Martin Scorsese’s first foray into 3-D movies is a splendid love-letter to film making. In Hugo, Scorsese tells the story of a young boy, Hugo (an intense and natural Asa Butterfield (expect more from him)), who, along with the precocious Isabelle (a delightfully enchanting Chloe Grace Moretz), uncovers the truth about a legendary filmmaker. A passionate and voracious fan of the art form, Scorsese takes us inside the film making process, all while following Hugo on his journey to discover his purpose.
The story, written by John Logan (Red) and based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is sweet and well acted by the young stars, as well as the more veteran supporting players. Sir Ben Kingsley is Georges Melies, an old man who’s lost his spark (Georges and his wife, Jeanne (Helen McCrory), are Isabelle’s god parents); Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious as a security guard with a bum leg, and who has a thing for the flower girl, played by Emily Mortimer; Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour appear as regulars in the train station in which much of the film takes place; Christopher Lee is a bookshop proprietor; Jude Law appears briefly but powerfully as Hugo’s father; and the terrific Michael Stuhlbarg (lately of Boardwalk Empire but also riveting in A Serious Man) plays a pivotal role as a film historian.
But the star of the film is, of course, Scorsese’s direction and use of 3-D. This is not the 3-D I grew up with. I remember going to Epcot as a youngster and seeing some 3-D short film that included Michael Jackson and an owl. Back then, it was all about making it seem like objects were hurtling toward you. But that’s not what this 3-D is about. This 3-D is about making what’s on the screen feel like it’s on a stage, like you could reach out and wrap your arm around everything. And it’s about seeing every detail, bringing each element - whether it’s steam, a banister or a person - to life. You feel immersed in the story rather than just engrossed.
I had a thought while watching the film: Hugo is to film making what War Horse is to theatre and stagecraft. Hugo and War Horse make you fall in love with their respective art forms all over again by showing you the glorious possibilities and magic of film making and stagecraft when virtuosos are at the helm. Indeed, toward the end of the film, Kingsley entreats us: “Come dream with me.” With Martin Scorsese opening up the art of film making, you can’t wait to oblige.
(Visit Hugo’s IMDB page to view the full list of the myriad designers, technicians and other crew members who worked on this film.)