By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 11, 2011 at 4:36AM
The reason that Paramount screened Martin Scorsese’s work-in-progress 3-D Hugo as the New York Film Festival's Monday night’s mystery screening, without completed effects or a final score (by Howard Shore) is that it’s a cinephile’s dream. The NYFF audience couldn’t have been a more receptive crowd.
Scorsese has delivered a $120-million borderline art film aimed at holiday families who may or may not buy into this elaborately 30s period Brit-accented movie set in Paris with two tweens (Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz) on an adventure. This 3-D live action/VFX picture brooks comparison to Steven Spielberg’s youthful Brit-accented performance capture The Adventures of Tintin. But while Spielberg stays in the realm of comic book action fantasy, Hugo‘s fantastical mystery leads us to the birth of cinema—which is where Scorsese’s heart lies--and then the film takes off.
But John Logan’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel takes a while to get there. The Paris sets and the interiors of the giant clocks inside a Paris train station are wondrous 3-D environments. Butterfield and the first half of the film are awkward and stiff—with occasional comic pratfalls from Sacha Baron Cohen. But the film shifts into gear by the finale. (I doubt that the movie will head into Oscar territory outside the technical realm—but cinematography, production design, costumes, sound, and VFX are in the running.)
A round-up of early reviews for Hugo is below:
Constructed with the utmost meticulous care – much like the pioneer it commemorates – Martin Scorsese’s 3D fantasia “Hugo,” is an enchanting fairy tale, a profoundly affectionate tribute to the giants of cinema and one of his most deeply personal films. In fact, it makes the gangster pictures look almost totally foreign by comparison. “Hugo” melds many of Scorsese’s passions and obsessions, and acts as an unabashed, multi-tiered homage to cinema (its origins and history, his advocacy for film preservation) as well as a tribute to his three daughters. “Hugo” is at times delicate and demonstrates a tender, child-like awe like we’ve never seen onscreen before from this master director. Ravishingly crafted, and a work of wonder that should dazzle and awe audiences of all ages, this is Scorsese at his most delicate and emotional.
Has Scorsese just saved 3D?..the film makes remarkable use of the oft-derided technology as it tells the story of a young boy who lives in a 1930s Paris train station, and whose life intersects with that of the pioneering French director Georges Melies,..it is less of a children's film than Scorsese's cinematic history lesson, and his valentine to the early days of cinema.
[It] may be the best vive-action 3D film ever,..Scorsese revived this new format by going back to something old, specifically the early French films that were some of the first movies ever shown as public entertainment,..it's a love letter to movies, and more specifically the importance of preserving films for future generations. It's probably saying too much to get into the extent to which old films play a part in the film, but they become vitally important, and even in grainy black and white or artificially hand-painted frame by frame, they come alive under Scorsese's direction in a way that will wow anyone even nominally interested in film history.
The film's schmaltzy trailer may have left some die-hard Marty fans scratching their heads why Mr. "Mean Streets" would make a heartwarming family film, but "Hugo" is actually the Scorsesiest Scorsese movie in years. Only it's not the kind of Scorsese movie you're thinking of.
It’s certainly a heartfelt feast for the eyes, but “Hugo” may lose some awards season momentum due to a less-than-satisfying plot and a fixation on silent film history that could alienate larger audiences. However, it’s still a visual marvel that may be best remembered as the director’s most advanced technical feat,..As a love letter to film history, “Hugo” delivers its message, but never fully channels it into an emotionally effective whole.
Interestingly, it’s Hugo‘s interest in old-fashioned technology that makes it such an appropriate setting in which to demonstrate the possibilities of newfangled 3D. The really impressive use here isn’t in the dazzling action set pieces — though happily, there are some of those too — but in the subtler scenes, where it’s seamlessly dispatched to make for a more immersive viewing experience.