Wednesday, 28 December 2011
FILM REVIEW: HUGO
A family film directed by Martin Scorsese and shot in 3D seems as unlikely as, well, just that. But given that Hugo, based on the Brian Selznick book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and adapted by John Logan (Rango), is a love letter to early cinema and a rallying cry for its preservation - one of the passion projects of Scorsese - this latest venture by the veteran director makes perfect sense.
The character of Hugo (Asa Butterfield) wouldn't be out of place in a Dickens novel. Orphaned following the fiery death of his father, the young boy is left in the care of his alcoholic and absentee uncle, Claude (Ray Winstone), making his home within the walls of a Paris train station in 1931, and passing his time ensuring the station's clocks keep theirs.
From his hidden vantage point, Hugo observes the daily rituals of the station regulars - florist Lissette (Emily Mortimer), cafe owner Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour), and her shy suitor Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) - whilst avoiding capture by the station's inspector, Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), a Clouseau-esque cop (with shades of Chaplin and Keaton) with a Doberman, a pronounced limp and an even more pronounced mean streak.
Also working in the station is the mysterious toy shop owner, Monsieur Melies (Ben Kinglsey), or Papa Georges as he is known to his young ward, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Hugo befriends Isabelle, a girl in love with books and longing for an adventure, and enlists her in his bid to uncover the secret he believes the automaton, bequeathed to him by his father, holds.
That secret involves the true identity of Papa Georges, and this revelation in the second half of Hugo sees the film's pace pick up (the set-up takes far too long), the magic kick in, and a patient, film literate audience rewarded. A family film it may be, but Hugo will delight film buffs and cineastes more than it will children.
There are a myriad of film references throughout Hugo, as well as clips from actual early silent films, the most exhilarating of which is Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon (1902). The history lesson aspects of Hugo are elivened by these delightful snippets and Scorsese's obvious passion for the subject.
I'll readily admit I'm more a fan of Scorsese's less testosterone-fuelled films. The Age of Innocence (1993), Kundun (2007), and even The Aviator (2004) do much more for me than his most recent films, Shutter Island (2010), and, for mine the highly overrated, The Departed (2006).
And I much prefer Hugo to those latter films, too. While no masterpiece, it's lovingly crafted - Robert Richardson's cinematography and Dante Ferretti's production design are beautiful - and the 3D, while not necessarily essential, enhances far more than it detracts from the visual splendour.
But if for no other reason, Hugo succeeds for its celebration of film and the imaginative, immersive and redemptive power of cinema. A master like Scorsese knows better than to suggest that films were better 'back then', but with Hugo he reminds us of some of the simple pleasures we may have lost in this, the blockbuster age, where accountants not artists are in control, and magicians, such as Georges Melies, are few and far between.