Review: Hugo 3D

PUBLISHED: 17:26 05 December 2011

Asa Butterfield in Hugo

Asa Butterfield in Hugo

Jaap Buitendijk. (C) 2011 GK Films, LLC.

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory and Jude Law. 122 Mins. **

It would be lovely to say that the re-release of The Last Waltz wasn’t the best Martin Scorsese picture out this week but though it has a veneer of novelty – his first children’s film, his first in 3D – this really has the same concerns as all his movie, the adoration and mimicking of old movies.

It’s set in a snowbound Disney cartoon version of early thirties Paris, where everybody has a British accent and puffs of smoke are forever blowing up into the restless camera. Hugo (Butterfield) is an orphan who lurks in the nooks and crannies of Montparnasse train station. He has a giant automated clockwork doll that he can’t find the key to but is linked in some way to a mysterious toy shop owner (Kingsley.)

To pad out the rather slim main story there are various sub-Amelie interludes on the station floor with a cautious romance between Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour, plus some comic bits from Baron Cohen as a station inspector who is dressed up like Officer Crabtree (the “good moaning” one) in Allo Allo.

The weakness of the central narrative means it all feels like padding, stringing you along as the film slowly reveals itself to be a slightly dry and rather indulgent tribute to George Melies, the pioneering filmmaker who gave the fledgling art form its first iconic image – the rocket lodged in the eye of the man in the moon in his 1902 Un Voyage Dans la Lune. I saw this with a crowd full of Bafta members who applauded warmly at the end, partly out of appreciation for a film which gave so many of their members employment (it was shot in Pinewood) and partly because it is the narrative equivalent of a lifetime achievement presentation.

Few people have done more than Scorsese to preserve and restore old movies and it was certainly a bold choice to try and make a kids’ film about it. But if I was a young child, or a harassed parent who had shelled out that bit extra for a 3D trip to the cinema I think I would be mightily underwhelmed. It sparkles and glitters like all the other Christmas movie treats but beneath it all it’s a bit like having John Major tell you about the time he met Len Hutton and got his autograph.

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