Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review - Hugo

A lonely orphan who winds the clocks from within the walls of a Parisian train station attempts to decipher the mystery of a mechanical man in Hugo, Martin Scorsese's courageous foray into 3D family entertainment.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), for that is his name, used to love fixing things with his clockmaker father before his untimely death. A rusty old automaton designed to write on paper is all he has to member his dad, and repairing the robot has become a project on which the boy has become dependent. He often pilfers parts from a sad old toymaker, Papa George (Ben Kingsley), who seems somehow connected to the machine, but reluctant to divulge. Hugo finds an ally in the toymaker's goddaughter (Chloe Moretz), an avid reader who yearns for adventure beyond her leather-bound tomes. Together, they attempt to discover the secret concealed within the automaton's intricate clockwork and seek a window into Papa George's past.

One might have hoped that in his inherent endeavors to fix things, little Hugo might have tried his hand at fixing John Logan's screenplay. The first three quarters of the film swing inconsistently between courageously misfiring and just falling flat, while much of the subtext is compromised by being explicitly stated in the dialogue – seriously, why even include subtext if you're just going to have your characters spell it out for the audience? The resulting product is a muddled assemblage of subplots that are emotionally distancing and hard to get into. Even if the clockwork of the script could have been wound a little tighter, I can't imagine that newcomer Asa Butterfield would have been able to carry it any better. His performance is a rather thin one.

But beneath all its functional foibles you can detect a great deal of passion turning to cogs of Hugo. The same passion for film that drove a young George Melies has also been driving Scorsese through his storied career, and anyone who harbours a love for the art form will no doubt respond to that. This is probably the most self-reflective piece of Scorsese's career, a loving ode not merely to classic cinema, but even more so to its preservation, for which he has been a lifelong advocate. This especially comes to the fore in the marvelous third act, sending the movie off on a strong note.

It also cannot be understated that Hugo is a thing of beauty. Dante Ferreti's stunning recreation of 1930s Paris is likely to bring him and set decorator Francesca Lo Shiavo their third Oscars. Sandy Powell's distinctive costumes and Robert Richardson's fluent photography are also headed for awards attention. These astonishing visual crafts manage to amaze in spite of the superfluous – sometimes distracting – 3D. Aurally, the sound effects of the films many metallic mechanisms are well realized, and Howard Shore's lovely score, though a tad overused, adds a warm Parisian flavour to the mix.

*** out of ****

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