The last 3D movie I saw was probably The Creature From the Black Lagoon (a film that Ingmar Bergman always watched on his birthday). That was another life. Hell, I haven’t even seen Avatar. I’d actually heard nothing about Hugo and had no idea that it was a Martin Scorsese film. When I saw his name associated with this, that convinced me to give it a shot. That and the fact that it’s being touted as the film that rejuvenates 3-D.
The film is magical. But it’s hard to break-down the experience into its components. The 3-D was far advanced and not as obviously gimmicky as I had experienced 3-D before. But I believe that I would have enjoyed the film just as much had it not been presented in 3-D. Hard to say. Now kids (those kids who had been guided into this PG film) probably would not have liked it as much had it not been in 3-D. Which brings me to another thought…
I’ve been mulling this over, and wonder if kids will really flock to this film (many of their parents, sure – with kids in tow). In fact, I’d hazard a guess that when selecting a holiday film to take the youngsters to that this one may be high on the parents list, if not necessarily high on the kids list. I couldn’t identify the pull for kids and not sure what ages this may be for. There are no furry animals or talking puppets (or is that “muppets”). There is a very sweet friendship between a young boy and a young girl. Maybe it’s there: for kids who are just discovering that aspect of life. But it seems to me that the PG market is fairly limited. It may be that I’m not giving enough credit to youngsters, for their intellects, their inquisitiveness, for their empathetic selves. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that I’m out of touch with kids this age.
Are most ‘family films’ geared to kids first, with aspects included that would appeal to their parents as well? This one seems set up as the exact opposite: a film geared toward adults with enticements for the kids included. Maybe I’m not giving Marty enough credit! This may be a film that was carefully crafted to give parents a film with which to commune with their children about the magic of storytelling. The magic of film and books. If that is the case, then this is a film that is brilliant in its conceptualization. If that is the case, then this is a film that deserves our highest praise – not for the brilliance of the 3-D effects, but for the brilliance of its intent.
For it is a film that reveres the magic of other worlds. Worlds that are available to us through cinema and books. Hugo is nothing less than a love poem to cinema and to the splendor of giving ourselves over to reading. In the theater we begin to leave this world when the lights go down (though admittedly these days when the light go down we have to wait around while we are kept here for a bit due to snack bar ads, cell phone prohibitions, exit warnings, and promos for more films). With reading one goes to that favorite nook, settles in, and opens the pages of that other world to which we have been drawn. It’s, on a high level, the same experience.
The film itself? Wonderfully Dickensian with innocent orphans, villains, and closed off adults who are redeemed by the inspiration of the souls of children. Based on the Brian Selznick Caldecott winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret, twelve-year old Hugo’s father has died in a terrible fire and he’s left in the care(?) of his drunken uncle who soon dies. His uncle, the keeper of the watch tower above the Paris train station, won’t be missed as long as the clocks continue to keep the time. Hugo takes over theh tasks he has learned by watching his uncle and lives in the tower, making ends meet by stealing bits of food here and there. Hugo has the mind of his father though, and is adept at fixing things. He takes up the main task that his father had devoted himself to: fix the automaton that sits unmoving like a sphinx.
It’s dangerous out there for Hugo, who has to be wary of crossing paths with The Station Inspector whose mission in life is to round-up all orphans and send them off to the orphanage. One day Hugo is caught with odds and ends of mechanical parts that he has cadged from the elderly gentleman who runs the toy stand. The man confiscates Hugo’s book of drawings and sketches that he uses for his wish list of gears and sprockets. Living in the clock tower, Hugo is attuned to a world where mechanical parts make the world go round. But there must be more to life than wheels going round and round, gears meshing in a mesmerizing. Hugo meets a girl who has they key. Don’t they all? Her father turns out to be none other than the toy stand proprietor who turns out to be one Georges Méliès. And here is where Scorsese gives his passions full reign.
Méliès happens to be a real-life pioneer of film whose work was mostly thought lost. It is with obvious love, admiration and respect that Scorsese has given the pioneering work of Georges Méliès a new life – as is done here in the film.
The two actors who play the youngsters are fine (Asa Butterfield as Hugo and Chloë Grace Moretz as his puppy-love interest, Isabelle). After them Scorsese has assembled a cast that probably begged to work with him on this: Ben Kingsley plays Georges Méliès as a somewhat bitter, broken man – until Hugo “fixes” him; Sacha Baron Cohen is the menacing, gimp legged Station Inspector, and Hugo ultimately fixes him as well; Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, and Emily Mortimer have lesser roles; Jude Law (Hugo’s father); lastly there was a walk-on (a strum on?) that I was sure was DiCaprio. No. It was an actor by the name of Emil Lager who plays Django Reinhardt.
Instant classic? Maybe. But it takes two to tango Django. It’s a classic for me though. You know what I’d really like? I’d like to know what twelve-year olds think about this film. But I’m thinking that twelve-year olds mostly don’t read this blog, yeah?
The following is considered the first science-fiction film and was made in 1902. I think it’s great that NASA originally copied re-entry as Georges Méliès envisioned it generations earlier – in the drink. At the 4:45 mark the film contains the iconic rocket to the moon – right in the eye!