There’s not a living filmmaker in the world as forward thinking as Martin Scorsese. He’s a man who has not only pushed his own boundaries for many years, experimenting with every genre under the sun, but has also drove the entire medium forward with his work.
Once again, the legendary director of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver makes us re-think the way we view cinema with his 3D children’s adventure film Hugo.
Set in 1930s Paris, it tells the story of a young orphan, Hugo, whose only home exists in the walls of a train station. Lonely and desperate to bring his father back into his life, he attempts to fix a machine that the pair worked on together prior to his death by stealing parts from an aging craftsman Georges.
One day, an unsuspecting encounter with the craftsman’s bright young daughter Isabel gives him the key to fixing the machine and Hugo discovers that Georges was one of the pioneers of filmmaking that he and his father truly admired.
The film, therefore, plays like a love-letter about the beauty that exists in filmmaking sent by Scorsese to a new generation of cinemagoers. It attempts to enlighten its young audience to the history of cinema through the story of Georges (Ben Kingsley at his best) who saw the first film ever made – a train coming into a station that was directed by the Lumiere Brothers – and was inspired to create his own.
It also attempts to celebrate the beauty of this era with the Oscar winning director packing the film with loving homages to the silent films of the 20s and early 30s, whether it’s the Under The Roofs Of Paris inspired location or the image of Hugo hanging onto the arm of a clock like in Safety Last.
The character of Hugo, furthermore, is one that reflects Scorsese himself and is one his most personal creations to date. Like himself, Hugo fell in love with cinema through his father who introduced him to the beauty of the medium and how it can project your dreams and fantasies onto the big screen.
Paying such a loving tribute to a form of storytelling that was radical, innovative and new, it only seems fitting that Scorsese makes this film in 3D. He wisely sees the connection between the aforementioned film of a train coming into the station – one that saw patrons dive for cover when it was first screened in the late 1800s – and this new form of cinema that allows, quite literally, for trains to come out of the screen in Hugo.
While the tool has left fans of cinema skeptical in the past – not least myself – Hugo demonstrates the potential that 3D actually has. Scorsese is clearly a man who ‘gets’ what it takes to make a 3D film work unlike people like Michael Bay who simply use it to wring a few extra quid out of your back pockets. He puts love and care into every frame to make sure it enhances both the story and the visuals and, as a result, makes the movie a stunning experience to behold.
As Hugo unlocks this mystery of the machine alongside Isabel, they discover that Georges – who is based on the real-life director Georges Melies – is tortured by his memories of this time of his life. As people returned from World War I having seen the horrors of reality they no longer wanted his fantasy films anymore and so the films were burned and dissolved destroying his life work.
Hugo, consequently, is something of a public service announcement about the significance of film restoration; something the director is extremely passionate about having repaired classic, almost lost movies like The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom for DVD release.
As a result of all the above, Hugo has the potential to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, however, it falls short of its mark on a number of areas that sadly hinders its success.
This opening act of the narrative, which is excruciatingly slow, is made up of miniature adventures for the character that, though they pave the way for what is to come, don’t add to the story as a whole. It also suffers from being flimsy as the focus cuts away from Hugo’s adventure to some comedic supporting characters in an attempt to inject some fun and humour for children.
And this, therefore, leads me onto its most alarming failure: Despite its worthy attempts, kids will loathe it. Though its intended mostly for a young audience, it lacks a sense of the magical, the exciting and the fantastic to really sweep them away on this adventure in the same way that our young hero is.
Still, Hugo is nonetheless another excellent piece of cinema from Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s most personal endeavor to date, it’s a fresh yet nostalgic ride through cinematic history.