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Typically the first thing I do when sitting down to watch a film either to review or just for my own enjoyment, is to attempt to ascertain what genre the movie falls into. This process is not so much to categorize a film in order to confine it in a restrictive box but rather as the initial step in endeavoring to understand what the filmmaker was hoping to accomplish. The elements of comedy, drama or suspense diverge sufficiently that it would be a disservice to the film’s creator to attempt to apply the characteristics pertinent to a specific typo of film improperly to another type of movie. Under normal circumstances this methodology has served me well but in the case of the motion picture under consideration here, ‘Hugo’ it fell woefully short. The reason for this is simple and itself provides insight into the movie. This approach works fine with normal films but the issue with ‘Hugo’ is it is far from a normal movie, it is an extraordinary example of the cinematic arts. Any cinemaphile would expect nothing less from a filmmaker the statue of Martin Scorsese but in this case the favorite son of the New York City film community outdid himself. He created an opus that readily establishes itself as unique among the best respected oeuvre in the annals of cinema. Some standard genres come to mind like fantasy or mystery, adventure or family film but they cannot adequately describe what kind of film ‘Hugo’ is. This film is ground breaking in every possible way from its impact on the filmmaking process to the personal style of Mr. Scorsese. The movie perfectly blends a rich and deeply emotional story with some of the exciting and innovative use of visual techniques I have ever had the privilege of watching. Over the years I have literally watch thousands of films but I have never seen anything that remotely approaches this film. It took home some five Academy Awards but the film and Scorsese was denied the top honors in part because there were nine films in contention for Best Picture but this does not infer one iota of diminished quality. This film will forever remain a masterpiece.

Hugo Cabre (Asa Butterfield) is a pre teen boy living in Paris with his widowed father (Jude Law) a clock maker in the City of Lights, Paris. The father and son have a solid, loving relationship but the one thing the boy enjoyed most was when his father took him to the moving pictures to see the works of a famous filmmaker. What fascinated Hugo about this new art form was how it made it possible to not only depict reality but in its potential to bring dreams to life. When his father dies tragically, burned alive in a fire at a nearby museum Hugo is taken in by his uncle Claude (Ray Winstone). Claude is a watchmaker suffering from alcoholism. His job was to maintain the many clocks in the cavernous railway station, Gare Montparnasse. Uncle Claude decides to teach the boy the family trade and begins to instruct him on the intricate process of caring for the wondrous clocks. Shortly after the lad gets the hang of the mechanics his uncle suddenly and mysteriously disappears. With nowhere to go Hugo takes to a covert life hiding deep within the labyrinth of passages and service corridors that run throughout the immense structure. He stays alive by stealing food from the myriad of passengers constantly passing through the busy railway station. Hugo comes upon the broken pinnacle of his father’s life’s work, an automaton. The robot is designed to write a message with a pen; Hugo becomes obsessed with reaping the mechanical man certain it contains a message from his father. His task involves replacing broken gears and mechanism that he pilfered from a toyshop owned by Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Georges confiscates the boy’s notebook detailing the plans resulting in Hugo devising a recovery mission. He is discovered by Georges and a deal is struck; the boy can earn the book back by working in the toyshop. It turns out that Georges is a filmmaker responsible for the movies he enjoyed with his father. The filmmaker uses his understanding of mechanisms to create many of the special effects he uses in his fanciful films. Hugo becomes close with Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), Georges’ granddaughter, and the two bonds over a mutual love of film. The remainder of the tale unfolds in a steady, gentle fashion that pulls you into the story enfolding you with its intricate design.

Many people have a tendency to equate the films of Martin Scorsese with hard hitting drama, emotionally intense and frequently a platform for adult themes and language. If someone stated he would create a film suitable for a family to enjoy together it would seem unlikely. The thing is Scorsese is one of the greatest directors the cinematic art has ever seen. "Hugo’ is also the first film by Scorsese to utilize the new 3D technique that is gaining popularity. The problem I have had with most 3D movies I’ve encountered is the directors just haven’t become adept at using the extra dimension. In most cases the show off with simplistic tricks to demonstrate the novelty of the format. We typically get to see cylindrical objects thrust out of the plane of the movie visually assaulting the audience. This is similar to how the early adoptees of color cinematography used garish colors the distracted from the movie. Scorsese understands how to use 3D on an infinitival level. He has always been a master of visually detailed and fascinating stylistic choices. It seems that he always thought in 3D for his films but it took all these years for the technology to finally catch up with his creativity, vision and genus. The visuals, performances and story all perfectly mesh much like the beautiful precision seen with the gears that Hugo mastered. This movie would be ground breaking even in its standard 2D format but in 3D it transcends anything you have seen before. Undoubtedly many others will follow grasping the proper way to infuse 3D into a film but we can look back to ‘Hugo’ and cite Scorsese as the trail blazer.

Shoot The Moon: The Making Of Hugo
The Cinemagician, Georges Melies
The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo
Big Effects, Small Scale
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Posted 03/01

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