where the writers are


photo: movie poster from Hugo's Wikipedia page


There are many reasons to see Martin Scorsese's movie, Hugo.  I saw it in the theatre, and I knew then that I'd have to buy it when it came out (which it has recently) and watch it again, which I just did.  Here are some reasons, with a few comments:


--The effects are incredible, and not just because they're 3D (at least in the theatre) and, I'm sure, heavily CGI.  (In fact, one might mandate the other.  Not up on my film technology, I'm afraid.)  Anyway, it's a great visual experience, especially in the theatre.  Watching it on the computer screen, which I just did, wasn't too bad, either.


--The directing is stunning as well.  You've seen good special effects pictures that had nothing else going for them, right?  This one has great flourishes, nice mise en scenes, and energy.  Even his minor films, like Shutter Island, are really well directed.  Like Spielberg, Peter Weir, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick, and maybe a handful of others, it seems that Scorsese cannot direct a film badly, regardless about what you think of the film itself at the end.  (Spielberg's Hook was directed well, though it sucked.)  The acting, led by newcomer Asa Butterfield and master Sir Ben Kingsley, is wonderful as well.


--The period detail is exquisite, from the production design, to the costumes, to the real history.  Everything makes you feel like you are in Paris at the time.  And the real history is a nice touch.  I knew a little about Georges Melies beforehand, and I knew the scene about the rocket hitting the moon in the eye, but the actual clips, and his real story, were very nice touches.


--You'll love the message about art, and artists, and creating, and all of that, even if you're not a writer.  It's got a nice message about how we're all here for a creative reason, not just for a practical reason--though one may still be the other, of course.  But when an artist isn't making art, he's a useless and depressed piece of mold, which is what Melies apparently became, and that's shown here.  Writers watching this movie will recognize the writer's block extended metaphor immediately.  When you're blocked, you're beyond miserable, right?  This movie explains maybe why that is.  The other messages about not giving up, and fathers and sons, and all that are done well, too.


--It's nice to see a Scorsese picture that doesn't have someone's head put in a vice, or psychotic characters shooting everyone in sight.  Not that Goodfellas and Taxi Driver were bad, of course, but it's nice to be reminded that Scorsese can do something else.  In fact, I have to say that I liked Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ just as much, if not more, than The Departed and all of those.  It is said that Scorsese wanted to direct this picture (as he calls them) because he wanted his then-12 year old daughter to be able to watch one of his movies.  Now she can.  Of course, this movie is wonderful for adults as well (and only the adults will get Cohen's character's quip at the end, about being a fully-functioning man.)


One last (and surprising to me) note is that this film performed poorly at the box office.  It cost between $150 to $170 million to make (that's technology for ya) and it grossed about $140 million, worldwide, only half in America.  This is surprising not just for the quality, but also because if you're going to see it, you'd be better off seeing it in the theatre, with its 3D technology and CGI.  You'd think the average movie-goer would know that.  If they did, they didn't care. 


It is also true that Scorsese's non-violent--or, rather, non-criminal, as Last Temptation was still very violent in its way--do not perform well at the box office.  This says something sad and unnerving to me about the average movie-goer's need to tear the white sheet off the corpse, but I'm learning to get used to that.  Kudos to Scorsese, and artists everywhere, for creating their art without regard to their usual fan's appreciation.  That is, after all, the point of the picture.  Artists create for their own sake, and for the sake of their art.