Hugo (Scorsese, 2011)

There are aspects of Scorsese’s Hugo which I deeply admire: its appreciation of early cinema, its recontextualization and self-reflexivity of technological advancement — commenting, and paying respect to, the emergence of cinema, while simultaneously innovating the medium by legitimately utilizing the form of 3D filmmaking as an artistic, cinematographical tool — as well as how it personally expresses the joy of the cinematic experience. With that said, there are elements of the film, particularly within the narrative, that I find lacking — not that anything is wrong with it, but simply that I think there could have been more, had Scorsese pushed his boundaries.

First of all, I must draw attention to how gorgeously choreographed the first sequence of the film is. While I still don’t believe in 3D — I think it’s unnecessary and distracting — I must admit that the 3D lends a certain beauty to the images of the clock tower, gears, and Hugo’s movements. While there are some scenes in the film where the 3D does, indeed, feel unnecessary and disjointing, there are moments of truly spectacular entertainment.

As a film student who has studied silent cinema, I couldn’t be more thrilled at Scorsese’s attention and evocation of the history of cinema. I became quite excited each time a familiar name, myth, or historical fact was referenced — Hugo is certainly a film for the film enthusiast. While checking out  3D TV’s in Future Shop, killing time before the film, I told my friend about how the first audience at Arrival Of A Train At La Ciotat jumped in fear, afraid the train was real. This came about naturally — just what I was thinking about at the moment, while we were discussing film technology — so how pleased was I to see, just a few hours later, a portrayal of this exact scenario. Furthermore, I can’t describe what a pleasure it was to see images from some of silent cinema’s greatest features — The General, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, A Trip To The Moon, Arrival of A Train at La Ciotat, etc.. Many of these films have been relatively damaged over the years, and the images are no more vivid nor impressive than within Hugo. While the 3D takes away a bit of their authenticity, it’s quite remarkable to see what a difference the digital world has made.

Now, on the other end of things, I found the actual story to be rather lackluster. While it may be argued that the story is simply used as a framework for the markedly more significant commentary on the history of film, technology, and impact of cinema on the modern social as well as personal world — Scorsese exuberates a deep appreciation and personal veneration of the cinema; Georges Méliès should never be forgotten, and, by extension and representation, neither should early cinema — the narrative itself is far too simple, conventional, and predictable to have a lasting impact. If it were not for the constant non-diegetic commentary, allusions, metaphors, and double-entendre’s, one would truly see Hugo as a plain, optimistic, happily ending children’s story. Don’t get me wrong, though, Scorsese certainly does well with what he works with; I just believe he could have worked with more, and had the world of Hugo leave a deeper impression than simply its documentary-like reverence of the cinema.



About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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