As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, Hugo is the PG-rated Martin Scorsese film that is unlike anything he’s ever made before, but represents the things that are nearest to his heart. The film is a family film, yes, but it is also a labor of love for; a 130 minute infomercial for film preservation designed to arouse (I tried to think of the cleanest way possible to say that) cinephiles everywhere with its references to early film and re-mastered footage. I am admittedly not a huge fan of 3D – I often have to remove the glasses and rub eyes for a minute or so before I jump back into the “experience” – but Scorsese does it about as perfectly as the medium could hope. If there are going to be new films being done in 3D (three out of the five previews at the showing I attended were for re-releases in 3D…lazy and lame), Scorsese has provided the template. I love the film’s opening with its sweeping images of the train station (Scorsese wisely films this opening as almost a short film to give the audience the setting of the film, but also to get the audiences eyes acclimated to the 3D action without missing the story) and the way it showed just how beautiful (and subtle!) 3D can be. Once the film’s plot kicked in, I was surprised by how engrossed I was with the film, and really I only felt the need to remove my glasses a few times in the beginning parts of the movie, but after that, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie.
There’s nothing else much to say about Hugo, now that we’re in January, that already hasn’t been said by countless others, but I will say this: Ben Kingsley’s performance as Georges Méliès' (the man responsible for the film’s that are the main focus of the film’s final half) is one of the best of 2011, and Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret (by the way, why did they change the name of the movie to Hugo instead of keeping the original title of its source material, The Invention of Hugo Cabret? Bad choice by the producers) is fantastic and gives one of the best performances by a young actor in years.
The film’s many references to the earliest days of silent film (when they were a carnival attraction) to its references (both literal and through homage) to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! are just a few of the things that make the film such a pleasure. Just like the automaton and the little toy mouse that Méliès' and Hugo create and fix, Scorsese is a master craftsman – the ultimate toymaker – who offers up a shop full of goodies with the most unlikely of films for the master to tackle. Hugo reminded me a lot of The Age of Innocence: a similarly mismatched genre that showcased the finest and most invigorating qualities of Scorsese the auteur. The scenes of Méliès’ dreaming and creating seem to have awakened something long dormant in Scorsese; the joy and pleasure of Scorsese’s filmmaking here is palpable in a way that used to be felt in every Scorsese release. I’m not saying his 2000s output was bad, but it lacked the energy one sees and feels in every frame of Hugo. Not since Bringing Out the Dead has a Scorsese film been this exciting to watch, talk about, write about, and reflect upon. It’s one of the very best movies of 2011.