Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo (Cabret)

Movie Review: Hugo Cabret

There's a tightrope a director must walk when producing a children's movie. The most finely crafted films for children will have storylines, dialogue, etc, to keep the parents who have taken their children along to see it.  On the other hand, because the children will more than likely wind up chasing each other down the isles of the theatre, there's this need to keep children entertained in a children's movie. Mind you that  this is an increasingly difficult thing to do. What used to keep children occupied, say, Star Wars in the 1980's, would bore kids to death now.  And I've seen it happen, trying to show children the first movie (episode 4, you know) of the series, and seeing that it rapidly lost their attention. Even kid's movies now have computer pixelation, fast moving scenes to keep the ADHD in all of us glued to the screen. Chase scenes, that sort of thing. The master film storyteller must intertwine the undertones of a fantastic story while keeping elements of flashy gimmicks to attract adults and children alike.

Hugo is a movie about children, made from a children's book, but for the most part,  The appropriate audience is adults. This was clearly not what Scorsese wanted, although as his specialty is in grown-up movies, it might be that he couldn't help himself.  He had to craft a magnificent movie into something that children would watch and be entertained by.  That, unfortunately, doesn't work very often. It's important when making a movie to know your audience. In this case, it was the child within the adult, not the adult or the child that would like the movie.  If you want to see movies like this, I would recommend Secondhand Lions , Cinema Paradiso, and Where the Wild Things Are.

Hugo is based on a book by Brian Selznick, who combines illustrations and words together to form a story. Often the setting and some actions are based on the drawings instead of written words.  The illustrations of Paris, establishing the setting of the clock system inside the main train depot, is expertly done without using words at all. I've never understood reading Terry Brook's Shanara series where he describes every setting, every tree in the forest, which becomes very time consuming. But Selznick dispenses with those pages of words and relies on pictures. This translates into the first minute or so of film where the imagery of crowds of people bustling in the station is brought to life with the 3D imagery. It reminds me of the painting by Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte where the depth of people is created by the height of the characters in the painting.  The 3D mastery of the clock innards is also amazing, along with the trains and the steam coming from the stacks. Very well done.  Scorsese did not rely on cheap parlor tricks but instead enhanced the magic of the film by adding those effects. This was my first experience with 3D film, glasses and all. I really had to get used to it, and from what I saw of the trailers prior to, it is an effect wasted on useless computer animated films whose sole design is to get parents to pay $10 to see a film that would normally only cost them $5.

The big flaw in the movie, and Orson Scott Card details this in his review of the movie, is that Scorsese, like Shakespeare, uses comedic relief to attract the attention of the masses (children). Yet unlike the bawdy nurse in Romeo & Juliet, the slapstick French policeman, the flower woman, the fat bachelor who is always bitten by his crushes' dog, are more irritating than entertaining. And while the chase scenes are necessary, I suppose, they are laboriously done and meant only to entertain children who have probably forgotten the movie quite before that. I almost want to take the movie and edit out the parts that irritate me, much like most people want to do with Zar Zar Binks in episode 1 of Star Wars. I think deleting about 30 minutes of the film would make it much better to the audience it clearly is intended for.

As for the rest, the film rest squarely on the shoulders of Asa Butterfield, who is best known for his role in the TV series Merlin. He has just been cast as Ender in OSC's Ender's Game, and I agree with Card that he is an excellent actor to fill the role. If you look at the YA cover of the Card novel, it even looks like him, so it's a great fit.

The movie deals with Hugo Cabret's father and his discovery of an Automaton in the attic of the museum where he works. He and Hugo set out to fix it, but in the mean time, his father dies in a fire. The fixing of the machine drives Hugo forward throughout the movie, as if some finality would be resolved, some justice to be reached upon the completion of the machine. Yet, like so many other circumstances, it is the journey in which he repairs the machine that opens up the world to him.  Very well done movie in this respect.  I get the feeling that Card was ultimately disappointed in the movie because he had read the book beforehand. I have not as of yet, and it suits me to leave it there, to remember the fantasy of the movie rather than of the book. At least this once, the images on the screen are more appropriate than words and pictures in a book.

A final note. There is nothing better than watching a film in the theatre where you are the only one in the audience. I've done that four times, and thoroughly enjoyed it every time.