It all makes perfect sense. Of course Martin Scorsese was the one to adapt Brian Selznick's popular kids' book to the big screen. Of course it had to be shot in 3D. Of course this is the most unusual, strangest, least marketable of all kids' movies made in Hollywood for the past few years. It is a kids' movie meant for smart grown-ups, unlike most contemporary stuff that treats grown-ups as dumb kids that never grew up. Instead, Mr. Scorsese signs a touchingly enchanting throwback to family films of yore, and an utterly heartfelt love letter to cinema as a magic realm of dreams. It's a Rube Goldberg film of a fairytale that fits perfectly into the director's work both as a classics-inspired filmmaker and as a staunch defender of the preservation of film history and culture.

     If what you think Hugo is is the pratfalls and chocolate-box visuals of its rather poor trailer, well, think again. The chocolate-box visuals are a function of the fairytale aspect of the film, the story of the orphaned son of a master watchmaker seeking the heart-shaped key that will unlock a mysterious automaton's mechanism. That key, however, ends up being the entry to the wonderful world of cinema, for it will take the urchin Hugo Cabret (winningly played by Asa Butterfield) to the defeated and despondent silent-movie pioneer Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). The 3D effects suggest that the film is entirely set within a snow globe, its rich tones, swirling snowflakes and golden hues perfectly matched by the continuing sound of clockwork in the soundtrack.

     There is, of course, an inescapable irony in that a film awash in state-of-the-art digital effects celebrates the ingenuity, naïveté and silliness of those original, analog silent movies. But that is the exact point Mr. Scorsese is making, showing the through-line from the 1910s to the 2010s, the way that the enchantment of cinema then is the same as it is now, even if in different ways. It is also true that the Parisian colour is at times laid on a bit thick, that the slapsticky side-plot of Sacha Baron Cohen's cartoonishly villainous station inspector comes close to being perfunctory (though not because of the actor's performance, it should be said) and that Hugo risks at some point becoming somewhat overly didactic. Not to mention the somewhat self-conscious winks at the director's own past, from the opening whirl through the train station where Hugo lives that suggests a child's eye-level Goodfellas, to a couple of shots lifted directly from The Age of Innocence. But that is par for the course in this extraordinarily heartfelt film that fits right in with his interest in people searching for answers and redemption, aware at the same time of the transience of emotion and of the magic of film in capturing that. The result is by no means a vintage Scorsese film, but it is a wonderfully enchanting one.

     Oh, and please dismiss the trailer.

Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee; Jude Law.
     Director, Martin Scorsese; screenplay, John Logan, from the book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret; cinematography (prints by DeLuxe, digital intermediate by Technicolor), Robert Richardson; music, Howard Shore; production designer, Dante Ferretti; costume designer, Sandy Powell; editor, Thelma Schoonmaker; visual effects supervisor, Rob Legato; producers, Graham King, Tim Headington, Mr. Scorsese, Johnny Depp (GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, in association with Dean Street Productions, Future Capital Partners, Screen Partners International), USA/United Kingdom, 2011, 126 minutes. (US distributor and world sales, Paramount Pictures.) 
     Screened December 21st, 2011 (AMC Loews Metreon 11, San Francisco). 


Popular Posts