It bothers me that movie audiences would rather see Twilight: Breaking Dawn than a movie like Martin Scorsese's Hugo.
As of February 20, 2012, the film has grossed a little over 67 million dollars in North America and another 40 or so overseas. That against an estimated 150 million budget, officially makes it a flop. In contrast, Twilight: Breaking Dawn grossed just under 140 million dollars on its first weekend of release. How’s that for a sad commentary on the state of the human race.
Then again, I think it’s partly due to the fact that Hugo didn’t seem to have a proper marketing hook. I mean, after seeing the trailer, could you say what this movie was about?
Now I realize that the story is a bit of a mystery: Hugo trying to figure out exactly what the automaton is and what it’s supposed to do. I think that’s what the movie’s marketing was trying to convey, but they took it too far. The potential audience just could not tell what the movie was about. There were clips of robots, of chases, and lots of glittery “magic” indicators. The posters had clocks and keys, but not much in the way of attention grabby things. I honestly thought this was some kind of Narnia rip-off.
It doesn’t help that there is no easy way to encapsulate the story into suppository form for the masses. I mean you hear The Fast and the Furious and you know you’re in for something fast that may or may not be pretty pissed off. It’s usually Vin Diesel in a car. Hugo just doesn’t have that. Ben Kingsley is its biggest name (Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t really count), but he doesn’t have the star power to carry a vehicle like this. Neither of the kids does either (despite you pedos who’re stalking Chloë Moretz online).
Maybe if the source material, the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, was as successful as say Harry Potter or as loved as Chronicles of Narnia, the film may have stood a chance against The Muppets and Happy Feet 2 last Thanksgiving Day weekend when it opened. But it’s not; it was pummeled at the box office.
Again, this whole thing bothers me.
When I have a kid someday, this is the kind of movie I want him or her to see. It’s not about tap dancing penguins or adorable sock monkeys. There aren’t any macho stunts with cars that blow up at breakneck speed with well-muscled men spouting one-liners. There’s just the story of people who are a little lost in life.
The fact that it’s all closely based on the life of filmmaker Georges Méliès makes this even more attractive to me. As a geek, I identified strongly with the passion that Georges felt for cinema, and admired him. It’s the kind of fervor you don’t often see (especially in locally made movies). A desire to push the boundaries, to try something different, to experiment: that makes for gripping drama, that belief.
There’s also those “glittery magic indicators”. There is a lot of the magic realism aesthetic in the film. The fantastic robot that paints the forgotten dreams of a dead man, the old and dangerous world of the train station, and the steampunk interiors of the clocks and walls, and the new and wonderful world of film that the children discover at the end: all of that makes me feel like I’m a kid again, reading a book under the covers. It feels like Neverending Story.
Having seen the movie, I can now see why the local distributors took their time releasing this film. It doesn’t offer anything the average Filipino would want to pay money for. No cheesy romance, corny action scenes, or soft core porn anywhere in its 2 hours or so of running time. All it has going for it is the Scorcese name (which doesn’t have as much cachet in our country where the opening of Unofficially Yours, the new John Lloyd/Angel Locsin movie, is front page news) and the fact that it’s a 3D movie.
Speaking of 3D, you must see this film in a 3D theater.
Now you might ask “What? You, slangards, who always tells me not to watch a movie in 3D because it’s a waste of money now tell me that I should drop 300 clams on this one, a film with no discernible star power, no high concept gimmick, and no car chases? Are you fucking nuts?”
No, no I’m not. I admit that I’ve hated the 3D tag with a vengeance. You pay twice as much for a gimmick that doesn’t work well. Most movies that are exhibited in 3D are shot in 2D and converted in post. There are problems inherent in that process and the result is never quite what it was advertised to be. So far, I’ve found even movies specifically shot for 3D viewing wanting. I’m not really a big fan of Avatar.
However, Hugo takes all the problems that films has had before and turns them back to the right path. Scorcese chose great shots that maximize the three dimensional effect, ones with simple, uncluttered backgrounds, shot with short lenses that brought a sense of space to the frame. He’s conscious of his background and his foreground, making sure that there are things in both to give you that feeling of distance, while not playing those elements up so much that you are pushed out of the story. His shots also use perspective to a great degree, as well as low angles to get those converging lines and give you a feeling of depth. You can almost feel like those people viewing the train arrive in the station in the Lumière brothers’ L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, jumping back in fright as the engine rocketed past the camera.
And I think that’s why this film has shot up to the top of my favorites list. For a brief time, I was able to experience what those people watching Monsieur Méliès’ films must have felt like. The sheer joy and wonder of the cinema.