Martin Scorcese is a filmmaker renowned for knuckle biting thrillers and intense adult themed films. Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York and The Departed (which he won an Oscar for) are good examples, yet his latest film; Hugo, is catered towards a very different market. Hugo is a film about young Hugo Cabret (Played by Asa Butterfield from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) an orphan boy who lives inside the walls of a Paris railway station and keeps all the clocks wound up.
A couple of years ago, when The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was released, I claimed that we’d be seeing bright and wonderful things from this boy in the future. It seems that Martin Scorcese had a similar idea, unfortunately that gamble doesn’t really pay off here. Although Butterfield tries admirably as a leading boy, he never seems quite “big” enough to hold the entire film on his shoulders which is the greatest shame of the film. When other actors like Sir Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee or Jude Law are the centre of attention, then the film is somewhat different; Butterfield is a bystander whilst these great actors do what they do best but never really seems able to bring enough to the table himself to make you fully invest in him.
Chloe Moretz is somewhat better than him as his co-star and friend. She helps him try and repair an automaton which his father left for him, yet even she, who was so excellent in Kick Ass, seems slightly stilted and a little wooden as Butterfield’s companion.
Despite the weaknesses in the acting department, the most significant problems in the film lie almost entirely in the look of the film. As the first 3D film to be directed by an auteur, (other than Avatar) this is seen by many as an important film to decide whether or not 3D is around to stay. If this is the future of film, then I have to say that I will love film far far less then I do at the moment. As a turning point for 3D cinema, this shows us exactly what 3D is good for; distraction. In films which have weak acting, or sub-standard plots, 3D is the best tool for the filmmakers to still get people’s bums in seats. Take Avatar for example, yes it was groundbreaking in its implementation of 3D in a wide-release film, but the acting and the story were nothing to write home about.
The same can also be said here, although it is somewhat entertaining to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s head leering out of the screen at us, the extra extravagance is unnecessary and perfunctory. Why couldn’t the untold millions spent on 3D technology simply be spent on tightening the baggy script? Or on helping the young actors in their difficult task of holding the emotional heft of the film?
I can see why Scorcese wanted to try 3D out, some of the effects are 10 times better than those used in other 3D blockbusters, but they still seem like parlour tricks used to take us out of rather than immerse us in the film. The problem isn’t just in these bombastic shots cycling through crowds, but in the normal scenes where 3D is used to add “depth”. The whole enjoyment of being at the cinema is seeing a huge screen, being able to take in the minutiae, the details the director and crew have put there. With 3D, if the focus is on one character, the rest of the frame becomes impossible to look at; it actually hurts!
Surely this isn’t the future of cinema, it’s a waste of the space on screen!
I really hate to get in such a rant in a review of what is essentially a “nice” film, it’s family friendly (though the very young will be bored) and has a little something for everyone, but it’s just so damned hard to watch when it gives you a headache and charges you an extra quid for the pleasure.
Verdict – A decent family film, let down by irritating visuals and disappointing child leads.