At the New York Film Festival this Monday, Martin Scorsese was on-hand to unveil the very first showing of his upcoming historical-fiction flick Hugo. It was an unfinished cut of the film — the occasional green screen popped into shots — but this screening gave audiences a taste of Scorsese's lustrous Parisian wonderland.
The director's first family film is based on Brian Selznick's 2007 kids' novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The movie follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan who lives a hardscrabble existence in Paris' Gare Montparnasse railway station after World War I. Hugo's only companions are a broken automaton and Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the brainy goddaughter of Monsieur Georges, a surly, secretive toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley).
The first thing you'll notice about Hugo is that it's a Martin Scorsese film with absolutely no songs by The Rolling Stones. However, this was still an early cut, so hopefully he'll be able to sneak "Miss You" into a heart-rending scene of Hugo pining for his parents.
The second thing you'll notice is the film's 3D, which is impressive without being ostentatious. Many movies use 3D as either an unnecessary frill or feeble selling point (see: Shark Night 3D). The closest Scorsese gets to unabashed 3D exploitation are the one or two occasions when extreme close-ups of Sacha Baron Cohen's face invade your personal space.
Mind you, I'm not complaining about being able to see the contours of Borat's pores. Baron Cohen's unctuous station master is Hugo's nemesis and one of the film's highlights — the comedian steals every scene he's in. Another resident of Montparnasse station you'll recognize is Christopher Lee, who appears as a genial book seller. And despite Lee's helpful friendship with Hugo and Isabelle, cinema has conditioned me again and again to fear the man.
Speaking of Saruman, it's worth mentioning that — despite its Parisian trappings that glimmer like a ketamine-glazed croissant — Hugo isn't really a genre film. Sure, there's a mysterious automata, some magic tricks, and a crash course in the early days of science fiction filmmaking, but don't expect this to be a steampunk Pinocchio.
Because the film was unfinished, we'll save judgment on Hugo until its release date on November 23. Until then, know that Hugo is Scorsese's love letter to the early days of scifi and fantasy films. Once you get over your suspicions that Ray Liotta will jump out of the shadows and drop a payload of F-bombs on your children's ear canals, you'll understand that Scorsese has gone out of his way to create a film that is palatable to both adults and children. With its plucky child protagonists, whimsical sets, and unapologetic Francophilia, my poor dead grandmother — who was born on L'Île-Saint-Denis on the Seine — would love this flick.