One of the best things about the Binghamton Classic Films site that John created is this little doozy of a line, "We exist to educate and edify, spreading the unadulterated joy of a time when the movies were magic." I don't think Scorsese could have come up with a better line to describe his intention with HUGO.
HUGO can't beat the magic of a Melies or Lumiere brothers film, nor the magic of the golden age in early cinema history, but it can let us share in the joy of these films and the wonder they have induced in us for over a century. Ostensibly a story about an orphan trying to find someone connect with (and it is), but really a story about the importance of celebrating film and its innovators, about a silver screen that shares our collective dream space, and the need to cherish and preserve its history. The first half of the film is devoted to establishing the world of Hugo Cabret, and the second half just becomes a celebration of the work of Georges Melies and other early film pioneers. One great sequence has Hugo and Isabelle literally digging through a book on film history and it coming to life before us. Another has Hugo and Isabelle sneaking in to see a brief moment of SAFETY LAST! And another has all the characters sitting around a premier of Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON–all magical moments.
The recreations of Melies' films are really spectacular, and the bits we get to see of the actual films themselves will give you chills. You just sense how earnest Scorsese's reverence is for his work and film in general; he's like a kid sharing his favorite toy with you. I hope non-cinephiles can appreciate what Scorsese is doing here. Lots of people go to see movies, but do they ever take the time to reflect on how truly magical they can be? My hope is that you get an enormously diverse film audience, cinephiles and philistines alike, all sitting with childlike wonder at the power and magic of movies, celebrating the medium with a filmmaker who idolizes and adores cinema like no other. I recommend that everyone in our little club see it. It will remove all that postmodern irony and cynicism that is wearing you down, at least for a couple of hours. Glenn Kenny is right, this is one of the least cynical movies you could possibly see.
There are some obvious similarities to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (had to do it, John), but I think this film's references are more genuine. Nothing here really seems self-serving. And it's not about wanting to live in another era but about not forgetting other eras. In a modern culture that seems increasingly less interested in history, this is a welcome and genuine reminder. The great and probably only irony of this film is that it draws you in with the purported magic of the most advanced modern film technology, only to blow you away and warm your heart with the magic of films made over 100 years ago.
I found most of the non-Melies/film history parts endearing as well. It's also a film about the desire to connect with other people and the need to share with them. By the end of the film you see all these connections between characters being made, and you realize that what draws us to the cinema with others (and to start film clubs) is to connect with other people and share our passions and dreams with them. If I'm sounding mawkish here, it's only because this film is so sweet and encourages you to feel the same.
I hope you all get the chance to see HUGO and that you can really appreciate it. It's holiday time; we all deserve a break from cynicism, even me, the guy who called MELANCHOLIA not cynical enough.
Also, I'll just be clear about this. I'm a strong advocate against 3D. I think it's a useless money-grabbing gimmick designed to destroy film (or at least turn it into an amusement park attraction). While I wouldn't say that HUGO justifies the recent trend towards 3D and its absurd price gouging, I would say that it at least represents the format in its highest quality and value. I haven't seen too many 3D films, but this is the best looking one I've seen. AVATAR looked great in 3D (everything else about the film was terrible), but it was a strain on the eyes after a while. Thankfully, the 3D in HUGO is so crisp and focused that my eyes didn't have trouble at all. And it is used effectively, adding depth of field without gimmicky ploys that make you roll your eyes. I still deeply revile 3D and can't wait until it dies, but what Scorsese and his team have done here isn't half bad at all John, nothing justifies the recent 3D price hike, but this is as good as it gets.