starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz
screenplay by John Logan, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
directed by Martin Scorsese
by Walter Chaw Channelling Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Robert Zemeckis to numbing effect, the once-vital Martin Scorsese follows his elderly Shutter Island with the honest-to-God borderline-demented Hugo, in which the titular French urchin helps Georges Méliès reclaim his cinematic legacy. It's a shrine to the birth of cinema, blah blah blah, the kind of thing someone as involved as Scorsese has been in film preservation was destined to make, I guess, at least at the exact moment that the ratio of working brain cells gave over the majority. It's heartbreaking to see someone as vital as Scorsese used to be end up in a place as sentimental and treacly as this, resorting to retelling the Pinocchio story with little Hugo (Asa Butterfield) as a clock-fixer (really) whose life's mission is to repair an automaton his dead dad (Jude Law) found in a museum attic--and who dreams one night that...wait for it...he himself is the hollow, broken automaton. I wish I didn't have to go on. Did I mention that it's in 3D? And that it's two-and-a-half hours long but feels like a slow seven or eight? Seriously, Shoah is a breezier watch.
There's also an evil gendarme (Sacha Baron Cohen) with a squeaky leg brace and a shaky accent who loves a flower vendor (Emily Mortimer, who looks sad and maternal all the time now), and a Monsieur Freck (Mr. Dursley) who loves a Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour), probably because he senses they're both in the wrong movie. There's a stern librarian (Christopher Lee) who likes to give orphaned books to loving homes, and an eager-beaver young film professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) very surprised to learn that his hero Méliès is still alive and kicking. Along the way, absolutely nothing happens for extended periods of stultifying downtime as Hugo cleverly evades capture, moistens his giant anime eyes, and gets blown off the screen by Isabelle in full cartoon Madeliene acculturation. Hugo is what an old person thinks is delightful for children, never suspecting that his intended audience can spot "nutritious" a mile away. It's that plate of mints your weird old spinster aunt keeps on her doily'd piano. And while we're talking about it, I never again in my life want to see Sir Ben Kingsley in anything. Ever. The only real audience for Hugo is people who think of themselves as cinephiles but don't mourn that the man who used to make Taxi Driver and Raging Bull is now making The Polar Express for pretentious wanks and poseurs. Originally published: November 23, 2011.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Paramount brings Hugo to Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, and this is one of those rare cases where I wish I was auditing the latter. Nevertheless, I did screen Hugo theatrically in 3D, so I appreciated this opportunity to see the film with new eyes. While I won't go so far as to proclaim the movie's no different without that third dimension (as some contrarians have been tweeting), it's frankly not as dramatic a downgrade as, say, Echo Bridge's recent reduction of From Dusk Till Dawn's awesome 5.1 soundmix to 2.0. It helps that Hugo's 1.78:1, 1080p transfer has such articulate detail and contrast, giving the image a genuine sense of depth. Unfortunately, all the dust motes--a simple but reliably-effective 3D flourish, much like the snowflakes in The Polar Express--get a little overbearing in 2D, and the film's palette--meant, I think, to evoke two-strip Technicolor, if not the pastel colours of hand-tinted silents--ultimately hews too closely to the contemporary cliché of teal-and-orange. Shot with the Arri Alexa, this paean to celluloid was ironically Martin Scorsese's first digital narrative feature, and as expected this HD presentation is grain-free, albeit filmic. The occasional harsh-sounding line of dialogue barked by Borat or Gandhi notwithstanding, the attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is excellent, rendering what is for Scorsese an unusually rollicking mix with an immersiveness to compensate for the 2D video.
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