in Review


As a longtime fan of Martin Scorsese’s films, I really couldn’t help but feel anything other than utter bewilderment after seeing the first trailer for his latest film, Hugo.  I was just thinking, “Ok.  So has Martin Scorsese gone off the deep end?  This just looks like some silly little 3D kids movie devoid of any reason for me to care about it whatsoever”.  But alas it turned out I was terribly mistaken, since unbeknownst to me the film was deeply rooted in film history, and surprisingly is among the more personal films in Scorsese’s canon.

Based on Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Caberet, the film centers around a young orphan boy (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a Paris railway station, and spends all of his time mending and operating the clocks in the station.  Hugo happens to stumble upon a grumpy old man (Ben Kingsley) who runs a magic shop in the station, and eventually Hugo becomes friends with the old man’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz).  The two of them then slowly uncover the fact that the reclusive old man, George Melies, was in fact the man that us cinephiles now know as one of the fathers of cinema.  Then from there, we see Melies struggling with his own past and learning to embrace his earlier work, almost all of which appears to have been lost.

It’s kind of amazing to me that Scorsese has never really made a film that dealt explicitly with the history of film, and it’s really quite wonderful the way he presents the films of George Melies and the stories behind them with such care and wonderment.  I’m not sure how much modern audiences, or kids especially would get out of the cinematic history lesson that is really at the heart of the film, but for me the emotional quality of  how we see Melies grapple with his past glories seemed pretty universal.  And I think Scorsese does a pretty good job of making the film have this kind of childlike wonderment, which I think would make the film palettable for all ages.

I will say that the first half of the film didn’t have me quite as hooked in as I was in the latter half, when Melies’ story becomes more prominent.  I think this mainly stems from some of the scenes just feeling a bit clunky, and it might of been the writing, or possibly the acting, as Scorsese does rely quite a bit on the child actors to carry the film, which is not an easy thing to pull off.  Still, even when a scene or two fell a bit flat, there was still this overarching sense of whimsy and fascination in not only movies, but also in all kinds of magic and fantastical machinery that carries the film.

Since the theater I went to was only showing Hugo in 3-D, I suppose I should comment on it, and I can’t really say I had any problem with it.  Scorsese is not a filmmaker that I would have ever imagined doing an effects-laden 3-D film like this, but the critical consensus seems to be that Melies himself probably would have been a supporter of 3-D films like this, and I would have to agree with that.  And whether 3-D is in fact a passing fad or not, I think Hugo will hold up as a charming and heartfelt ode to cinema, regardless of what dimension it’s in.