Sunday, November 27, 2011
IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -
Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by John Logan, based on the award winning children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick) seems on first impression likes an odd choice of a project for the legendary director. But there are two characteristics present in Scorsese's extensive CV that make the 3D children's film Hugo less of a surprise: (1) Martin Scorsese has lived for challenges. How else to explain taking on (and nailing) films like Taxi Driver , Raging Bull , Last Temptation of Christ , Cape Fear , Gangs of New York  and Shutter Island ? and (2) Scorcese loves biography/history. How else to explain documentary projects on The Blues , Michael Jackson , Bob Dylan  and George Harrison , bio pics like The Aviator  and Sinatra [announced for 2013] and historical/history inspired pictures like Casino [1995, Gangs of New York  and the like?
Like or not, Hollywood or perhaps its technology masters like Sony have decided to force the film industry and eventually all American (and probably the world's) TVs to go "3D." So present in Hugo is certainly a master like Martin Scorsese playing with the cinematic possibilities of this technology. To this date the recent 3D technology has been most often used in films directed to children. So why not try making a really good even ground breaking children's film especially if the children's film has strong element of history and even cinematic history behind it? I'm positive, if nothing else, that Hugo will be up for Academy Awards this year for cinematography, direction and art direction. So from a technical and even artistic point of view Hugo will certainly be regarded as a masterpiece. But what about the story?
Well the story isn't bad either. It's based on an award winning children's book that seems a good part Dickens (David Copperfield, Oliver Twist) with a dash of Victor Hugo (Les Miserables). The main character is a 10-12 year old orphan named Hugo Cabret (played by Asa Butterfield) who lives hidden among the clock-works of Paris' central railroad station in the early 1930s. Hugo's orphan status and the location of the film even evokes thoughts of the renowned Brazilian film and tearjerker Central Station . Orphan-Hugo is persecuted by a Javert-like Station-inspector (played by Sasha Baron Cohen) and a crotchety old owner of the "toy booth" at said station. The toy booth owner, Georges Melies (played by Ben Kingsley) is upset that Hugo keeps stealing his toys. But Hugo isn't stealing the toys maliciously or even to play with them. He's stealing them for parts. Why? Well that's a good part of the story.
When store owner Melies finally catches Hugo, he seems needlessly harsh to him. But his harshness toward Hugo catches the eye his grand-daughter Isabelle (played by Chloe Grace Moretz). She's the same age as Hugo but (as is often the case at that age) somewhat taller and perhaps more mature than him. She befriends Hugo who up unto that point had lost just about everybody in his life. The two, largely on the impulse of book reading Isabelle, set-off on an "adventure" that only two twelve-year-olds could go on. In the midst of this adventure, they slowly realize that Isabelle's grandfather was not always the broken and bitter old man running that tiny toy shop in the train station. Instead when he was younger, he was a magician and later a film-maker a maker of wonderful/fantastic films. What happened? Why did he retire to such a small hovel in a train station making his living selling mechanical toys? Well go to the movie ...
Therefore even though it is largely presented through kids' eyes, the movie is not really a kids' movie. At minimum it is a serious kids' movie of a Charles Dickens vein. So parents take note: I don't think anyone under10-12 years of age will really understand this film. And some kids it may find it very depressing because it is about various kinds of brokenness and a need to gently/compassionately fix people who were broken.
Now the idea that "broken people" should be "fixed" may surprise a fair amount of adults in the United States today because our prevailing orthodoxy seems to be that people "shouldn't be in the business of fixing others." But when one experiences the truly heart-wrenching stories of the various characters in this story (including that of the Jarvert-like Inspector) compassionate/gentle "fixing" is in order. Otherwise, we consign the broken people of this world to irrelevance, not only terribly hurting them by our actively chosen passivity but diminishing the whole world which would never benefit from their (lost) gifts.
So this technically exemplary but commercial 3D monstrosity ends up telling a very good and even poignant story. But the questions to Industry then ought to be: Was the 3D technology really necessary to tell this story? How much was the telling of the story "improved" by the 3D technology? And if not by much, why is the world (from its artists/directors to its consumers) being forced to buy-into expensive technology that doesn't really improve film's story-telling capacity?
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