Monday, November 28, 2011


A lot of people were loudly skeptical when they heard that Martin Scorsese would be directing a 3D family movie, but for some reason I wasn't. The main things I thought were that his films are successful because they are well crafted, not because they're violent, and he is a strongly visual director, so he could probably handle the third dimension as well as anyone in the business. Both of these proved to be true when I saw Hugo, based on a book that weaves a small part of the real history of film into a nice story about a young boy who finally makes some friends.

Hugo Cabret is a young orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station, and is left to maintain the building's clocks on his own when his drunk uncle skips town. He's also trying to repair a broken automaton that his father found in a museum and was working on before he died, and his quest to do so introduces him to Ben Kingsley's character, the owner of a small toy shop in the station, and his adoptive daughter played by Chloƫ Moretz, who loves reading but has never seen a movie. He takes her to the theater, and shows her the automaton, and they eventually stumble into revelations that that bring the seemingly disparate elements of a broken robot and the love of film together.

Visually the film is pretty stunning, whether you see it in 3D or 2D, though I saw the former. The sets and costumes are impeccably gorgeous on their own, and the depth from the 3D further brings the world to life in a pretty incredible way. I was definitely more impressed than I was by Avatar. This movie proved to me that the argument that 2D film is inherently superior because it is more dreamlike is absolute garbage. The visuals in this movie make it seem almost like it's animation even though it was filmed with live actors, and they bring you into a fantasy setting that doesn't seem real, but much more imaginative and fun than that. I don't like the over-saturation of 3D in the theater market, because most films aren't made with it in mind and don't seem to really benefit from the process. But Hugo was made to be shown this way, and the effect is great at pulling you into this other place, in the same way that many people probably felt when they watched a movie for the first time.

In a funny way, that 3D thing does really well to tie into the idea of the dawn of filmmaking and the newness of the concept when the film takes place. It's a couple decades after the cinema had become commonplace, but the characters do a good deal of digging into the medium's origins, and a good portion of the running time is just devoted to celebration of the art form. Scorsese is a big proponent of film preservation and film in general, so it makes perfect sense for him to get attached to this concept, almost to the detriment of the main plot of the movie. There were some flaws with the movie that detracted from the overall good feeling I got from the experience. I thought Asa Butterfield's performance was a little uneven, and while I liked Sacha Baron Cohen's inspector character, he only seemed to be in the movie because the story needed an antagonist. I definitely liked him more when he was awkwardly trying to be friendly than when he was the villain rounding up orphans.

And for a family movie, I don't know how much kids would actually like it. A good deal of what's interesting about the film is referential to things they probably wouldn't understand, and it was neither terribly funny not terribly exciting most of the time. There were a couple really fun moments, but what I liked most about the movie was the setting it created, and pretty much every kid's movie is decent enough at that. But if you enjoy Scorsese as a filmmaker, and still have a sense of wonder, and an appreciation for the history of human entertainment, you'll probably like the movie a lot.

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