Then, last night, seeing as we had the 3-D glasses, we went to Hugo, Martin Scorcese's adaptation of the book The Inventions of Hugo. Like Tintin, it is largely computer generated, and it is set in Paris, but there the comparison ends. This might be based on a children's book but it is anything but a children's film. It is a demanding work of art, which, like all great art, requires the engagement of the viewer's emotional, intellectual and aesthetic capacities. The story is about a young orphan boy living in a strange world built inside the walls of a Paris railway station. It is a beautiful film in every sense of the word and I found it profoundly stimulating and moving. There is a superb cast, and the acting is as good as you will ever see: look, for example, at the pathos and vulnerability Sacha Baron Cohen brings to the character of the villainous station inspector; or, the reaction shots of Asa Butterfield in the title role in the last minutes of the film. How does a child portray such subtle and complex emotions with such precision and skill? By being directed by a genius, that's how.
For this is a work of one of the greats of the modern cinema, who, through the application of modern technology, is able to surpass limits and make precisely the film he wanted to. It's a much overused word, but I suspect this film may well prove to be Scorcese's masterpiece. Part of the film is about the changes wrought by a new art form, the movies, and here Scorcese has used a new development in the art form, 3-D, not just to enhance the sort of films he has made before, but to move the medium in a whole new direction.
It is a film about
- Loneliness and the transforming power of love. Every single one of the characters we encounter in the film is lonely; each in their own way isolated by events outside of their control. Each ends the film transformed by giving and/or receiving love
-The movies. This is a loving tribute by Scorcese to the art form he has given his life to. Embedded within it is a small potted history of the invention of cinema and a biopic of Georges Melie, pioneer filmmaker and the father of special effects. There are tributes too numerous to mention to classic silent films.
-Our relationship to machinery and the idea of the universe as a machine.
-Dreams and their ability to transform us and the world we live in
Hugo has a dreamlike quality to it, and it is laden with imagery and allegory, some of it screaming for attention, some of it subtle, all of it intelligently and masterfully done. f'rinstance: trains are a recurring theme. They are huge and powerful and move us from place to place, and are thus are symbols of the great forces which animate our lives. There is also the historical fact that the first movie ever made was of a train, so trains and dreams of trains and the fact that the movie is set in a station all saturate the film. Machinery, and more specifically clocks are another symbol. There is a breathtaking opening tracking shot, an amazing implementation of 3-D and utterly impossible without CG, down along the railway platform and up to the station clock, where Hugo's eye is peeping out from behind the numbers. So, we have this clock face: a face which everyone in the station looks at, but no-one sees the face behind the face looking back, appraisingly, at them. At the heart of the film is an automaton; a mechanical man who is only activated by a heart shaped key: an icon of the whole film, really.
This is not just a good film; I think history will show that it is a great film. Certainly I shall see it again, if only to catch up on the thousand details I must have missed. Sure it will be out on DVD before too long, but really, unless you have a very big screen at home with the ability to show 3-D, this is one you should only ever see from a big cinema seat with a decent coffee to hand and a pair of ridiculous spectacles perched on your nose.