This cross-post from Scott Mendelson originally appeared at Mendelson's Memos.
Pardon my theoretical laziness, but I'm not in the mood to do a formal review for Martin Scorsese's Hugo. And frankly, since I went in knowing almost nothing aside from the general time period and a few of the actors, I suppose I should do my readers the same courtesy. But know this: Martin Scorsese has crafted the most impressive and beautiful 3D you've ever seen in a live action film. Since the film somewhat revolves around the early days of cinema (it takes place in 1930s Paris), Scorsese uses 3D technology to create a dreamlike visual palette that attempts to replicate what it was like for the very first moviegoers, the ones who allegedly jumped out of the way of speeding trains and ducked when the train robber fired his pistol at the screen. There are times when this live-action feature feels like a living cartoon, and I experienced a kind of fever-dream sensation that I haven't felt since Coraline. If ever there was a movie to justify that 3D ticket-price bump, this is it.
As for the movie, it is a most curious sort of family film. It is certainly appropriate for children and its two main protagonists are indeed kids, but it also serves as a passionate plea to respect and preserve not just cinema, but all forms of art that enthrall and captivate audiences of all stripes. The film builds pretty slowly, with most of the first hour devoted to set-up and the friendship between its young stars (Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz). But if the first hour almost qualifies as 'slow', the pay off is more than worth it. Ironically, the film has more in common than you might think with The Muppets. Both films deal with nostalgia. But while The Muppets deals with how our generation clings to the entertainments of our past to deal with the disappointment of our present, Hugo presents characters who refuse to look back because it hurts too much to compare what was with what is. Both films build to (completely earned) stunningly powerful finales, and I'd argue that Hugo wins a point for actually ending on said high note instead of having a couple false endings.
That's all you really need. Just know that Hugo is one of the best films of 2011, one of the best films Scorsese has made in the last twenty years, and easily a new high-water mark for 3D filmmaking.
Scott Mendelson is, by hobby, a freelance film critic/pundit who specializes in box office analysis. He blogs primarily at Mendelson's Memos while syndicating at The Huffington Post and Valley Scene Magazine. He lives in Woodland Hills, CA with his wife and two young kids where he works in a field totally unrelated to his BA in Film Theory/Criticism from Wright State University.