Friday, 20 January 2012

Film Review: "Hugo" (2011)

"This might be an adventure, and I've never had one before - outside of books, at least." This is exactly what Hugo brings to the screen as it brings to the classic children’s book to miraculous life. This 3D adventure drama film directed by legendary director Martin Scorsese, based on Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The film is about a boy who lives alone in a Paris railway station and the enigmatic owner of a toy shop there.

GK Films acquired the screen rights to The Invention of Hugo Cabret shortly after the book was published in 2007. Initially, Chris Wedge (Ice Age (2002)) was signed in to direct the adaptation and John Logan was contracted to write the screenplay. The film was initially titled Hugo Cabret. Several actors were cast, including Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths. Hugo was originally budgeted at $100 million but due to overruns, the final budget was estimated to be between $156 million and $170 million. Filming began in London on June 29th 2010 and then moved to Paris for two weeks. Hugo is Scorsese's first film shot in 3D, of which the filmmaker remarked: "I found 3D to be really interesting, because the actors were more upfront emotionally. Their slightest move, their slightest intention is picked up much more precisely." The book was written and illustrated by Selznick himself. The book is filled with 284 pictures between the book's 533 pages, the book depends equally on its pictures as it does the actual words. Selznick himself has described the book as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things." And Scorsese, with the 3D technology, does exactly this and more. The 3D helps in deepening the film's sense of places and events. The film puts 3D in the hands of a worldclass film artist. Scorsese uses 3D with the delicacy and lyricism of a poet. You don't just watch this movie, you live it.

The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, and Jude Law. The cast gave amazing performances, filled with fantastical delight and wonder. Butterfield and Moretz both captured the essence of child-like curiousity, wonder and an apetite for adventure. But probably the best performance to rival the film’s child leads is none other than Georges Méliès himself – Sir Ben Kingsley. His performance was magnificent. Forever will the image of Kingsley playing the French pioneer will be embedded into my brain whenever I think of the real life figure.

Just as The Prestige (2006) explored the historical figure, Nikola Tesla, Hugo in turn explored a historical figure, the turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker - Georges Méliès, Méliès was a French illusionist turned filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. Méliès, a prolific innovator in the use of special effects, accidentally discovered the substitution stop trick in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his work. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the first "Cinemagician". Two of his most well-known films are A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune (1902)) and The Impossible Voyage (Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904)). Both stories involve strange, surreal voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy. Méliès was also an early pioneer of horror cinema, which can be traced back to his The Haunted Castle (Le Manoir du diable (1896)). Méliès died of cancer on January 21st, 1938 — just hours after the passing of Émile Cohl, another great French film pioneer. Before he died, he showed his friends one of his last drawings of a champagne bottle with the cork popped and bubbling over. He then told them: "Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams." He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The book’s primary inspiration is the true story of the turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker, his surviving films, and his collection of mechanical, wind-up figures called automata. Selznick decided to add automata to the storyline after reading Edison's Eve by Gaby Wood, which tells the story of Edison's attempt to create a talking wind up doll. Méliès actually had a set of automata, which were either sold or lost. At the end of his life Méliès was broke, even as his films were screening widely in the United States. He did work in a toy booth in a Paris railway station, hence the setting. Selznick drew Méliès's real door in the book.

While certainly ambitious—and every bit as visually dazzling as one might expect—unlike most 3D movies which emphasizes visual splendor at the expense of its source material's vibrant heart. Scorsese’s Hugo however emphasizes both visual splendor as well as the material’s vibrant heart in sync like clockwork. Scorsese is exactly the right person to adapt such a delicately rendered story, and his 3D feature plays like the amazing drawings and images from the mind of Méliès’s imagination, coming to life before our eyes. The film was a lot of fun and less a conventional movie adaptation than a magical, imaginative, vividly lavish theatrical celebration of the emotional and adventurous material that Selznick brought to our bookshelves with an almost child-like sense of wonder. Magnificent is the only word to describe Kingsley’s performance — one of the best movies by Scorsese so far, magical in its charm and connections, the film reveals nothing more than an epic yet intimate love letter to cinema. To conclude, it is a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery and one of the best films of 2011.

Simon says Hugo receives:

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