Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Love: Hugo

One should never doubt Martin Scorsese.  If the man says he's going to make a 3D children's movie, don't bother questioning it.  Instead, you should assume that it will be the one 3D kiddie flick worth paying money to see, worth a Best Picture nomination, possibly worth a win, and with the potential to make every cynical film critic into a gushy mess.  Hugo is magic, my friends.  Within it Scorsese breathes new life into an already beloved book, writes a sweeping love letter to all of cinema, and proves that 3D technology can be used to move worlds, create art, and transport the viewer into another reality.  We are immersed in Hugo's Parisian atmosphere.  Objects do not lunge at us in cheap, gimmicky ways.  Instead, we are there.  Snow falls softly on the streets, dust particles drift through space, hallways and stairwells achieve real depth. Everything has dimension, every glittering bit of pixie dust shoots to life, and we relish our time in this tweed and tin celluloid snowglobe.  Paris becomes a brilliant machine, the city of light as you have never seen it.  This is how you use a tiresome technology: to enhance instead of distract.  From Hugo's first moments, I was completely entranced.  It was immediately clear that no tricks were wasted in the opening sequence, and that everything could only become more wonderful.
The film's basis comes from the award winning 'graphic novel/picture book' The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick; a black and white work told in scratchy crosshatched inks.  There was a magic to the raw material, too, but the transition from page to screen is something truly extraordinary.  Hugo follows in the footsteps of so many lost boy fairy tales.  Our hero is an orphan (Asa Butterfield) residing in a Parisian train station.  He is alone, he steals bits of patisserie to get by, keeps the clocks wound, averts the bumbling station guard (Sacha Baron Cohen), and, with a driving desperation, swipes mechanical scraps to rebuild an invaluable wind-up automaton.  We meet Hugo on the day he's caught, mid-reach, by toy shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), the very man he does most of his pilfering from. One thing leads to another, Hugo seeks the assistance of Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), and the stage is set for a beautiful, old fashioned, soaring adventure full of twists, turns, friendships, accidental discoveries, and...cinema. For you see, Georges is not quite what he seems.  Specifically: his surname is Méliès, and he is the man who took "A Trip to the Moon."  Unsurprisingly, Scorsese has chosen to run with the Méliès subplot, taking it to new heights and dazzlingly ornate sets.  Some have argued that the story becomes sidelined here, that everything deteriorates into a film preservation PSA. No. You have to question that logic.  For my money, you should avoid purveyors of such thoughts.  Beware of critics endorsing that line of thinking, and, for that matter, beware of naysayers who dwell too much on trivialities here...they may not love the medium as much as they claim to. Hugo is a children's story, in many ways, but it's also a simple, wonderful, heart soaring ode, and a tremendously endearing treasure. Butterfield and Moretz may not be the most brilliant of actors, but their presence is fresh and we have no trouble experiencing the the film through them.
What I love about Scorsese --and I mean love in a way that makes me really, really honestly thankful he's around --is his unbridled enthusiasm for film. He is a man clearly in love with his job, who has followed his own dreams and yet remains remarkably untouched by the fact that he is a vital part of the art form he's so fascinated by.  Scorsese is a true film fan and a certifiable movie scholar.  His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has the power to make us marvel, the storytelling ability to persuade us towards his way of seeing.  Hugo is an intricately imagined, very nearly sublime incarnation of one man's passion.  It celebrates the innovations of the past, the limitless imaginations of those bold pioneers, while simultaneously writing film's future in a gilded script that fills volume after persuasive volume with the case for film as pure vision.  Scorsese is a great filmmaker, and while Hugo may not be his greatest film dramatically, in raw feeling it is one of his best, and surely one of the closest to him.  Hugo is bound to inspire a whole new generation of creators who will seek out, eagerly, the material uncovered by the young protagonists here.  This is one for the ages, and one well worth a long theatrical run.

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