“HUGO” IS A WONDERFUL ODDITY OF AN ACHIEVEMENT IN SCORSESE’S IMPRESSIVE REPERTOIRE
Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is something very special and unlike anything he’s made before. A bold statement, I know, but valid. The film shows us a side to Martin Scorsese we’ve never seen before – and that side is absolutely fascinating. Deep inside of the man we all know as the master of capturing the darkness and depravity of the human soul is the unbridled curiosity and purity of a child when it comes to his passion: cinema. There is no brutal death scene. There is no sudden violence. There is no fascinatingly-placed vulgarity. This is as pure and unadulterated as a Disney film, yet it has the unwavering eye for humanity and observation as any of his greatest films. This is a side to Scorsese I wish we saw more often, as I doubt we’ve even hit the surface of its potential.
Based on the 2007 novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the story’s style and plot is as odd as its directorial choice. In a way, it reminds me of an expertly-done amalgamation of the joyful imagination of “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” and the peculiar little microcosm of “The Terminal.” The story occurs in 1930′s Paris and is about a boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who, since his father (Jude Law) tragically died, has been living inside the walls of a train station, maintaining the many large clocks the station has. He is a lonely boy, but one full of imagination and determination. Aside from his daily self-imposed chores and attempts at hiding from the steadfast station inspector (Sasha Baren Cohen), Hugo spends his time trying to finish the last part of his father’s legacy – fixing a broken automaton that his father had found. But the automaton begins to become far more important than Hugo knows, especially when he meets the aloof Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his book-and-vocabulary-loving granddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and begins to pursue unlocking the ultimate mystery behind who created the automaton and what its purpose is once it works.
What Scorsese ultimately gives us with “Hugo” is the best PG-rated film is recent memory and absolutely the best use of the 3D platform I’ve ever seen. Even James Cameron couldn’t get enough of it. Shot after shot, this is 3D that truly immerses us into 1930′s Paris. From the opening zooming shot through the train station that had my jaw drop to surrealism moments of dream-like exaggeration, the cinematography and the 3D show us that, even two years after Cameron’s “Avatar,” we still haven’t seen everything. Perhaps the 3D platform isn’t as care-worn as I previously thought. And as for the rating, here is a film that isn’t diminished by any lengths by a rating many assume to be the calling card of a deluded mess. Even with how the film doesn’t really get itself moving in the first-hour mark, there is so much to look at in every shot that we are never bored. This is a movie I highly recommend seeing in 3D – it revolutionizes the use.
The acting all-around is powerful, again especially considering the rating. Scorsese has always been able to get the best from his actors, especially with children (from Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver” to Juliette Lewis in “Cape Fear”). Here, he gets two great performances from Asa Butterfield (whose eyes are so expressive that most of Scorsese’s shots are focused on them) and Chloe Grace Moretz (who further cementes herself as one of the greatest young actresses working today considering “Kick-Ass” and “Let Me In”). Aside from them, Kingsley is as compelling as usual, while Cohen is extremely good in the surprisingly-nuanced role as the station inspector. But for all the characters, their prospective actors make us completely care about this world and these people. By the ending climax, we are genuinely engrossed in the movie to the point that we are, indeed, on the edge of our seats.
Unfortunately, there is little I can gush about that I REALLY want to gush about because it would ruin the mystery. But what I can say is, as a lover of the origins of cinema, there is a lot to love when it comes to what the story does with established history and particularly a specific characters’ lengthy flashback. Here is where I found myself in love. The film is a glowing reminder to how our expectations for film are too high today. We’ve come to a point in history where we’ve become undeservedly complacent with cinema. It doesn’t hold the same power and majesty that it once did. But here, Scorsese reminds us of the breathtaking and magical quality that film can have over us. “Hugo” took me back to when I saw my first films. That wide-eyed astonishment of how, in the words of one of the characters, I could watch what I dream in the day. That’s what film used to be. Dream-like. It captured the power to access dreams. But now our perspective is all off. We don’t see that part of it anymore. But when one really sits and thinks about what cinema means and what it does to us, who can help but be amazed?
But I digress. Ultimately, “Hugo” is outstandingly great, beautiful to behold, and a true delight for everyone – from the oldest of veteran film historians to the youngest of children. From the 3D to the story to the acting to the writing, everything hums with the precision of a pristine grandfather clock. This film proves that imagination will never go out of style, especially when it comes from the filmmakers who still have it. Where Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” was a love letter to those who make movies, “Hugo” is a love letter to those who watch movies. It reminds us of why, so many decades ago, we fell in love with the new technology of watching an imitation and recreation of life dramatized. It is, truly, the stuff that dreams are made of.