Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hugo in 3D

You'll Do Great

With 11 Academy Award nominations under its belt, common sense prevailed with the local distributors in pushing for a release to tie in with the anticipated Oscar hype, rather than to hedge its bets in March should the film with the most nominations this year go back empty handed. But regardless of the nods and awards it probably may garner, this Martin Scorsese film is one of his best, if not possible amongst his most personal films, where he has the opportunity to pay tribute to one of French cinema's earliest visionaries Georges Méliès, as well as to touch upon a topic that close to his heart, that of film preservation.

Hugo, based upon the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, is Scorsese's first 3D effort, and a proper one at that I may add, with many filmmakers or production companies choosing the cop out way of making a 3D film through post-production conversion. If you want to do something you have got to do it right, and Scorsese's film is blessed with countless of scenes that provide that depth of field, exploiting its 3D tool well as how it is supposed to be, rather than providing cheap toward-the-screen gimmicks to distract. And it's pretty amazing too in meta sort of way with Scorsese's use of the 3D tool, since Hugo contains a major plot about the story of Georges Méliès, who is recognized as one of the innovators of effects on film in his days.

Biographies aren't something new to Scorsese having done a number of films based on real people, but Hugo had wrapped a fictional narrative that's fit for the family, with broad based entertainment value and themes that make it appealing to a general audience across all ages, and best of all, being able to be a film about film history, introducing a great cinema master to the man on the street, perhaps sparking renewed interest amongst a generation that may not have heard of him, but likely to have been exposed or remember what would be one of the most enduring, iconic images seen at one point or another with the man on the moon being poked in the eye by a rocket, from his film A Trip to the Moon.

In all honesty I wasn't too impressed by Hugo Cabret's story, about the titular boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the Parisian train station of Gare Montparnasse, winding the clocks around the premises and spending his time evading the station inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) who is on a warpath looking for misbehaving orphans. Hugo himself is made one with the demise of his dad (Jude Law in a small support role) who had left him under the care of drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) and leaving behind an automation. Believing the automation contains a secret message left behind by dad, Hugo goes about scouring the station for knick knacks, trinkets and gears to get it going again, and often does so by stealing items off Georges Méliès the toymaker who has a small shop in the station.

That forms the gist of Hugo's initial interaction with Georges, and the story revolves around his friendship with Méliès goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), where together they find themselves embarking on an adventure involving various people such as those in the station like the florist Lisette (Emily Mortimer) whom the station inspector has the hots for, the dog loving cafe owner Emile (Frances de la Tour) and the newspaper seller Frick (Richard Griffiths) as well as those who would point them toward the discovery of film and its early years, such as bookstore owner Labisse (Christopher Lee), and film historian Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg). Chloe Moretz pairs up very nicely opposite Asa Butterfield who made a very endearing Hugo, with Sacha Baron Cohen nicely ditching his downright outrageously (and sometimes offensive) comical style for something a lot more family friendly, even as Hugo's prime nemesis.

While the acting here are all top notch with the cast being so incredibly comfortable in their roles no matter how big or small, I thought Ben Kingsley provided a masterclass for everyone in his role as the real character in history Georges Méliès, along with Helen McCrory who plays his wife Jeanne and is in almost all of Méliès' films. And of course digital effects make them look a lot younger when the story flashes back to their heydays, which was the last half hour that made Hugo an absolute winner as we deep dived into the early years of cinema, and French cinema at that too, about their life and times, and celebration even, together with a poignant reminder that many films are lost over the years if not for deliberate efforts to scour, source, and save prints that have been unceremoniously lost through the ravages of time.

There are countless of references in the film that would demand you make a repeat viewing (and that Blu Ray 3D disc is getting so very much enticing to buy), with plot elements and devices screaming out for your attention, and admittedly there are many more I know I have missed. From obvious ones such as a featured train at the climax reminiscent of the Lumiere Brother's film as well as a real life derailment at the Gare Montparnasse station, to the design of the automation that makes a shout out to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, perhaps you can reference this link here as preliminary research, before heading out to watch the movie, or to watch out for them when you view the film again.

It's a tough fight going into the Oscars this weekend, especially for those who have money put down for that office bet. Two of the strongest contenders in my opinion, Hugo and The Artist, contain that nostalgic look back at cinema's past, with the filmmakers paying homage to eras, personalities and systems that have been long gone, at a time when it was brimming with innovation and artistry. Martin Scorsese has once again shown that he's amongst the top of the game, and Hugo will be one of his iconic stamps in his decades long filmmaking career. Definitely highly recommended fare for everyone itching for an intelligent, heart-warming and entertaining adventure ride.

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