I think it aspired to be both those things but didn't quite reach them. The film is gorgeous to look at, the world of the station brought brilliantly to life and the it was pitted with some great moments but as a whole it was lacking and so drawn out. I was expecting something gripping that would have me utterly absorbed (thanks to the reviewer on IMDb - grrr) but I found myself wondering when it was going to kick start. There was too much time wasted on the annoying 'give me my notebook/No/I need it/No, go away thief/Give it back' exchange. I suspended my frustration hoping their would be an intriguing pay off in the mystery around the automaton, the father dying etc - but no it never came about. Instead it became about dreams and the first hooray years of film making and 'searching for an adventure' but not really having one other than to unveil the history of 'Papa George' played by Ben Kingsley. And Chloe Moretz's (she is everywhere these days!) character was rather useless - she was more of a half device to bring about a little colour but she had no real reason in the story as a whole. Her concluding speech as narration at the end was poignant but it didn't match the journey of the main character, Hugo, played bravely but passably by Asa Butterfield.
Some people are calling this film a masterpiece but the story is littered with problems and as a viewer, I just couldn't engage. I think what gets me most is that it has so much promise and beauty yet it failed to bring it all home.
In the words of Mooderino on the blog, Moody Writing, which I concur with:
'A sweet message about the love of imagination, but quite a long, drawn out narrative structure with lots of Tell me/It's a secret/ But you must/No, I can't/Oh, go on/No, really, I can't... And quite a few plot holes too, where stuff that's important one minute is totally forgotten the next.'