[FILM: Review] Hugo 3D
Opens January 12
Cinema has been the consuming passion of Martin Scorsese’s life. Additional to his 40-year career as New Hollywood’s laureate of blinding masculine wrath, he’s the founder of dual nonprofit bodies—The Film and World Cinema Foundations—which are expressly committed to the preservation of films both classic and long-neglected. It’s surprising, then, that Hugo should be the first of his non-documentary features to make cinema a vital part of its story. Indeed, the film is something of an exercise in firsts for its veteran director: not only is this also Scorsese’s inaugural family film, but it’s his first use of 3D.
Set in a storybook Paris circa 1931, Hugo commences with a swoop into the grand Gare Montparnasse railway terminal, surrogate home of the young urchin of the title (Asa Butterfield). When he’s not busy maintaining the station’s many clocks or eluding its fascistic/lovesick Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo diligently toils on a secret project: restoring the mysterious automaton his father (Jude Law) salvaged from a pile of museum detritus prior to his untimely death. Lonesome and beleaguered, Hugo invests all of his hopes in the small mechanical man, believing he holds within his faulty cogs and rotors a crucial valediction from his late, beloved dad. The little robot, you see, is equipped with a pen, and seems to be poised as if ready to write…
How Hugo crafts from the raw materials of a thousand faceless kids’ films (orphans! comedy dogs! musty old bookstores! Richard Griffiths!) an intensely stirring celebration of cinema is just one of its many delights. It’s little wonder its source – Brian Selznick’s gorgeous children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret – struck a chord with Scorsese: it offers no less than a potted history of cinema’s Francocentric nascence. Of particular importance to its central mystery is the Parisian stage illusionist-cum-early cinematic genius, Georges MОliПs, maker of the legendary Voyage To The Moon.
Shooting in 3D, Scorsese revels in remounting the fantastical pageantry that MОliПs made his exclusive preserve through his bite-sized masterpieces, which visualised what were, for their time, otherworldly environs to rival both Wonderland and the imaginings of Jules Verne, from the ocean floor to the distant lunar surface. Hugo brings the noble tradition of “movie magic” full circle; ultramodern technical wizardry is used to rejuvenate these vital innovations of a bygone day for contemporary audiences who might be ignorant of their existence, let alone their significance. In this sense, Hugo might be the most significant act of film preservation Scorsese will ever commit.