With his newest release, Hugo, Martin Scorsese shows once again that he isn't afraid to wear his cinematic influences on his sleeve like a badge of honor. The question on many minds, with the legendary director tackling both a children's film and 3-D for the first time in his career simultaneously, is if he is up for the challenge.
As with most things in life, it's not a simple answer of yes or no. In adapting Brian Selznick's award-winning novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Scorsese (Taxi Driver) has found a modern piece of family-friendly literature that is deserving of his time. Unfortunately, by ushering such a dry tale to the screen, Scorsese has probably shut the door on this chapter of his career before it ever began.
Hugo is the story of a young orphan living among the denizens of a train station in Paris. Unnoticed inside the walls of the station, the titular character steals for survival, attempting to stay one step ahead of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). The only reminder that Hugo has of his father (Jude Law) is a broken automaton that they were attempting to fix before his untimely death. One day Hugo is caught stealing spare parts from a toy maker's (Ben Kingsley) booth, and his adventure begins.
Or so the promotional ads would have you believe. Walking out of Hugo, I couldn't help but wonder why this film is being pushed as a kid's flick. First of all, it's over two hours long. Unless the words "Star Wars" are somewhere in the title, good luck getting a child to sit still in a theater for anything over 80 minutes. Secondly, remember I mentioned that the story is a little dry? I had cotton mouth walking out of the theater. To the majority of the audience, two hours of a kid working on clocks might as well be two hours of Hugo cleaning his room.
Then we get to the real troubling part for me. Scorsese seems to make no attempt at hiding or disguising the films that he liberally "borrows" from during this film. The art direction and set design owe huge debts of gratitude to The City of Lost Children. And at times it seems that Hugo is an homage to Cinema Paradiso. Some scenes even appear to be exact copies. I'm sure Scorsese meant them as a tribute, but they struck me as lazy.
On the other hand, this movie has the finest use of 3D that I have seen since Avatar was originally released. Scorsese uses the technology in unique ways that, frankly, put other directors to shame. Little things, like the way an actor bends ever-so-slightly during a scene, become spectacles that make you feel you are watching something very special.
Yet as much as it pains me, I can't recommend Hugo to children or adults. Perhaps if the film had made one last journey through the editing process something entertaining could have been salvaged, but we'll never know. What we are left with, unfortunately, is Scorsese's most disappointing release in at least 30 years.
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