So, Scorsese decided to direct a kid’s movie… when I first saw the trailer for Hugo I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this fact. It looked like a Spielberg movie, a big budget, techno-family epic, and in 3D!!! What was Marty, the Gangster Priest, the King of Gritty, the man with more four-letter words in his movies than an entire season of South Park combined doing? Was he back on coke perhaps? Amazingly the result was a film very different from any of his previous films, and yet very much like them at the same time; this is not a children’s movie by Scorsese but a Scorsese movie for children.
Like in all his other films, Scorsese puts great heart into his hero. GoodFellas began with Henry Hill as a kid outsider who observed the world from his bedroom window. Henry wanted nothing more than to be part of the world, the Mafia. This is nothing less than a parallel to Scorsese’s formative years growing up in Little Italy, as an asthmatic child who wasn’t allowed to go outside, and yet took in all the world had to offer. This time Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) observes the world from his perch inside the train station’s clock tower. And like Scorsese he teaches himself the arts, whether that be filmmaking or clock-tinkering. Hugo will likely grow to be very adept at both. But at the start of the movie it is Hugo’s goal to perfect an automaton (a clock-man contraption) his father left behind unfinished.
Since his father’s death, Hugo has been living inside a labyrinth between the walls of Paris’ train station. Always running from the police (Sacha Baron Cohen), afraid that he will be sent to the orphanage, and stealing for food and pieces to build his automaton from the local vendors. It does not take long before one of the local vendors, George Mélies (Ben Kinsley) to grow quite annoyed at the little thief and catch him in the act. Now, if you know anything about film, you likely recognized the name of George Mélies, if not allow me to enlighten you:
George Mélies was a film pioneer, way back when filmmakers had to build and crank their own cameras. He began his careers as a stage magician and when he switched mediums to film, he basically became the father of special effects. His films were very rudimentary, nothing more than a filmed stage plays, but nevertheless highly visionary. Mélies basically proved to the world that film didn’t need to be realistic and that fantasy could come to life inside them. Now, why is Mélies, if he was such a genius, working at a toyshop at a Parisian train station, barely making a living? And why is it that Melies goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz) happens to have the exact piece Hugo needs to finish his automaton hanging from her necklace? Well go see the movie and find out.
It is seriously worth it. If you are a lover of cinema, the films itself will be enchanting as a film about the magic of cinema itself. This is perhaps the first film that fully justifies its use of 3D, with no gimmicks whatsoever! Imagine that. This is a film about the birth of film technology, thematically it makes sense to shoot it in what the latest tech of today allows. And in the hands of Scorsese, the cinematography of Robert Richardson, and the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker, 3D does what 3D need to make; that is build a world were the audience can swim in, not choke and drown in nausea and gimmicks. Scorsese, Richardson, and Schoonmaker have collaborated in some of the greatest films of the past decade. When you stop to think about it, there was never a reason to think that they couldn’t make a good movie, even if it was a kid’s movie in 3D.
They have also collaborated in the creation of documentaries about classic films, great directors, landmark concerts, etc. Here they bring their love of the arts into a children’s movie. This is honestly the type of film every parent wishes their kid would enjoy, entertaining and, honestly, educational without it really intending to be. A few classic pioneer films are re-mastered within the movie in 3D. Most notably “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat”, perhaps the first film shot in 1887 by the Lumiere brothers. When it was first seen, the audience panicked and ran out of the theater, believing the incoming train would rush out of the screen. Now wouldn’t it be cool if it did? There is also a gorgeous rendering of Melies own Trip to the Moon. And man, seen in 3D in a theater, it revives the magic that people saw in cinema back then. Today we are so used to the effect that it has lost most of its wonder. We need filmmakers, like Martin Scorsese, Robert Richardson, and Thelma Schoonmaker to remind us of truly how magical motion pictures can be.