Movie Review: Hugo 3D
Director: Martin Scorsese
Reviewed: 23 February 2012
jamesintexas rating--*** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)
A fine movie. A wonderful kids' film. A Martin Scorsese labor of love with his quintessential worship of the beginning of the film industry and his tireless devotion to the intricacies of film preservation. A strong use of 3D technology in an intelligent way. However, I don't think that Hugo holds up for me as much as other Scorsese films or connected with me emotionally. It feels too long, too labored at times. It feels didactic and preachy. It feels like a children's movie, and that's okay.
Hugo (precocious Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in a Parisian train station, monitoring and winding the clocks and evading the nefarious police officer (hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen). He encounters toymaker Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) and his plucky niece (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and undergoes an adventure leading him to a key that unlocks the automaton left behind by his deceased father (Jude Law) which unlocks an unseen connection to Georges and the birth of the film industry. The two children become friends, chase scenes ensue, secrets are revealed. It maintains a consistent tone throughout, and it always feels workmanlike, craftsmanship-wise. Scorsese is delivering great usage of effects, sound, art direction, and minor characters are richly sketched.
However, it seems rote at times and left me a bit cold and unaffected; Hugo attempts to hit the right marks, tries to reach for an emotional height but doesn't quite reach it. Some of that is because of the limitations of the source material (the amazing Brian Selznick's graphic novel/children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a much better title). Lines like "machines come with the exact number of parts that they need" make easy parallels to Hugo's own life and feelings of inadequacy. It is difficult to see Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, and Jude Law all underused; the film could have used more of them.
I love the early filmmaking history contained in this film; when I read this book, I envisioned many of the scenes, but it was powerful to see the sequences of the train running into the screen and the audience cringing, as well as the way special effects were delivered in a very organic and creative way.
As for the 3D technology, the camera propels through the train station, there's a cool effect in the opening shot where a clock merges into the movement of traffic around the city centre, as well as fantastic turns and twists following young Hugo as he crawls through the underworks of the train station and the clocks. At times, it was breathtaking and used quite well.
Ultimately, Scorsese does not deliver a bad film. He's far too film-literate and cares too much to not deliver. However, I can't say this film has the exhilaration of a Goodfellas, the punch of The Departed, the visceral messiness of a Gangs of New York, the grit of a Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. It feels like Scorsese making a children's movie and doing it well. And that's what he is doing. He's made a film for his daughter, and there are no f-bombs, no Bill the Butcher-type villains meditating on "my violence conquering your violence" a thread through many of Scorsese's pictures as voiced by the warden in Shutter Island, no Rolling Stones' songs kicking in the background, no Robert DeNiro. And that's okay, I guess, but I wanted more.
I'll always want more from Martin Scorsese, the greatest living American director.
(And yes, P.F. Kluge, I spelled his name right in this review! Full disclosure: in 1998, I misspelled Scorsese's name Scorcese in the Kenyon College Collegian, and I've never forgiven myself. Professor Kluge asked me on the path near Cromwell Cottage one morning, "Sheridan, how do you spell Scorsese?" When I told him how, he returned, "Good. You're right. Too bad that's not how you spelled it in the Collegian last week." And, chagrined and chastised, I have never made that mistake again. Thanks, Professor Kluge.