At last, a 3D movie where the “3D” part isn’t lame
Finally, somebody got 3D right. The Punch award for the most (and first) accomplished use of 3D technology in film goes to Martin Scorsese for his stunning homage to cinema, Hugo.
Now this is a 3D film worth paying to see at the cinema, because unlike Avatar or Harry Potter, Hugo is the first film to use 3D technology as an effective storytelling device.
Scorsese captivates the audience by taking us back to the nostalgia of the very first days of cinema. We’re back in the room where it all began, at a screening of the very first “movie”, which was simply a 10 second film of a train pulling into a station.
The audiences were so frightened they screamed and jumped out of their seats for fear it might jump off the screen and run them all down.
This was the same kind of effect marketed to audiences in the early days of 3D cinema, but the reality was underwhelming.
Presumably knowing this, Scorsese challenged this with a stunning double dream sequence where lead character Hugo predicts how his story will end. It comes with a steam train speeding towards him, sending him to what seems like his inevitable death.
We see the train plummet of the tracks as it swerves to avoid him, destroying the station and everything it its wake.
The effect is spellbinding. You fear that train jumping off the screen, the same way the very first cinema-goers thought that they too would be run off the rails. In the same way, Hugo thought he had met his end in what turns out to be a horrible nightmare.
And once again at the end of the film we see this nightmare come true. Kind of. The steam train is so heavily tied into the film’s narrative, predicting not only the plot’s conclusion, but takes us back to the days where new cinema technology was exciting - when people went to the cinema to be blown away, to be frightened.
Just like in the early days of cinema Hugo wants you to believe in the fairy tale and thanks to the amazing sets and costumes, brilliant cinematography and 3D capture technology, you are transported into a world of make believe.
There is so much cynicism about new technology, in particular 3D movies, and rightly so, because until now few films have done it particularly well.
Many films, such as Harry Potter, Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland were not even filmed in 3D. The effect was just tacked on in post production so studios could raise the price of tickets, as well as draw in larger audiences while 3D was still a novelty.
Other films, like Avatar were responsible for bringing 3D back to life used special 3D filming techniques. But they did not do this particularly well.
Revolutionary though Avatar may have been, the 3D didn’t tell the story. It was just used to make everything look really pretty and larger than life, or really bad, and scary and larger than life. And let’s not even get into the fact that the film used state of the art technology to tell a tale about the dangers of developing state of the art technology.
Hugo on the other hand embraced the technology, and its role in society, with both hands. Rather than wringing it for all its worth, Scorsese used it sparingly, and lovingly, to create one of the most splenderous, magnificent, visually stunning and incredibly well acted films I have seen in a long time.
Hugo has restored my faith in film-making.
If more filmmakers can follow Scorsese’s lead, there might just be a future for 3D cinematic storytelling.
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