Hugo (2011)

Scorsese’s brilliant love letter to the film lover, and the finest use of 3D technology since ‘Avatar’.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Martin Scorsese
2011 | USA | Drama/Family | 126 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking

Cast:  Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law
Plot:  In 1931 Paris, an orphan living in the walls of a train station gets wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
Awards: Won 5 Oscars – Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score.
Source: Paramount

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Family
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 23 Feb 2012
Spoilers: No

When an old master like Martin Scorsese, who has directed some of the greatest films in traditional celluloid, decides to embrace 3-D technology in his new film, you have to sit up and take notice.

This is a man who has been at the forefront of cinema appreciation, preservation, and expression for the last four decades. This is a man who has made unforgettable American classics like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Goodfellas (1990).

This is a man on a creative roll since the turn of the century, with films like Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), and Shutter Island (2010).

Hugo sees Scorsese challenging himself in new ways. How do you make a 3-D film that is not a fantasy, science-fiction, or horror film? How do you use 3-D to tell a story, as opposed to using a story to show 3-D? Scorsese answers these questions with aplomb.

At its heart, Hugo is a story about dreams. An orphaned boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a train station winding clocks for a living. His late father has left behind an automaton, a self-operating device that holds key to the mystery of the magic of cinema.

Set in the early 20th century Paris, Hugo is a heartwarming and nostalgic trip back to where dreams were born. Dreams come from the movies. And this is where Scorsese’s genius lies.

“Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”

He uses the most accessible of modern screen technologies to draw mainstream viewers into the world of early cinema, equipping them with the most basic knowledge of cinema’s origin, while at the same time, mirroring the dreams of filmmakers working in the new medium with that of a young boy, whose father used to take him to the movies.

Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley), the founding father of the “cinema of dreams”, is given major screen time here. But it is his personal story of lost dreams that will touch your heart, so is Hugo’s determination to thaw a cold heart.

Hugo‘s use of 3-D is absolutely stunning, the best thus far, and even more polished than James Cameron’s groundbreaking Avatar (2009). Despite all the technical wizardry, Hugo is also a brilliant period piece that could be appreciated on an artistic level, scoring huge points for cinematography, art direction, and costume design.

The entire film feels and looks like a fairy tale, but the story and characters are grounded in reality, and this is what pulls us into their reality, which is a unique composition of fictional and nonfictional elements. Howard Shore’s classy Amélie and Ratatouille-inspired score ties everything together in an experience that will be remembered for years.

Scorsese’s tribute to Méliès is as reverential as it is personal. Without Méliès, there would be no Hugo. The French pioneer allowed people to dream with his movies, and after more than a hundred years, cinema still allows us to dream.

Scorsese’s brand of cinema has often been hard-hitting and in-your-face in the past, but here he sends us a meaningful love letter. It is a love letter to all film lovers. And it is one we accept with gratitude. Hugo is a film in search for an appreciative audience. And it will find you, if you let it.

Grade: A




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