Any film fan who doesn’t admit to being apprehensive about Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is probably lying.
The man best known for cracking heads in vices and showing the dirtiest side of Manhattan tackling Brian Selznick’s award-winning children’s adventure book The Invention of Hugo Cabret? And shooting it in 3-D?! With the kid from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas? Really?!
Hugo tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a young boy who lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s. His parents are both dead, but he keeps himself busy maintaining the many clocks around the station (as you do). He’s fascinated by clockwork and uses this knowledge to try and repair an automaton that was left to him by his father before he died. The quest to fix this faux-bot leads him to form a friendship with Isabelle whose godfather, the mysterious Papa Georges, runs the toy shop in the station.
Anyone who has followed Scorsese’s career closely won’t have been that surprised to see him drawn to a project like Hugo with his film preservation work and vast knowledge of early cinema well-publicised. Frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio claims
“He’s a professor of film. The man has seen almost every film ever made up until 1980.”
This love of cinema is apparent at every moment in Hugo with the attention to detail and subtle homages to other eras making this a real treat.
The train station comes to life in Scorsese’s hands. The staggering opening shot pulls you right through the station introducing its motley crew of characters and beautiful sets while Hugo watches proceedings from behind one of the station’s huge clock-faces. Almost all of the sets are digitally constructed – no great surprise in this day and age – but they’re composited seamlessly into the world leaving you unsure what’s real and what is a construct.
I’m as much of a 3-D cynic as the next self-proclaimed movie know-all, but do believe when used this effectively, it is a beneficial technology. The first-person-perspective shots where Sasha Baron Cohen’s orphan-chasing station inspector and his doberman lunge toward Hugo’s are great fun and make for a nice wince-inducing sense of claustrophobia.
The movie will still work just fine in its two dimensions, but those chase sequences and “crane” shots through the clock mechanisms won’t work nearly as well without the native 3-D. Besides, if 69-year-old Marty is willing to get a pair of his iconic specs modified to take some stereoscopic lenses (see right), then I guess the least we can do is pay the extra two dollah to see it his way.
Film buffs will pick up the countless Georges Méliès references, I went into this completely blind so won’t spill the beans on the plot’s intrinsic links with the the visionary French film-maker. If you’ve seen the Smashing Pumpkins’ music video for Tonight, Tonight, or ever shown up hungover for a film studies class in college you’ll know about 1902’s Le Voyage dans la Lune. Elsewhere there are shout-outs to the Lumière brothers, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, hell even our own James Joyce pops up at one point – anything Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris can do, Marty can do better I guess.
Asa Butterfield’s Hugo and Chloë Moretz’s Isabelle are both much more than functional child performances, you feel for these parent-less creatures as they seek out an adventure that will give them an escape from daily life. But there’s little doubt who the star of the show is. Ben Kingsley plays himself into contention for a supporting actor oscar with his portrayal of the broken toy-maker with his final part in proceedings masterfully edited by Scorsese’s long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker.
I always think you have to rate a film on what the film-maker set out to achieve, and how well they fulfilled their brief. And there really is nothing to fault with Hugo, Marty always seem delighted with himself anyway but I think he’ll be particularly satisfied with his latest film. A flawless children’s adventures, which also doubles as a touching tribute to Méliès and the film-making pioneers of another era.
Martin Scorcese / John Logan / Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths & Emily Mortimer / 127 min / Adventure, Drama / Release: 23 November 2011 (US/Canada), 2 December 2011 (Irl/UK)