The medium of 3D Video is almost constantly under attack from the general public, and this is not completely unfair. Studios saw the unbelievable success of Avatar as an easy answer to falling Box Office grosses, and exploited it as a gimmick that rarely justified movie-goers of the extra few bucks.
But there’s no reason the extra dimension in 3D should be considered a detriment, filmmakers just need to figure out how best to use it. But after many of them have failed to create much with this new layer in movies, it should be no surprise that, with Hugo, unquestionable Filmmaking Master and ecstatic Film Historian Martin Scorsese would figure out a way to take full advantage of 3D in a way that is just as important to storytelling as cinematography, Mise en scene, and anything else you would find in a 2D film.
It’s fitting that Hugo, which with 3D draws so much attention to its medium, functions as a real tribute to movies itself. Though, ironically, Hugo doesn’t praise new technology, but the kind of brilliance that ran early silent film. Hugo, more often than not, is a love letter to filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès. The Frenchman created short stories of the Fantastic before Post-Production had a considerable role in the filmmaking process – all of his special effects were done in-camera, using clever framing and trickery.
Scorsese occupies a similar mindset for Hugo. He leaves most of the fun in the imagery to visual effects created in computers, but the story functions on a more gleeful level. For a director known for his tales of gangsters and thugs, Scorsese has an unquestionably innocent and magical Family movie here.
But the key word is “magical.” Hugo is the story of an orphan who runs around around a 1930s Paris train station, sometimes maintaining the gorgeous clocks that hang above, sometimes being forced to steal a croissant to keep from starving, and sometimes working on a secret project that seems completely out of this world. He tunnels in, out and up vents and ladders, surrounded by a cast of charmingly colorful characters that never feel anything but wholesome. This is a world where Christopher Lee plays a bookstore owner, so there’s not a lot of room for shady individuals – even Sasha Baron Cohen as the bad guy is too impossibly clownish to root against.
These characters, with a storybook vision of its Paris of the past and a passion for the magic in movies, card tricks and automatons, form a framework that Hugo thrives on. The 3D brings something of value to Hugo, but it doesn’t affect the film as much as its Joy de Vivre.