This post is the unedited copy of review published in our column “Animadversion”, Images on Sunday (Dawn Newspaper), on 8th January 2012. The published link, and the hardcopy edition, is at the end of this post.
Scorsese, Dickensian in a 3D World
By Farheen Jawaid
Hugo, a first venture for Martin Scorsese in the land of 3D is also his first family fare. But it turns out to be more than just those two things – especially when it turns out to be about what he loves the most: the film industry. Even with all of its shortcoming and sluggishness, you can’t help but get embraced by it.
Hugo starts in a beautiful 3D shot sweeping shot over early 1900 Paris and closes in on a grand train station. With haste and fervor the camera goes through the station midst curling smoke and people, resting focus on a large clock, where we see a child’s face looking into an adult’s world. That boy is our protagonist Hugo. He’s a Dickensian soul in an abstract world.
Hugo is an orphaned boy stuck in the train station as the caretaker of clocks. His uncle, who disappears early in film, was the original clock-keeper who took him in after the death of his father (Jude Law). So Hugo takes care of the clocks, feeds on tidbits from tables, while secreting himself from Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) – the local cop who routinely nabs orphans and ships them off to orphanages.
Hugo also has an ulterior motive: to collect items to fix the Automaton his father was working on. His search for parts leads him to a toyshop and its owner Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley shining in a very sublime performance), and his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).
The original picture book/graphic novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, which Hugo is adapted from, weaves a tale custom-made for Scorsese. It combines his love for cinema and his pet project of saving old films. After a disconnecting first half, the second half of the movie engrosses itself with Georges Melies, and that’s when it comes into its own self.
Scripted by John Logan, Melies story is kept closely with the book. A lot of Melies’ facts are preserved: as a silent movies genius, Melies was the pioneer of stop motion and fade-techniques in film; he did a run a toyshop after he was bankrupt; his film reels were burned and made into shoe heels, and he too tried his hand in Automaton.
Scorsese’s love with film history doesn’t end there. He even shows old film history in all its 3D glory, especially the Lumière brothers “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station” (1896), and George Melies “A Trip to the Moon” (1902); As if still under magic, Scorsese takes us in tow with Melies as he’s filming the imaginative with simple old-school techniques.
Hugo works in turn-around. The first half, focusing on a stowaway boy scrambling to uncover the secrets of the Automation, is weary of wonderment (even though, Scorsese milks 3D for all its perspective-shifting worth); However, the second half more than makes up for it. One actually feel’s Scorsese’s giddy school-boy like joy spreading like wildfire in the film.
The published version is at:
The printed version looks like this: