Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hugo in 3D

HUGO in 3D                            B+                  
USA  (127 mi)  2011  d:  Martin Scorsese  Official Facebook    Official Site  book website

No one questions Martin Scorsese’s sincerity when it comes to movies, as he’s a director obsessed with the history of movies, supporting the video releases of lesser known directors that may have received little exposure initially, and is one of the most outspoken advocates supporting film preservation.  He is perhaps the most knowledgeable American professor on the subject of cinema, as it’s a world he knows inside and out, being the elder statesman of American directors, having made movies since the late 1960’s, including two of the most critically acclaimed films ever made, RAGING BULL (1980) and GOODFELLAS (1990).  Everyone may have a different favorite, but no one disputes his mastery of the art form.  As a child, his mother thought it odd that he insisted on watching Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES (1948) over and over again, as he was mesmerized by the construction of such an enchantingly beautiful film. Throughout his career, most all of his films have catered to adult subject matter, where language alone, let alone excessive violence, may not be suitable for smaller children.  With this film, a screen adaptation of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a book which won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for the most distinguished children’s picture book, Scorsese has finally found the right source material to make his first children’s film.  While the book is 533 pages, more than half are pencil drawings by the author where the illustrations are used to balance the way the story is told and ultimately understood, so a supremely gifted visual artist could only enhance the experience, which Scorsese chose to render in 3D, another first in his career.  The 3D glasses do darken the already darkened atmosphere, but also offer a bit of playfulness to some of the scenes, perhaps stretching the imagination somewhat, especially seeing 100-year old historic archival footage in 3D, which has never been done before, but they are by no means necessary to appreciate this film, which has a wonderful story.  However, with Scorsese at the helm, why not opt for the best?

From the opening shot, we’re quickly reminded of the overly cute, Frenchified version of Paris in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s AMELIE (2001), which features swooping camera shots and picture postcard panoramas, as the camera pulls the viewers into an extended sequence that sweeps across the city landscape, guiding us past historical monuments through the Parisian streets and into a busy train station, finally resting upon the eyes of a young child perched high atop a rooftop looking out over the station below, peering through an inside opening of a clock tower.  But this is not your typical children’s adventure story, despite the French accordions playing as people in the crowded streets of Paris run right past one another, bypassing the friendly shops and outdoor café’s, creating a stampede effect in order to get to their trains on time.  Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is the child in the opening shot, a bright young boy cloistered away living high above the fray through the ventilation ducts and cavernous back passageways in a darkened 1930’s world filled with blowing steam and giant churning gears constantly turning, where the clicking sound is everpresent as he’s literally living behind the elevated clocks of the train station, like Quasimoto or The Phantom of the Opera.  In flashback sequences, his father (Jude Law) taught him to fix clocks and develop a fascination for fixing things, tinkering with various spare parts that he finds or steals, along with handfuls of food, but his father and his uncle die, so he now lives a Dickensian existence on his own, an orphan secretly inheriting the family job of winding all the clocks at the station so that they run on time.  His real life’s obsession, however, is trying to repair an automaton, an item discarded and rescued by his father from a museum, a small steel creature in the form of a human that runs on gears and springs and wires.  But so far Hugo has been stumped at making it work. 

Instead Hugo’s regularly harassed by the bumbling train inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) and his vicious Doberman tracking hound, threatening to send any loitering orphans to the orphanage, which he does with a sadistic relish, an orphan of the war himself taking pride in carrying out his civic responsibilities by bullying and manhandling the little buggers, throwing them in a tiny locked cage like one might do with an escaped pet.  Hugo is also mistreated by a grumpy old man with a continuous scowl on his face that runs a toy shop (Ben Kingsley), who’s constantly berating Hugo as a thief as he’s forever stealing tiny parts needed for clock repairs.  The old man absconds with Hugo’s secret notebook, the one given to him by his father with all the drawings on how to construct the automaton, where he’s hoping it will help him figure out how to make it work.  When the old man threatens to burn it, Hugo follows him to his home where in the window he sees his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a girl about his same age, so he pleads for her help in the matter.  Something of a bookworm, she’s more interested in an adventure, so the two set out together on a mission of discovery, where she wears around her neck a secret key that may mysteriously help with the automaton, but also includes her first trip to the cinema watching Harold Lloyd’s dangling rooftop clock sequence in SAFETY LAST (1923) harold Lloyd Safety Last (on YouTube 5:55) and regular visits to the library where the elderly librarian (Christopher Lee) directs them to books on the history of cinema, which opens up a whole new world.  Apparently this is a movie for kids with intelligence who aren’t afraid of difficult or complicated emotions and love to find things in the dusty bins at the library, much like the director's own childhood.  Even as this film initially meanders to find its footing, Scorsese fills the screen with a rich and meticulous tapestry of vivid detail, always dazzling the eye with visual originality and flair.

Saving the best for last, through a series of spectacular flashback sequences, the grumpy old man, Isabelle’s godfather, is none other than George Méliès, one of the founding fathers of cinema, who around the turn of the century made a collection of moving pictures that specialized in magic acts and special effects, like disappearing heads or dancing skeletons, flying objects, missiles to the moon, mermaids and underwater sea creatures, all of which Scorsese lovingly recreates here and were thought destroyed during WWI when movie interest waned and Méliès was forced to sell his celluloid prints, as requisitioned by the Army, which melted them down for the liquid contents in making boot heels.  With Hugo’s rabid interest in rediscovering these films, Scorsese has a field day bombarding the viewers with a mesmerizing collage of turn of the century films, updated in 3D, offering special visualizations never before seen or even imagined.  This is a bonanza of unique discoveries, nothing less than spectacular, including hand print colorizing, something Guy Maddin used to love to do, offering a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the birth of cinema as conceived by none other than America’s reigning film historian.  This is a child’s adventure story where the world of adults is threatening and occasionally hurtful, but one that’s constantly changing and inventively different, that offers a chance at real discovery, where if you pursue your curiosity in life, you just might find your interests could change the shape and vision of the world.  This is a film near and dear to Scorsese’s heart, as who would have thought some kid from the Little Italy neighborhood in New York City, where he witnessed firsthand how gamblers and mobsters ran their underworld rackets, would end up becoming one of the foremost film historians and preservationists, not to mention one of the premiere artists of the past century.  This is a spellbinding trip to the movies that becomes an excursion into the history of movies itself—delightful.

No comments:

Post a Comment