It is often difficult for lovers of film to really articulate why they love film. They will sometimes do this, but it’ll come out as a a half coherent ramble. Even directors who harbor a passion for film can sometimes barely get it out. And this is where they use their medium to tell us why film is magical. Such is the case of Martin Scorsese’s delightful, interesting, but flawed film Hugo. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Scorsese’s film is nothing but a love letter to the art of film and the masters who perfected the craft.
Young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives within the walls of the Paris Trainstation, inconspicuously keeping the clocks of the station running. Somewhere towards the outskirts of the station is a small toyshop, disregarded by many, and run by an old, curmudgeon man. He, however, holds the key to what Hugo needs. Hugo has been assembling an automaton since his father’s (Jude Law) untimely death. And now he is an orphan living within the walls.
In Hugo’s quest for fufillment, he is joined by the articulate biblioophile Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of the mysterious shop keeper. This is perhaps where the film falters most. Too much importance is given to this strange, fascinating device when the payoiff is barely what one expected. However, the reason being is that the automaton is just another MacGuffin in itself.
It turns out that Hugo loved going to the movies with his father and exposes dear Isabelle to the great pictures. They go to see Buster Keaton’s Safety Last! And the pure ecstacy of going to the theater, the same kind of wonderment I feel when I go, is perfectly drawn across the actors’ faces. The two soon learn that Isabelle’s godfather, who had previously been known as “Papa Georges”, the same shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley), is actually the French filmmaker and pioneer of film Georges Melies. The man who made A Trip to the Moon, Melies has seemingly forgotten about his past. The two head to the library to research the history of film. A gorgeous montage if ever I saw one passes before the audience’s eyes, filled with clips from Chaplin, Keaton, Einstein, Griffiths, and others light up the screen. It’s an intoxicating amalgom of film history.
While the film is certainly delightful in many of its facets, one does question why the film was marketed to a younger demographic. Not everyone is a cinephile and silents are extremely dated. The subject of the film, which eventuallyleads into film restoration, is somewhat esoteric. To what extent will kids buy into the idea of restoring and preserving film? I shouldn’t underestimate kids, considering that the last time I did that, it was with the smash hit from Pixar Ratatouille. I remember thinking, “Really? A cooking rat?” Though, you have to admit, cooking is far less obscure and esoteric than film restoration. It’s not a surprise Scorsese would make that the subject of his film, considering he is one of the leading directors to support film preservation. This is pure fodder for him.
Generally, this film is filme. It’s even magical to an extent. But sometimes its overwraught performances lead into a kind of melodrama which I personally find intolerable. This is usually the product of Asa Butterfied, who, it should be noted, is a fine actor. He juust doesn’t do that well when he’s crying or making a big deal about his father. Kingsley himself is fine. Everyone is fine. But no one really stands out against the rest. Even the comical Sacha Baron Cohen barely leaves an impression. Chloe Moretz may be the best of them, actually. Her English accent is quite effortless. It’s not the acting that makes the film memorable, it is the subject of film that does.
Generally, I find the use of 3D abhorrent. But more and more, auteurs and grand directors have taken to the sets with 3D cameras. Scorsese is one of them, and his use of 3D walks the fine line between immersions (a la James Cameron) and hokey (a la everyone else). The 3D does create an immersive environment and actually does add to the experience. It’s a leap in technology, just as moving pictures was a leap in technology. Melding the two make sense, and the end product is quite pleasing.
Martin Scorsese, who is better known for his gritty, realistic gangster dramas, injects his newest film, a kid’s film, with perfection. The visual effects are top notch and the storyline is great. Only in the acting does it sometimes falter. But you can tell all throughout the film that this was Scorsese’s passion project. It’s filled with his heart and soul. And that’s what film should be filled with: passion.