Scorsese's 'Hugo' dazzles in 3-D
Having been revered as a master for decades and functioning at the top of his game as he approaches 70, Martin Scorsese would seem to have nothing else to prove. So it’s thrilling to see him make a bold, creative leap with “Hugo,” which is not only an unusual family film from him but also his first movie in 3-D.
Scorsese doesn’t just tinker with this new-fangled technology, he embraces it fully. This is the most dazzling use of 3-D yet — more so than the vaunted “Avatar.” Scorsese has completely realized the production with a third dimension in mind and maximized it for its immersive qualities, a joy to behold at a time when so many films are shot in 2-D and shoddily converted to 3-D after the fact. All the flawless production values you’d expect from a Scorsese film are in place, with the director reuniting with so many members of the creative team with which he’s worked over the years, including editor Thelma Schoonmaker and production designer Dante Ferretti.
It’s also awe-inspiring to consider that he has conveyed the importance of film preservation — a cause that’s close to his heart — but done so in forward-thinking fashion, in the highest of high-tech ways. It takes a little while for the narrative to find its way in, though; the first half of John Logan’s script feels like it meanders a bit as it establishes all its figures and lays out all its puzzle pieces.
Based on the Brian Selznick children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” ‘‘Hugo” takes place at a train station in 1930s Paris, where the title character, a wide-eyed orphan played by Asa Butterfield, secretly lives in the walls and keeps all the clocks running on time. In a lengthy, beautifully fluid opening sequence reminiscent of his famous restaurant-entry tracking shot in “Goodfellas,” Scorsese swoops through the hustle and bustle of the crowded station before soaring up and into a clock perched high above the action to reveal the boy’s presence. He also pays detailed attention to the various grinding gears and hidden hallways that keep this cavernous place in constant motion.
Hugo is fascinated by machinery, a hobby he shared with his late father, played in flashbacks by Jude Law. The one item that still connects him with his beloved dad is a shiny metallic automaton the two were fixing together. As it turns out, this machine may also connect him with the mean old man who works at the train station toy shop, played with gruffness and grace — and a secret — by Ben Kingsley.
The boy gets some help in solving this mystery from the toy store owner’s inquisitive goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, who radiates vitality and does an impressive British accent). The two spend a lot of time snooping around, dreaming and trying to escape the clutches of the dastardly police inspector. He’s played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who injects great comic relief but whose presence also feels a bit off.
Eventually, though, as “Hugo” morphs from a children’s adventure into a (slightly repetitive and overlong) lesson in classic silent cinema, it finds its footing. Perhaps that’s because it is a topic about which Scorsese himself is so passionate. You don’t have to know who Georges Melies was or even be familiar with his famous 1902 sci-fi short “A Trip to the Moon,” even though it provides a crucial plot point. You may recognize Harold Lloyd perilously dangling from the hands of a clock off the top of a building, but you don’t have to know that he does so in a scene from 1923’s “Safety Last!”
Such moments are germane to the movie’s abundant love of the power of film; being a hardcore cinephile (like Scorsese) might add a layer of enjoyment, but it certainly isn’t a prerequisite for walking in the door. A sense of wonder, however, is.
“Hugo,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking. Running time: 127 minutes. Three stars out of four.