Movie Review: Hugo 3D (2011)
This movie is Martin Scorsese's paean to the early filmmakers. The scenes are marvelously put together and each shot is beautiful. It is the first non-animation movie that looks great in 3D. But this is a Scorcese film so you know that a story will be told and this story is about a boy in search of his place in the world.
Set in early 1930s Paris, Hugo, is a boy who lost his father to a fire; his mother already passed away when he was a baby. He ends up living with his uncle who is employed by the central train station to maintain all the clocks. Since it's a train station, there are a lot of clocks, big and small, ornate and plain. His uncle is an alcoholic and teaches Hugo how to keep the clocks ticking then disappears. Hugo maintains the clocks in the hopes of preventing the disappearance from being discovered. Not only does he not want to go to an orphanage but he wants to keep his secret living quarters within the train station. As it is, he is always trying to dodge the Station Inspector, who is eager to catch thieves and maintain law and order within the train station. When Hugo is not maintaining the clocks he's fixing the automaton that he and his father worked on. His father was a clockmaker and therefore very good at fixing mechanical things, a skill that Hugo learned from his father. The broken automaton is a big wind-up machine in the form of a man writing on a desk. In order to get parts for the automaton, Hugo steals pieces from a toy shop, one of the stores in the train station. The proprietor, Georges, catches him and makes a deal with him so that Hugo has to work off what he stole.
When he finally fixes the automaton, Hugo finds that there is a mysterious connection between the automaton that his father found and Georges. As he investigates further, he finds an ally in the proprietor's goddaughter, Isabelle. Together, Hugo and Isabelle uncover George's painful secret. They try to fix the situation and Hugo returns to the train station to bring the automaton back to Georges. Meanwhile, Hugo's uncle was found dead in the Seine and the Station Inspector catches Hugo at the train station. From there it is a race between Hugo and the inspector to see whether he ends up in an orphanage or a place that he can call home. The movie is two hours long, but the audience will be riveted by the film's story; it has romance, mystery, wonder, longing, heartbreak, adventure, and love.
Asa Butterfield plays the young Hugo with a winsome solemnity. His blue eyes show a steely determination in the Hugo character and no toothy cuteness that seems to be a prerequisite when it comes to American child actors. His role is sympathetic enough,and Scorcese was right not to cast someone pretty because it would just be too precious. Although the movie is set in Paris, the actors are British with British accents and the film has a luminous tint to evoke a bygone era. Ben Kingsley is superb as Georges, of course, and he emotes a quiet suffering of a man who is unhappy with the way his life has turned out. Sasha Baron Cohen plays the mean Station Inspector almost as a caricature of Inspector Clouseau, his portrayal is very weak. His role provides the comic relief but at times it was way over the top. I actually didn't want him to be successful with his love interest because I wanted to spare the mademoiselle from his boorishness. Isabelle is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, the only American actor with a major part and does a very convincing British accent (to my American ears). She plays Isabelle with a lot of charm.
Go See It!
The movie is based on Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, with a skillfull script from John Logan. The set design and photography is amazing; Paris glows, the train station is gorgeously detailed and evocative. The giant mechanisms of huge clocks play a character role in the film lending it a fantastical aspect. It also serves to echo and reinforce the themes of time passing by, how daily life is regulated by it, and how the movie industry manipulates time to create special effects. As I had said earlier, I consider this film to be Scorsese's paean to the early film directors. He uses a lot of the old film footage and appends to it, and lovingly devotes plenty of film time to give the audience an understanding of how amazing the invention and development of movies were.
The 3D cinematography is another aspect to be savored in this movie, and Scorcese being a masterful director, did not neglect to use this effect to its very best capabitlies. Although there are a few times that it was out of focus, the illusion of depth that the movie displays was intentional in its sets, the weather, the crowds, and the details. Scorcese has now shown other directors how well they can use the effect on live characters not just with animated characters, and has shown the audience what they should expect from a 3D movie. Scorcese has another gem.
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