Time for another nosedive in to the world of home 3D cinema, this time in the hands of top notch director Martin Scorsese. ?Hugo? is a sci-fi lite/steampunk-esque family movie based in a post-World War 1 Paris with a seemingly endless supply of top British thespians. From Sir Ben Kinglsey and Ray Winstone, to Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, the great and the good of British acting talent are out in force. The film tells the story of young Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the secret areas of a Parisian railway terminus. He keeps all the clocks wound and on time, and in his spare time dabbles in some petty theft to get the parts he needs to repair an automaton, the very machine his father was restoring before his death.
Sadly for Hugo he is caught stealing by an elderly toy seller (Ben Kingsley) and is forced to work to pay off his debt. But Hugo also gets to meet the old chap?s grand-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an immediately annoying girl who has been spoiled, thinks the world is a playground and is altogether far too perky. Together they try to unravel the mystery of the automaton, and in the process learn a great deal about the old toy maker and the history of cinema.
As plots go, it is a light-hearted and enjoyable enough affair. If you don?t know your cinema-history then it will come as a pleasant piece of education, and if you do you will see everything coming a mile off. That said, the main plot is rather less ably supported by a couple of sub-plots. One of these is utterly dreadful and completely superfluous, concerning the railway station?s resident policeman (or Inspector), as played by Sasha Baron Cohen. Sadly this character is astonishingly annoying to watch, his motivation is nowhere in sight and the portrayal by Cohen is one-note. You feel no threat or love for this man as he one moment chases Hugo and sends orphans to their doom, and the next he is trying to win the heart of Emily Mortimer?s flower seller. A crude attempt to make him human with a backstory similar to Hugo?s comes across as trite and last-minute. To be honest, you could take him out completely and the film would work just the same.
It is hard to say much more without giving away the historic twist in the tale, so let me talk about the look and feel of the film. Where Scorsese had failed to engage on a character level, he has scored a hat trick with the visuals and design. There is a hyper-real feeling to this Paris, all steam and gas-lamps, clockwork and darkness. It is a fantasy Paris but one you feel is just a short distance in our past. The set designs are beautiful and the use of both CGI and large-scale models work very well. The automaton himself is a work of rare wonder and all credit to the artisans who created this prop.
Sadly there is a caveat to all this?in 3D, at times, things go very wrong. Initially my impression was that this was the most brilliantly conceived use of 3D in a home setting I had yet seen (live action, not animated). The early scenes of Paris and the railway were pristine and used the additional layers of depth proficiently. However whenever a person or item loomed forwards into extreme close-up, the 3D failed, completely. You could see multiple images, ghosting and the entire image became unwatchable. As soon as the close-up ended, the 3D reverted to superb once again. At first I thought this was a failing of either the TV or the PS3, but it wouldn?t do it with other 3D BDs, and reports online suggest many other people have had similar issues. They have also had problems with the 2D version either getting stuck or skipping. All in all, I feel let down by the experience. A lacklustre, if OK, film shadowed by a sporadically failing presentation in 3D. Such a shame, and especially from a director of Scorses? experience.
My advice is that this is a decent enough family film, but try to find the stand-alone 2D BD release, don?t bother with the 3D. There are some interesting if unoriginal bonus features to enjoy, including a rare moment of funny from Sasha Baron Cohen and the crew. It isn?t the overwhelmingly fantastic filmic experience I was expecting, but it is nice to see so many great actors in one place, especially the always-superb Christopher Lee. Rent rather than buy and you won?t go far wrong.