one doesn’t have a specific interest in film, The Fablemans still realistically expresses the pursuit of passion, whatever that passion may be. This is perhaps the most significant advantage The Fablemans have over Hugo; one doesn’t need to be a movie connoisseur to connect with The Fablemans, but one does have to be one to connect with Hugo. The Fablemans accomplish this by adding a pronounced personal touch to the movie, and the importance of doing this isn’t specific to cinema but to every passion.

Cover image credit: Paramount Pictures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv3obL9HqyY.

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