Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hugo Review

By Francisco Salazar

For the past decade Martin Scorsese has committed himself to exploring new subject matter and experimenting in his craft of filmmaking. He has taken on what many call a “muse” in this respect with Leonardo Dicaprio on four of his past five. However during these films many have argued that Scorsese has lost his touch. In 2002 he delved into the history of the USA with an overlong epic “Gangs of New York. Two years later he attempted the Biopic with a technically masterful yet messy “The Aviator.” In 2006 Scorsese was rewarded with an Oscar for his thrilling “The Departed. Finally in 2010 he attempted a horror style movie in what many called his most uncontrolled and experimental film. The results were wonderful at the box office but the critical reception was mixed. In 2011, Martin Scorsese delved into the children’s movie. It is hard to see how Scorsese fits into this genre considering the types of films one is used to seeing from him. However Hugo is not only technically perfect, but also a compelling and thrilling movie that appeals for children and adults alike.

Hugo tells the story of a young Orphan, Hugo Cabret (Played by Asa Butterfield) who lives between the walls of the train station setting the clocks for the station. He is in the process of fixing an automaton that his father (played by Jude Law) left him convinced that the automaton has message from his father. In order to fix it he steals parts from a local toy shop owned by papa Georges (played by a magnificent Ben Kingsley). However Hugo eventually gets caught stealing and is forced to give up his blueprint. This is when we meet his side kick, Isabelle (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) Georges goddaughter, who promises to help Hugo recover his manuscript. Through the relationship they development Hugo finds the missing part,  a heart–shaped key. Once the automaton is fixed, Hugo unlocks the mystery behind this automaton.
In addition to the plot line Scorsese adds vignettes to nuance his film. Gustav (Sascha Baron Cohen), the villainous inspector, is in love with the local flower girl played (Emily Mortimer), but his attempts are constantly foiled by the insecurity that he suffers over a leg injury. Another one of these side stories is the love story between the newspaper seller, Monseiur Frick and the owner of the cafĂ©, Madame Emile played by Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths.  Their relationship is built around Monseiur Frick attempting to get close to Madame Emile but failing due to her overprotective dog. 
These vignettes add charm, excitement and life to the world of the train station. The train station is not only a place of departing and arriving; it represents the life of these characters and in some respect represents the film's central hub: Paris.
Despite the fact that it caters to children, the film centers on multiple characters' existential plights.  From the opening shot in which we see a clock dissolve into the city of Paris, emphasizing the world as one massive clock and every piece serving a specific function. Hugo and George Melies experience these searches throughout the film. However, the world of film and film history in general is possibly the main idea/topic whose existence is brought into question throughout the film. 

Scorsese has long campaigned to preserve film and this film is an advocate of that purpose, but also an homage to the silent film. Rene Tabard, a film historian represents Scorsese’s cause as a historian trying to preserve all of Melies' work.  He preserves what many believe to be the only Melies film left and many of his iconic props. He is the writer of the history of the silent film. Through a montage in the film, Scorsese speaks through Tabard's book and depicts the history of cinema from the Lumiere brothers to the great George Melies.  Scorsese also references historical events such as the Gare Montparnasse railway derailment depicted in Hugo’s dream sequence. The automaton is a reference to the famous Jaquet Droz Automata, the writer and the draughtsman.
 Hugo’s story is not only enhanced by the incredible cast but also from its impeccable technical achievements. Dante Ferretti’s colorful and intricate sets add a fantastical tone to the film and are well matched with Sandy Powell’s detailed period costumes. Robert Richardson’s fantastic cinematography is as complex as the complicated clockwork of the film's world. One of the most striking shots occurs at the beginning as Hugo is running from Gustav. He runs through the inside walls of a clock and Richardson follows him weaving in and out of machinery, all in one take.

Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing makes the film run at a good pace. Finally Howard Shore has composed one of the best scores of his career. Combining minimalist orchestration, harps, accordion for Parisian flavor, and a string quartet to add to the romanticism of the piece, Shore's score transports its audience to the world of dreams while also maintaining of sense of grounding and realism.  
It is hard to fault this film as it is so full of emotion and character while being a marvel to look at. Anyone that says that Martin Scorsese has lost his touch, needs to watch Hugo. In this film, the revered filmmaker has forged a new  path that he should embrace moving forward as an artist. 

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