First it was The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a charming children’s book by Brian Selznick. Then Martin Scorsese got hold of it and now it’s Hugo (2011), a 3D movie starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, and Asa Butterfield in the title role. Now the trailer has arrived, we can really see what it’s going to look like – and how it pays tribute to a hero of early cinema.
It looks very much like the film is going to stick very closely to the book’s story, which is simple, but rather sweet. Hugo is a Parisian urchin who lives in a railway station, and befriends a grumpy toymaker – who just happens to be George Méliès. Hugo starts to learn more about silent cinema and the magical films made by his new friend, and tries to persuade him out of retirement. There’s a blossoming friendship between the boy and Méliès’s grand-daughter and a magical element in the form of an exquisite clockwork automaton that appears to be passing messages to Hugo from his dead father. Perhaps, judging by the trailer, Scorsese has built up Baron Cohen’s role as the station policeman a little – adding some broad slapstick that will probably appeal more to the kiddies than to the silent film buffs who will make up a minority of the audience.
Given Méliès’s style of film-making, Scorsese’s decision to shoot Hugo in 3D doesn’t seem that outrageous – wouldn’t Méliès want to try every trick in the book? And I am really trying hard not to forget that this is a blockbuster aimed at young children. But arguably, the decision to film in colour is more jarring. The palette feels wrong on two counts. Watching the trailer I really missed book’s soft-pencilled black-and-white illustrations, which were so evocative of early monochrome cinema, but the colours are too cool and muted to compare with Méliès’s own vivid use of colour-tinting. That said, one of the most exciting things in this trailer is the moment at about 1:50 when we see a glimpse of what must be Méliès’s studio – coral-pink prawns striding past ladies draped in aqua and turquise chiffon. Eye-popping. Perhaps Scorsese is graciously allowing the earlier director’s work to stand out all the more. Hmm.
Well else really stands out in the trailer? Well, Asa Butterfield looks just about as winsome and cute as could be and Ben Kingsley seems to be enjoying himself hugely as Méliès the master magician. The cast’s British accents do seem odd though – I do hope they’re not trying to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon. Surely it’s a bit late for that. Overall, the film looks a little flat, a little less exciting than we might hope for from a Scorsese picture. That might be due to the kid-friendly content (no gangsters, no guns, no Robert De Niro), or the fact that they’re keeping some of the SFX under wraps for now. I’ll reserve judgment until I see more.
One thing that really strikes me is the US release date of 23 November 2011 (it’s slated for 2 December in the UK). That’s a great date for a family movie, particularly one that might be hoping for some awards nominations, but it’s also the same say that The Artist is released in the States. Blimey, you wait years for one silent-film-themed movie, etc, etc.
I can’t sign off without reminding you of the fact that the fully restored, colour version of George Méliès’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is now knocking around. According to this French newspaper article, snippets of the new restoration will be seen in Scorsese’s film, and the older film may even be screened with the film on its theatrical release. I make no promises for my French nor the accuracy of that report, but this would really be a a very wonderful thing – and basically the top and bottom of my Christmas list this year. It’s not out of the question, as we know Scorsese is passionate about film history, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hugo is released in the UK on 2 December 2011. I can’t recommend the original book highly enough if you have children, or are just very comfortable with your inner child. It’s gorgeous, and you can find out more about it on this beautiful website.