Hugo: Scorsese’s 3D Love Letter To Cinema

Hugo will still be in 3D theaters for another couple of days. If you love Martin Scorsese, or cinema on the whole, or feeling things, you owe it to yourself to go see Hugo. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a love letter from Martin Scorsese to the history of cinema, and perhaps most strikingly of all, it’s by far and away the best use of 3D in a live-action motion picture to date. Anyone who ever foolishly bought a ticket to a 3D film that didn’t utilize the technology properly should be required by law to see Hugo. Filmmakers in general should be required to see Hugo. At a time when sequels, superheroes, and lowest common denominator cinema makes the most at the box office, it’s a lesson in the importance of telling personal stories– it’s Scorsese’s most personal movie to date.

We open on a train station in Paris in the 1930s. Scorsese tracks his 3D camera through the people waiting for trains, eating at restaurants, talking to friends– the technology places you right there in the station. He then takes us behind the walls, where we meet Hugo (Asa Butterfield). His father (Jude Law) died in a sudden fire, and his uncle (Ray Winstone) is a drunkard who hasn’t been seen in months. Hugo keeps occupied by doing his uncle’s work: winding the clocks to ensure they continue to run properly. He also works on an automaton that his father found– they were attempting to fix it and see what mysteries it held. He steals pieces of machinery from a toy store located in the train station run by Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley). With the help of Georges’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), Hugo hopes to find out what the automaton contains and figure out where he fits in the world.

The world of the station is so rich. Scorsese takes his time letting us watch Hugo watching others. We see the newspaper seller (Richard Griffiths) and his attempts to win the heart of the cafe owner (Frances De La Tour). We see the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) hunting down children and sending them to the orphanage. We see the flower girl (Emily Mortimer) who the inspector is thoroughly flustered by. We take trips past various shops and stores, we take trips up and down the clock towers, we take trips to the bookshop where the owner (Christopher Lee) loans out books to Isabelle regularly. Every good fantasy film has a very vivid world with specific geography and characters, and Scorsese uses as few cuts as possible, letting the 3D immerse us in this world. His use of the technology is masterful– he gives every shot size and depth, and he frames his subjects perfectly. Watch how when Sacha Baron Cohen leans his head towards the camera, the top or bottom of his head never quite touch the edge of the screen, allowing his angular face to fill the screen and jut out towards the audience in 3D without breaking the illusion. Special mention must be made of the inspector’s dog, whose nose and body are so lanky and pointed that every time he runs toward the screen, it’s like a missile being launched directly at the audience.

The movie trailer for Hugo is how movie trailers should be: it gives you a tease of what the film is about, but it doesn’t spoil a single one of the film’s secrets. The studio almost certainly denied itself some additional box office by hiding some of the movie’s most impressive shots and heart-warming moments, but the audience is all the better for being kept in ignorance. The automaton storyline takes up at most the first half of the film, and the second half deals with what the automaton contains. At a certain point, the movie stops becoming solely about Hugo’s journey and becomes a message about something far grander that I wouldn’t dare spoil. Some people are surprised when they see that Martin Scorsese is doing “a kids’ movie,” but I don’t think it’s about being a child at all. The second half of the film is about loss and fear and legacy, very adult ideas, and Scorsese’s own feelings on why he loves being a filmmaker have never been more clear.

Hugo takes Isabelle to the movies in one wonderful scene, and he explains how, at the beginning of cinema, people saw a scene of a train heading towards the screen, and audience members screamed and ducked out of the way. Film gave people a way of seeing things they never could have seen before live in front of them– Hugo’s father was especially fond of Melies’ Trip To The Moon, in which the man in the moon winces when a rocket lands in his eye. Scorsese is utilizing the new cinematic technology the way the Lumiere Brothers did before him. Film isn’t a medium in which people should be stuck in the present: replicate the magic of the past by innovating the future. Instead of grumbling about how useless 3D is, Scorsese has set out with a magical human story and proven its doubters (myself included) wrong. He even uses 3D to show us footage of older films in a brand new light. Scorsese puts himself into all of the characters in Hugo: he is Hugo, he is Hugo’s father, he is Papa Georges, he is the bookshop owner. I can’t think of a fantasy movie that has ever felt this personal. This is one of the best movies of the year, a must-see in 3D. And take your kids if you have them– show them what good cinema looks like.

~ by russellhainline on December 18, 2011.

2 Responses to “Hugo: Scorsese’s 3D Love Letter To Cinema”

  1. Reblogged this on daydreamcatcher.

  2. […] We Need To Talk About Kevin 4. Patrick Doyle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3. Howard Shore, Hugo 2. John Williams, War Horse 1. The Chemical Brothers, […]

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