Director: Martin Scorsese
“Martin Scorsese’s paean to the art of cinema is a visually ravishing and technologically breathtaking marvel.” (942, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
I think I’m in two minds about whether I like Hugo or not. I’m not overly enamored of the children who unfortunately drive the narrative. I stand by my last review (https://randomfilmmusings.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/oscars-update/) especially with a wealth of British acting talent being much underused. Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour are very much peripheral characters, who spend their days frequenting the station that sits at the heart of the film. And Jude Law is only in the film for about 15 minutes (if that!) before meeting his untimely demise at the hand of a slightly suspect fire special effect.
Despite being set in Paris there is a very English feel to the film which is due to the entire cast, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3, being British talent. As I said previously they’re all very English Parisians! Sacha Baron Cohen is very funny while having a melancholy element about him as the bumbling Station inspector, complete with a delightfully jumped up sense of importance.
The sets are exquisite with an intensely labyrinthine feel. The child in me would love to spend time exploring them all. Scorsese utilizes a red, white and blue motif through every aspect of the film from set to costumes to lighting. He also uses recurring pieces of music in the soundtrack. I just adore the bookshop. Then again I am a self-confessed book junkie and would happily spend days exploring it.
By far the most beautiful element of the films is the automaton. He is exceptionally pleasing aesthetically with an elegance to him despite being made of clockwork elements. In fact that just makes him all the more exceptional when you realize that he actually works – it’s not a computer generated image. You can really see and feel the mastery gone into creating him. And he is very much a character in his own right. In some ways he is one of the most important characters in the film as he is the key to discovering Méliès!
“[…] the real soul of the film lies in uncovering the history of the elderly shopkeeper. He is George Méliès, and Scorsese goes to painstaking lengths to re-create the world in which he forged his magical films.” (942) Which brings me nicely onto the subject of George Méliès. For starters Ben Kingsley bears a rather striking resemblance to the real man which is enhanced through the use of makeup. Now for me, as a film graduate I had knowledge of Méliès, the films he created and the mark he left on the burgeoning film industry when it was very much in its infancy, so the latter part of the film not only made sense to me but was also a delight to watch.
I loved the homage Scorsese paid to the early creators of cinema like the mention of the Lumiere Brothers. And the archive footage of the groundbreaking work emerging during that period is seamlessly slotted into the narrative. However having said this I think a lot of the references would be lost on people with no knowledge of the history of film. I was trying to explain to my mum who confessed that I had lost her when I started talking about Méliès and arguably his most famous film Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902 – the first film in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
“His passion, wit, and mastery of the medium mirror the talents of Scorsese, who has created a heartfelt manifesto for preserving cinema’s rich past.” (942) My opinion of the film is improving with each viewing however I can easily say that I much prefer the second half of it which I find moving an endearing. I think however that Scorsese is much better suited to films aimed at more adult audiences, though for his first foray into a family film Hugo is definitely nothing to be sniffed at.