Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hugo - Review


Scorsese's latest is a paradox: at once a departure from his distinguished body of work & the most personally significant film of his career.

Defying genre, Hugo is partly a children's fantasy, partly a cinephile's passionate essay on why we love movies so much. A far cry from the gritty streets and desperate men he has made a career bringing to life. The danger of his concept is that it could appeal to neither children nor adults, but the happy result is that it easily entrances both (at least based on a census of my own Hugo-watching-posse: a BBM-addicted 13-year-old, a highly energetic 8-year-old, my legal academic wife & myself. We all loved it. I cried.). Scorsese fills every frame with joyous cinematic detail & brings magic, wonder & an incredibly big heart to a simple story of a boy finding his place in a busy world.

His story is an adaptation of Brian Selznick's beloved graphic novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan literally watching the world from behind the walls of a 1930's Parisian train station & trying to piece together the mystery behind an inactive automaton left behind by his beloved late father. A series of encounters forces him to become a part of the world he has only ever watched from a distance & to question what he has to offer.

Technically, Hugo is a masterful achievement that hits all the right notes on every level. It's no surprise that it won 5 of its 11 Oscar nominations: the sound mixing is detailed & precise, drawing you into Hugo's world; Robert Richardson cinematography is distinctly magical, creating a Paris so enchanted & detailed you could stare at it for weeks; Thelma Schoonmaker's editing is as inventive as ever (notably in a station stampede sequence); both John Logan's adapted script & Howard Shore's score are restrained but effective; Dante Ferretti's sets are jaw-dropping and the visual effects team's pitch perfect trickery works brilliantly on multiple levels - from the intricate mechanics of the clocks & the automaton, to the intense dream sequences & - SPOILER ALERT - the insertion of a young Ben Kingsley & Helen McCrory into Georges Méliès' films.

From Méliès to Scorsese
The biggest achievement, however, is how seamlessly Scorsese makes it all fit together to tell his story & to present a cinematic vision that uses the latest, cutting edge technology to explore & celebrate the origins of cinema. Notably, 3D is a new frontier for Scorsese, Schoonmaker & Richardson and, predictably enough, their combined efforts turn it into a true new artform.

Scorsese's deep love for cinema is beautifully expressed in this quiet, gentle epic. The images he puts on screen are memorable, meaningful & precise. I recently had the pleasure of attending a big screen Georges Méliès retrospective & being able to compare Méliès' groundbreaking work to Scorsese's gorgeously crafted 3D visuals (for reasons best explained by watching the film) was uniquely thrilling.


Hugo is a love letter from one master & lover of cinema to another, filled with a poignant & heartfelt understanding of the new home forged by cinema for many orphan souls. A modern classic & the best film of 2011.

Georges Méliès' groundbreaking work, celebrated by groundbreaking work from Scorsese