Hugo (2011) – Review
Master film-maker Martin Scorsese offers a family film of impressive scope with spectacular results – 8/10
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and is the veteran director’s first family film; it is also his first in 3D. Scorsese has been outspoken about his belief that 3D can be more than a money-making gimmick, claiming that it could be a historical development in film comparable to the introduction of colour. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen (although I feel one is on dangerous ground when disagreeing with Scorsese about film) what can be said, however, is that the use of 3D in Hugo is brilliant. I have been rather sceptical about the latest round of 3D, seeing it as an excuse to charge more money for tickets – retrofitting is evidence of the lazy way in which it has been used and a clear sign that many in the movie industry care little about whether it enhances the viewing experience. Moreover, the application of 3D has been at best patchy and at worst inept. In certain films the 3D has been used to relatively good effect; Up (2009) and Avatar (2009) are examples which spring to mind. Nevertheless, even in these films I have felt that the 3D was, at times, distracting and of course the brightness is reduced by 30%. However, the 3D in Hugo is far more integrated than in previous movies. Whereas in other films an object will occasionally appear to fly towards the audience, in Hugo, the 3D is used wherever possible and in fact, the sets themselves have been designed to benefit from 3D. For example, the train station is littered with speakers and clocks which protrude out of the screen, giving the audience an impressive visual spectacle. That being said, the 3D in Hugo isn’t without its faults and of particular annoyance is the persistence of ghosting or crosstalk (where you see a shadow-like doubling of the images).
The film itself is an interesting one which caught me by surprise. In short, it tells the story of an orphan boy, named Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives between the walls of a Paris railway station. His “job” is to maintain the clocks in the station and he survives by stealing food. In his spare time Hugo attempts to fix the mechanical man (automaton) which his father (Jude Law) left him. But disaster strikes as he is caught stealing by the toy-shop owner (Ben Kingsley) who then takes Hugo’s notebook which contains the automaton’s blueprints. With the belief that the automaton contains one final message from his father, Hugo desperately attempts to retrieve the notebook, befriending the toy-shop owner’s Goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), along the way. From here the mystery unfolds cautiously with the creaking station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) in hot pursuit of the two children.
As Roger Ebert states in his review, Hugo is very much a movie about movies. The mystery centres on a “long-forgotten” movie-maker named Georges Melies and the second half of the film plays like a documentary on the early history of cinema. Some may criticise this drift towards didacticism and certainly Hugo did, in sections, remind me of Mark Cousins’ excellent documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey. I for one enjoyed the little lesson in film history, although I fear some may become bored by this aspect of Hugo. In addition, the unraveling of the film’s mystery feels somewhat contrived and the adventure itself is rather static and unspectacular. Nevertheless, the excellent acting and beautiful sets charm throughout and it is difficult not to appreciate the heart and passion that has gone into this film. Not all children will enjoy Hugo, but many will be captivated by the magic at its heart. In incorporating famous extracts from the early days of cinema into an entertaining and masterfully constructed family film, Scorsese has achieved what few other film-makers would dare to try. As always, I look forward to his next effort.