Hugo (2011)

Hugo PosterWhen I walked out of the theater after watching this I was speechless and, quite frankly, I’m still not sure I can do this film justice. Hugo was by far the best film I’ve seen all year and certainly has a high-ranking place on my list of favorite films. Do yourself a favor and go see it in theaters! Go see it in 3D, go see it…
…ehh, enough gushing – let’s get started with some film history!

Living in the Past

The film Hugo is based on a book titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. Selznick has a unique style, combining pictures and words to form a book that is not a novel or a graphic novel, but something in between. Reading, or browsing, the book is a fascinating experience which I can only describe as being akin to reading a silent movie. The book was published early in 2007 and Martin Scorsese bought the screen rights to it later that year. Filming began in 2010 and it was released last month. Several changes – all for the better – were made from the the book during the filmmaking process, but on the whole the story in the book and that of the film are incredibly similar. The response from the critics has been almost entirely positive, though so far audiences have been a bit slow on picking this one up. As I write this review, it stands at third place in the box office.

Before I continue, I suppose a warning is in order. I have absolutely no problem with giving or receiving SPOILERS and there will probably be some during the remainder of the review. I’ll try and post warnings before anything major, but…


Now, back to our scheduled programming…

I think one of the fascinating things about the film is how closely it is connected with real film history. One of the central characters is Georges Méliès, an early French filmmaker. He was a pioneer not only in filmmaking itself, but also in special effects and even color film. Most of the events in the film involving Méliès are historically accurate and the film even shows clips, both real and modern recreations, of a few of Méliès films as well as other early films from that time period. The history of film is discussed and could even be considered a crucial part of the plot.

With all this film history present, it seems most appropriate that this was filmed in 3D, one of the latest developments in the art.

The Art

It. Is. Beautiful. This is the first film I’ve seen in 3D and I was somewhat apprehensive as to what my response would be. I needn’t have worried. Almost as soon as the film started I was enamored. 3D is absolutely beautiful and Matin Scorsese is a master at it. The film was absolutely breath-taking. James Cameron, considered by many to be a modern pioneer in the technology after the release of Avatar, said that the 3D in Hugo was the best use of the technology he’s seen to date – no small praise coming from him!

Filmmakers seem to take two approaches to 3D. One is to simply add it as a marketing gimmick while the other approach, which was used in Hugo, is to carefully craft the film in such a way that the 3D technology advances the film to a whole new level, making it all the more powerful by carefully considering the best use of camera angles and shot positioning to further the beauty of the final product. In these cases, 3D is not a cheap gimmick, it’s a central part of the final product. It’s just…
…sorry, I’m gushing again! I’ll try to stay on-topic.

The music, by Howard Shore, is a masterpiece. Definitely a score I intend to pick up some time soon. The acting is incredible. The characters have so much depth, even more than in the book. The relationship between the main characters, Hugo and Isabelle, is a wonderful picture of true friendship. The little romance (not present in the book) between the station master and Lisette is both touching and humorous, and the *SPOILERS* realization that the station master was once an orphan himself was a simply masterful addition to the depth of his character.

The Age-Old Question

One of the interesting things about this film is how universal it’s messages are. It explores themes of true friendship and our need for a purpose in this life – something larger than ourselves to give us a feeling of fulfillment. It’s this last message that really hit home with me. Each of the main characters is searching for their purpose in life. In one scene (Click here to view an excerpt), Hugo tells Isabelle that the world is like a giant machine, and just like a machine, the world has no extra parts and thus we each have an important role to play before we can find true contentment. While the film doesn’t mention that finding and serving God is that important role, it none the less opens the door for the exploration of that age-old question, “Why on earth am I here?” or as the Westminister Devines put it, “What is man’s chief end?”

“This is where dreams are made”

As I walked out of the theater last night, I was filled with a wonder I haven’t felt in a long time. It was partly from the incredible beauty of the film, partly from the newness of 3D, and mainly from the inspiration I had just received. Inspiration to live a better life, to fulfill my ultimate purpose and, yes, to make better movies. I haven’t seen beauty like this in film for a long time, ans I still feel dazed from it all.

I felt like I could go back and watch it all over again, and again, and again…

I think what Georges Méliès said in the film is true about the film too. “If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around: this is where they’re made.”

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