Dave White
Hugo Review

Dave's Rating:


Shell out for the glasses.

Nobody's forcing you to go see a 3D movie. You make that decision on your own. You decide if you want to take the chance that it'll all look like a blurry clump of sparkling trash, like Clash of the Titans, or if it'll transport you to another world, like Avatar. And I'm paraphrasing the film critic Luke Thompson here, but the few hundred people in the world who watch movies for a living are the only ones alive who are literally forced to go see every single theatrically released 3D film, so if you never trust us for any other advice, take our word for it on this one. In 2011 alone the number of films produced using this "advancement" numbers approximately 40. And that's fine when it's Piranha 3D or A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, where the process is playful and idiotic and treated like the gimmick it usually is. But when it's Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs Evil or Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, you mostly just wind up thinking about the possibility of contracting bacterial conjunctivitis from the glasses.

All of that to say that Hugo is this year's Avatar. It's a 3D film that injects the technology with a blast of soul, imagination and visual excitement. It's the one narrative live-action movie of the year that you pretty much have to see in 3D if you plan to see it at all.

Thank Martin Scorsese for that. In adapting the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the screen, the story of an orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of a 1930s Paris train station, a movie-obsessed child who's equally obsessed with keeping the station's giant clocks running and with fixing a broken automaton left behind by his deceased father, Scorsese is telling the story of his own childhood love of movies and need for connection to the world through them. This personalization is also where the movie stumbles, as it overemphasizes the idea of movies as magical and dreamlike. The characters state and restate this position over and over until you want a post-World War II Italian Neo-Realist to travel backwards in a time machine and duct tape their mouths shut.

Meanwhile, it comes crazily alive when it's showing you how magical and dreamlike movies can be. The 3D dives and soars and sweeps you into space, blowing up childhood anxiety, nightmares (one of which involves Hugo and his little automaton friend as nothing less than a pair of mismatched Pinocchios, two halves of one entity trying to create wholeness), the overwhelming large-ness of the rest of the world, adult imposition, the wonder of early film experiments by pioneers like the Lumiere brothers and the plain old awesome steampunk spectacle of giant clock mechanisms rotating and spinning straight into your face.

And because the plot further involves the sad spectacle of Hugo's unwitting connection to film pioneers like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), a man involved in a fictionalized but also realistic loss of his own life's work, it's a way for Scorsese to bang the drum for his personal passion for film preservation. It's also a brilliantly sneaky way for him to convince you to watch the documentaries he makes. That's right, he makes documentaries. Perhaps you remember not seeing them. And that's your fault, not his. Never enjoyed his four-hour revel in Italian cinema called My Voyage to Italy or his four-hour documentary on American cinema called A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies? Why not? Both of them will make you excited to go back and watch every single movie he raves about for all 480+ minutes. This is a fact. You want Martin Scorsese as your film studies teacher. He won't steer you wrong. As long as he shuts up about the "dreams," already.


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