How to explain the feeling I have for Martin Scorsese’s HUGO.
Transcendent Joy. Tear-producing Awe & Wonder.
But that doesn’t really do it for me. What we have here is our greatest domestic filmmaker, a man that made his name as a director that told stories of criminals and a stunning grip of violent imagery, unleashed telling a story about a little boy – a thief – an orphan – a curious boy named Hugo Cabret. What amazes me about Scorsese and this film is the simple fact that this movie is completely, 100%, not like a single other film in his career.
We know them all. We’ve seen Scorsese’s work, many of us worship his work. In conversations for years, I’ve stated that I wanted to see Scorsese get outside of his “comfort zone” as a filmmaker. Making a film for the families of the world? Yeah, that’s a good start. Now let’s see Marty do a Western, a War, a spy tale, a horror film… and by all means, please God… do not let this be his last family film. This is a magical work of wonder. Truly exciting.
So what’s HUGO like?
Before I can discuss plot – I have to talk about the look of the film. Scorsese’s silent era Paris is breathtaking. Intricately detailed, lovingly filled with a cast of characters and little bits – that reminds one of David Lean’s OLIVER TWIST – in the attention to faces, the immaculate nature of the sets, the layering of imagery in masterful framing… only, this is in 3D… and Scorsese’s eye… Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing… it is just enveloping…
When the film begins, Scorsese is going to take you for a ride. This isn’t just a visual effects thing. No, there’s a whole lot of practical wizardry going on here… but the way it is composed and layered in 3D – it makes you see this world in the most awe-inspiring manner. Marty isn’t limited to merely creating a window into another world… he’s sending a child through a busy train station, camera at his eye level & runs hundreds of extras around him, creating one of the most stunning claustrophobic effect. Hugo is always peering through things at a world beyond… be they grates, removed number plates from a clock… but the point is you have a foreground element that we look through to see the splendor of the larger world beyond. It is stunning 3D. The sort of game-changing experience that only a truly masterful filmmaker could give us.
If you’ve seen Walt Disney’s classic cartoon CLOCK CLEANERS, where Mickey, Donald and Goofy have to clean a giant tower clock, not unlike BIG BEN, and well… hijinks occur… but when I was a kid, I had the old Fisher Price Hand Held Movie Viewer, which had cartridges with whole cartoons (it seemed to me) – and one of my faves was CLOCK CLEANERS – the brilliant thing about that cartoon was the constantly moving environment of the interior of the clock. We’ve also seen it in THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE or even in Orson Welles’ superb film, THE STRANGER. There are other great Clockwork films, but Scorsese – holy shit. It’s just wondrous. It isn’t overdone, it feels right, but absolutely magic for a child to live in and within.
Young Asa Butterfield’s Hugo Cabret is a traumatized child. He’s lost his father. Abandoned to slave away doing the work his Uncle should be doing in the Train Station maintaining all the clocks… stealing food and milk to live on… oh, he also steals parts that he needs to fix an Automaton, a machine that his father found in a museum and was tasked with repairing. He and his father spent hours working on it together and it was a mystery to them both. It seems like a magical device and the boy… having no adult supervision, having everything taken from him… well, he imbues the Automaton with his own particular mythology. He believe it contains a message from his father to him. It isn’t a logical mythology. It’s a child’s mythology, the Automaton is all he has of his father. A mystery they both have worked to solve.
I love Asa’s Hugo Cabret. He’s a curious boy, deeply afraid. He knows he’s one pinch from being in an orphanage. He’s obsessive compulsive about the Automaton. However, he is a good boy. I know, he’s a thief, but that is to survive. He has nobody. He’s a rat to most. A filthy shame, meant to be swept up into the world of orphanages. Asa’s eyes show so much fear, shame, hope, awe, frustration that he reminds me of a young Elijah Wood from Sonnenfeld’s AVALON, although this is a vastly superior film.
Now, what genre is this film? Yeah, it is a family film, but that’s only the audience that can see it. This is a MYSTERY. There are two mysteries that are entwined… the first has to do with the Automaton, the other is who is George Melies, the curious owner of the wind-up toy shop in the Train Station.
This is why the film is just so beautiful. So important for film loving folks to take their children to. The movie captures the magic of film. The magic of the makers of film. The wonder of the moving image.
If I had to pick some films to compare the MAGIC of this film to, it’d be Bill Condon’s GODS & MONSTERS, Giuseppe Tornatore’s CINEMA PARADISO and even something like Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK JR. This is Scorsese’s love letter to film. The love that he gives Hugo and Chloe Moretz’s Isabelle’s discovery of every new bit of information – it’s stunning. Watching them discover the history of cinema, which Scorsese gives us a MASTER CLASS IN 3D of, literally taking images that I’ve had embedded in my noggin from the earliest age from my parents – and bringing them to life in an entirely new way. Once the kids are further along on their discovery of who George Melies is – the imagery becomes… well, naturally unbelievably amazing. Forget the work Scorsese did trying to recapture the magic from AVIATOR – here – it’s all 100% perfect. Here, he takes us on a 3D ride of discovery through the original magician of cinema. George Melies. Before there was Willis O’Brien, before there was Ray Harryhausen, before Jim Henson, before all the names of wizards of cinema, there was George Melies – and this film is Scorsese’s love letter to him… but more so – to the notion of film preservation, history, exhibition and the power it has to change lives.
Having seen this and THE MUPPETS on the same day. I was really fond of THE MUPPETS, but HUGO is simply everything that film can do… it transports you, exhilarates you and leaves you filled with passion & love of cinema. THE MUPPETS does a good job of reminding me why the films were so much better when I was a child. HUGO is a marvel, an immaculate work of wonder and a pure shot of exciting & thrilling cinema.
I would also say it has a chance to become my favorite Scorsese film. Not the best, but my favorite. Why?
When it was announced that Scorsese was going to make a 3D big budget family film out of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – when I read about the elements of the book – I was so excited. You can go back and read the articles I wrote about it. But the reason I was excited was because it confused most folks. They couldn’t imagine a master filmmaker like Scorsese doing a family film, but I’ve always dreamt of it. Scorsese does it masterfully – replacing the sense of violence with a sense of wonder and it fits him perfectly.
Easily the best modern 3D movie made thus far. All who attempt 3D should study this film, not just for the shots, but for the editing which is so incredibly natural feeling with 3D, the sense of FORWARD motion while watching the film is amazing. The film so stunned me that I was sitting there with tears rolling down my cheeks as a goofy smile laid across my face. Not because of sadness, but from elation.
Father Geek’s single complaint was that the humidity caused from the tears (it happened to him too) it caused his 3D glasses to fog up a bit. Interesting problem to have… Perhaps the theaters should raise the temperature in rooms playing HUGO slightly to offset this.
Scorsese – BRAVO! This is masterful!
I should also note the wonder of Howard Shore's score, the awesome of Sacha Baron Cohen's Station Inspector - I love the shame he feels as a broken man, I love Emily Mortimer's flowergirl, Christopher Lee's bookseller, Jude Law's performance as Hugo's Dad. Michael Stuhlbarg's Film Geek is exceptional! Fantastic part and role for him. Robert Richardson's cinematography is - again - the finest 3D I've yet witness and an incredibly vibrant and beautiful palatte of colors! Dante Ferretti's production design is a marvel to behold.
I really hope this film gets Marty nominated & I'd love to see the film in the race for Best Picture. This is a film geek's love letter. Can't wait to see it many times in theaters.