Sunday, November 27, 2011
Poised somewhere between PSA and love letter, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is at least one or two steps above those tedious hurray-for-film montages that pad out the Oscar broadcast each year. Granted, it still succumbs to many of the traps of latter-day Scorsese (bloated running time, art direction as crutch, a general mawkishness), even as it avoids others (Leonardo Dicaprio). But unlike those pious Oscar montages—and the dreary potboilers Scorsese has been churning out lately—there is some genuine passion to be found here in the exuberant homages to classic cinema. Now if only Scorsese could direct some of that fervour for cinematic history into the films he churns out today with such dutiful, mechanical efficiency.
Ostensibly about an orphan living in a Parisian train station in the 1930s, Hugo actually spends much of its time constructing a loving fantasy around film pioneer George Melies. Scorsese seems energized by the chance to share his enthusiasm for film history with modern audiences, and the summaries of Melies’ life and the early days of cinema are buoyant and breathless, complete with wondrous scenes of the old director at work. One can only imagine Scorsese’s glee at introducing countless children (and a few adults as well, no doubt) to such canonical cinematic images as Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock, or the man in the moon with a rocket stuck in his eye. The handicraft world of Melies remains beguiling to this day, a merging of theatre, magic and cinema so vibrant and unique it still dazzles from its bygone era. Unfortunately, the comparison does little to flatter Scorsese’s film, which for all its charm, feels finally drab and limited—3-D effects and CGI tricks are poor substitutes for a bit of cardboard and some homespun magic.