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Scorsese's unfinished 'Hugo' shows 3-D's promise for NYFF crowd

October 11, 2011 |  3:10 pm

Martin Scorsese
General audiences will have to wait until November to see "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's first venture into 3-D filmmaking, but on Monday a select crowd at the New York Film Festival got a sneak peak at the work in progress. The film, which is based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," by Brian Selznick, tells the story of an orphan living in a 1930s Paris train station who tries to unlock a mystery left behind by his late father.

Although the visual effects, music and sound are unfinished, the initial reaction to "Hugo" has been largely positive, with particular praise for the film's artistic use of 3-D, a technique often derided as gimmicky. The film is also being called a love letter to the history of cinema.

Matt Singer, of IFC, says that while Scorsese's film won't single-handedly save 3-D filmmaking, it does demonstrate the medium's artistic potential. Scorsese, Singer writes, "essentially upends the classical model of 3D cinematography, in which objects in the frame constantly move towards the lens. Scorsese does the opposite; he constantly moves the lens towards the objects in the frame, playing as much with our perception of movement as our perception of depth."

On Deadline.com, Mike Fleming says Scorsese's use of 3-D is more engrossing than eye-catching. "Scorsese has provided the most intriguing use of 3D since James Cameron did in 'Avatar'; instead of the gimmicky opportunity of using 3D to have objects jump out at audiences, Scorsese employs it to subtly immerse the audience into Hugo Cabret’s world," Fleming writes. He adds, "Scorsese has infused the film with his love of cinema history and passion for film restoration."

CinemaBlend.com's Katey Rich considers the film's underlying narrative: "The story stops and starts a bit too often, and some side plots could use tightening, but the movie is a charmer overall, combining physical comedy — very clearly inspired by silent films of the era — with some touching coming-of-age elements and, of course, a full-throated love of the movies."

For Eric Kohn, of IndieWire.com, "Hugo" is a triumph of technique, if not of storytelling: "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."

Edward Douglas, writing for ComingSoon.net, applauds the production design and compares the visual style to Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Douglas also notes that "Hugo" is part of a recent trend of cinematic nostalgia: "It's particularly interesting how 'Hugo' continues whatever is currently in the zeitgeist in terms of how filmmakers are paying tribute to the cinema of yesteryear as seen in 'The Artist' and 'My Week With Marilyn.' "

It sounds as though "Hugo" is shaping up to be a cinephile's dream; time will tell whether it resonates with wider audiences.


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Martin Scorsese: An open letter to Michael Govan and LACMA

--Oliver Gettell

Photo: "Hugo" director Martin Scorsese. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times