Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hugo’s Lesson Pure Cinematic Magic

It has become a tradition that every year I see a film in honour of my birthday. In the last few years, despite my general dislike for the format, 3D films such have Avatar and Tron Legacy have been films picked for this special day. This year’s selection, Hugo, turned out to an especially fitting choice as the film is a celebration of the magic of film.

Taking place primarily in a Paris train station in 1931, young orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the station tending to the numerous clocks. In his spare time, when he is not stealing food or avoiding the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo seeks out mechanical parts to rebuild the automaton. His father (Jude Law) was working on restoring the mechanical man before he died suddenly. Hugo believes that by fixing the automaton he will receive a special message from his father. Little does Hugo know that his new friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Mortez), the goddaughter of a local toy merchant, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), literally holds the key to unlocking the automaton’s secret.

Hugo, from a technical standpoint, is a marvel to behold. Unlike many 3D films today, Hugo actually feels like a film that demands to be viewed in 3D. Right from the start Scorsese offers up an exhilarating look at the capabilities of 3D technology. The scary thing is that, even with its majestic traits, it feels like Scorsese is only scratching the surface. Whether he is turning the drab train station into a clock-inspired wonderland, or using feet to symbolize the chaos and claustrophobia of the modern society, Scorsese ensure that every scene has a purpose. There is never the feeling that Scorsese is using 3D technology to merely throw things at the audience.

To be honest, Hugo’s use of 3D was even more captivating than James Cameron’s impressive use of it in Avatar. Part of this is due to the fact that Hugo’s story is far more original than Cameron’s Pocahontas inspired tale. The 3D aspect does not feel like it is compensating for the flaws in the plot. The one thing that both films have in common though is that they both lag, in regards to pacing, at points. In Hugo, this is most noticeable in section just before the true nature of the film is revealed. It is only when the film evolves completely into an ode to cinema that the pacing gets back on track.

Speaking of the latter half of Hugo, it will be curious to see how children will react to the second half of the film. After years of making gangster films and sweeping historical epics, Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s first attempt at a family friendly film. However, it is questionable how much younger viewers will get out of the film as a whole? While the first quarter of the film will play extremely well to a younger audience, the lesson in cinematic history may not necessarily grab them in the same way.

This is not to say that the historical lesson is wasted. In fact, Scorsese uses this section to express how movies have impacted his life. There is something inherently delightful in seeing a great director like Scorsese recreating iconic scenes that clearly shaped his life. If nothing else, Hugo succeeds in reminding even the most jaded adult about the important role that films play in fostering imagination. Hugo is not only an ode to cinema, but it is also proof that there is plenty of magic yet to come.


  1. The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review my man.

  2. The beginning felt a bit slow for me but fortunately the last third was great and the ending made up for it.

    Btw, HAPPY BIRTHDAY man, is it you or the blog? In any case, many happy returns!

  3. I was never really excited about Hugo and even when I saw it, it was because there was no other movie we all agreed on watching. But, by the end of it, I was really happy. It was a blissful movie to watch. It does slow down in the middle but it had me by the end. And I am usually skeptical about 3-D(I have to wear that 3-D goggle on my spectacles so. :)) but again I was happy that I saw it in 3-D.
    And Yes, Happy Birthday !!

  4. I definitely went with this film with low expectations other than be some fun family film. Man, I didn't expect the film to be a whole lot more than that.

    I found myself really enjoying it overall in terms of what Scorsese was doing. He created something that was for the film buff in him but also something that kids could enjoy. I really think people should see this more than waste their money on crap films like Alvin & the Chipmunks 3.

  5. @Dan - I can honestly say that the film has changed my view on 3-D greatly. In the right hands it can work well.

    @Ruth - It is my own birthday. The blog is still young while I am the one slowly becoming an old man :)

    @SDG - The second half of the film is what really sells the film for me. Not what I expected at all.

    @thevoid - I would definitely tell families to take their kids to Hugo over any of the Alvin and the Chipmunk films. I hear the latest film is awful.

