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A 3D trip to 'Hugo' and back

Published December 23. 2011 05:02PM

A lot has been made about the fact that Martin Scorsese he, the director of such urban and urbane and often violent adult fare such as "Shutter Island" (2010), "The Departed" (2006), "Goodfellas" (1990), "Raging Bull" (1980), "Taxi Driver" (1976), "Mean Streets" (1973) has directed a children's movie, "Hugo," much less a 3D children's movie.

Moreover, some movie critics have said that finally, someone, namely, Scorsese, does 3D justice.

It's as though they haven't seen director James Cameron's "Avatar," which surely still sets the standard for stunning 3D imagery and inventiveness.

Alas, even James Cameron has been quoted as saying "Hugo" is the best use of 3D ever.

To begin with, "Hugo" is not a children's movie per se. Secondly, what's most entertaining about "Hugo" are the non 3D segments.

Certainly, the 3D effects in "Hugo" are eye-catching in several chase scenes, panoramic views and the churning gears of train station clocks.

Ironically, it's when Scorsese includes actual footage of Harold Lloyd's silent movie classic, "Safety Last" (1928) the famous clock face scene, where Lloyd hangs precariously from one of the clock hands and scenes of Georges Melies' (pronounced Mel Yez) "A Trip to the Moon" (1902), where a two-dimensional rocket ship pokes the Man in the Moon in the eye, that "Hugo" gives you cinematic chill bumps.

Many of these best scenes are in black and white and are not in 3D. The 3D wizardry only goes so far. It is, in essence, a gimmick. Creativity trumps slickness.

True, the payoff in "Hugo," which we won't give away, had me dabbing at my eyes or want to if only I could get past those unwieldy 3D glasses.

The structure of "Hugo" is odd. Essentially, the storyline about Hugo and his friend Isabelle serves as the framework on which to hang the classic film footage of Georges Melies, plus re-creations of Melies' filming those scenes and films.

At times, "Hugo" has the sense of a college or university Introduction to Cinema lecture course.

That's not surprising, given that Scorsese is an avid supporter of film preservation through The Film Foundation, a non-profit he started with other filmmakers. In "Hugo," which takes place during the early 1930s in Paris, France, the title character, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), whose father has died, lives in the clock tower of a Paris train station and winds the clocks.

We are introduced to Hugo after an amazing tracking shot a Scorsese trademark that concludes with the lad peering out from behind the clock face's numeral 4.

Hugo is chased by the Station Master (Sasha Baron Cohen) after he is accused of stealing from Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), once a famous film-maker and now a toy shop keeper in Gare Montparnasse, i.e., the train station.

Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose parents have died and whose guardians are Melies and his wife (Helen McCrory). Together, Hugo and Isabelle attempt to revive an automaton, a mechanical human figure left to Hugo by his father (Jude Law), who built it.

"We could get into trouble," Hugo warns.

"That's how you know it's an adventure," Isabelle counters.

A wardrobe malfunction no, not the Janet Jackson kind, but that of a real wardrobe, as in "The Chronicles of Narnia" provides clues to the mystery at the film's center.

The electro-mechanical systems of "Hugo" are fascinating. The myriad clockwork gears evoke the "steam punk" trend. The movie's philosophical spine is interesting, as well. The world is like a huge machine, Hugo reasons. Every part of a machine is essential. Therefore, we, as people are each an essential part of the world.

And there's this: a machine has a purpose. If it's broken, it needs to be fixed. "If you lose your purpose, it's like you're broken," it's reasoned. Deus ex machina, indeed.

"Hugo" also at times, through the words and actions of Hugo and Isabelle, conveys the secret world of pre-teens, that time when the world seems filled with endless possibility.

One aspect I found odd is that the main characters in "Hugo" have British accents, even though the story takes place in Paris.

Scorsese directs from a screenplay by John Logan ("Rango," "The Aviator," "Gladiator"), based on the 2007 illustrated novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick.

Despite the 3D wizardry, Scorsese's superb film-making and Howard Shore's memorable score, my take-away from "Hugo" is a growing appreciation of film-maker Georges Melies, whose clunky, whimsical short films did all that movie-makers have done since except he did it first.

Look for Oscar director, actor (Asa Butterfield), supporting actor (Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen) and score (Shore) nominations for "Hugo.""Hugo," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for mild thematic material, some action-peril and smoking; Genre: Adventure, Family, Drama; Run time: 2 hours, six minutes; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Hugo" was filmed on location in Paris and London and at Pinewood and Shepperton studios, United Kingdom.

Box Office, Dec. 16: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" opened at No. 1, with $40 million, keeping "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked," opening at No. 2, with $23.5 million. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opened at No. 3, in limited release with an emphasis on Imax screens, with $13 million.

4. "New Year's Eve," $7.4 million, $24.8 million, two weeks; 5. "The Sitter," $4.4 million, $17.7 million, two weeks; 6. "The Twilight Series: Breaking Dawn, Part 1," $4.3 million, $266.4 million, five weeks, 7. "Young Adult," $3.6 million; $4 million, two weeks; 8. "Hugo," $3.6 million, $39 million, four weeks; 9. "Arthur Christmas," $3.6 million, $38.5 million, four weeks; 10. "The Muppets," $3.5 million, $70.9 million, four weeks

Still playing: Continuing at ArtsQuest Cinema is "Le Havre," "Melancholia" and "The Descendants." Continuing at Civic Theatre of Allentown is "Take Shelter."

Unreel, Dec. 20, 21, 25:

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," R: David Fincher directs Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the punk computer hacker in the title role, and Daniel Craig, as journalist Mikael Blomkvist, in the remake of director Niels Arden Oplev's international thriller based on the first novel in the trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson. (Dec. 20)

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," PG-13: Tom Cruise is back. Brad Bird ("Up," "The Incredibles") directs his first live-action feature. Also starring in the action-thriller in which the Kremlin is blown up (computer-generated) are Jeremy Renner, Paul Patton and Ethan Hunt. (Wide release, Dec. 21)

"The Adventures of Tintin," PG: Steven Spielberg directs the computer-generated animated film based on the popular Belgium comic book. (Dec. 21)

"We Bought A Zoo," PG: Cameron Crowe directs the comedy-drama based Benjamin Mee's autobiographical book about a father who buys a near-bankrupt zoo (the story is transplanted to Southern California). Also stars Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church and Elle Fanning. (Dec. 23)

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," PG-13: A young boy (Thomas Horn) tries to find the lock that matches a key belonging to his father, who died in the Sept. 22, terrorist attack on New York City's World Trade Center. Also starring in the drama are Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. (Dec. 25).

"The Darkest Hour," PG-13: Emile Hirsch stars in a science fiction thriller about five young people in Moscow battling an alien race that has plugged into the world's power grid. (Dec. 25)

"War Horse," PG-13: Steven Spielberg directs the fact-based story about a World War I horse who serves in the cavalry. The drama. based on a 1982 British children's novel and a 2007 stage adaptation, stars Jeremy Irvin and Emily Watson. (Dec. 25)

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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