  6. I wanted to see this, but the theater I went to was refusing to do any 2D shows because they wanted the extra cash. I don't need to pay twice the price for a ticket only to get a headache from the images wearing out my eyes by trying to trick them into seeing a 2D image as 3D.

    I'll either pick another theater and check ahead of time or I'll wait for it to come out for home viewing.

  7. Now, I haven't seen Hugo yet, but I found your paragraph in which you praise Scorsese's use of 3D interesting. You thought it was very good, but that he was only scratching the surface in terms of 3D usage. The phrase just struck me in a curious way. Could you elaborate?

    Great review though. I certainly plan on finally seeing this during my holiday break.

  8. @Chip Lary – Theatres should really give you an option to see a film in either 2D or 3D. Unfortunately, the more studios pump out 3D films, I can see more theatres moving towards only showing the 3D versions of films in the future. It annoys me that we have to constantly buy a new 3D glasses with every ticket. I now have several pairs just collecting dust at home. Sure there is the option to recycle them once the film is done but then I feel as if I am spending extra money just to rent glasses for two hours. Either way the consumer cannot win.

    @Edgar – Scorsese takes 3D to a level that has not been seen before. There are shots in the film that I did not even think was possible in 3D. It is easy to forget that this is Scorsese’s first attempt at a 3D film. In many ways Scorsese is like a kid in a candy store as he is constantly trying new things. When I say he is barely scratching the surface, I mean that it felt like there was even more he wanted to do. I can easily see him attempting to go even further, in regards to scope and pushing the limits, with his next 3D film.

  9. Well, my main beef with the movie is that as you slightly implied, kids will fall asleep in the second half of the movie when the focus shifts from Hugo to George.

    I wasn't as enamored with this movie as most, I feel this is a cinephile's wet dream because it's a movie about the movies but families who will go check this out will probably be wondering what the heck they are watching.

  10. @Castor – You are right the film really is a cinephiles wet dream of sorts. There was a father with his two kids sitting in front of me in the theatre and the father seemed to be having far more fun than the kids. The kids seemed really into the film at first, but they were pretty silent by time it was over.

  11. Phips4:25 am

    Finally got around to watching this.

    Having seen it in 2D and reading your review here, I'm left wondering if I missed out on that great of an experience.

    As for the film, I'm less than impressed. Asa and Chloe shine, as do Kingsley and SBC, but that's all I got from the film. Jude Law appeared to be a complete waste as was Hugo's father that was supposed to play a huge role in the film.

    SBC did superbly in making the audience absolutely loathe him....but what was frustrating is that not until the end did we realize why he acted the way that he did.

    Visually, the film did look pretty good..even in 2D. I can see it picking up some statues for those aspects. Scorsese does appear to be 1 of 2 favorites for best director (with the Artist) and I can see this winning best picture..although I do think the Artist will. Maybe Hugo's way to childish nature will hold it back.

    It seems like Scorsese couldnt decide on an audience. The film is definitely a family film..and by that I mean something for kids that parents won't mind. That being said, the film stuff about Georges and the history will completely go over the kids' heads (I knew it all since I studied about Georges briefly at school so that wasnt a problem for me and didnt affect my opinion). Granted, all kids' films nowadays include stuff for the parents so theyre not completely bored but usually its subtle jokes or allusions to old films (kinda like alot of Rango). However, Scorsese's stuff for the audience is right in your face obvious..I think this inability to choose an audience could be the film's downfall, both at the box office and at awards shows. Im not at all surprised the film hasnt recouped its budget (in the hole ~43 mil atm).

    Glad I watched it to see what the "hype" was about and while it was a solid, well-made film with good acting, I found it rather forgettable in the long run and not something I will be itching to watch again.

  12. @Phips – The hype can often derail even the best of films. I agree that Scorsese could not agree on who his audience was for this film. It really did not feel like a film that children would enjoy all the way through. For me it was the latter half, or the more adult half, of the film worked the. Especially the recreations of George creating several icon cinema moments. Plus I thought the use of 3D was far better than what I originally thought it would be.


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