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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48 comments

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    • amy says:

      12:35pm | 06/03/12

      I did think about seeing Hugo at some point…

      Ive never really been impressed with 3D, I find it distracting in that the screen is narrower and a few shades darker

      and AVATAR sucked

    • Hicks says:

      02:08pm | 06/03/12

      Shhh troll.

      Oops just fed you.

    • amy says:

      03:01pm | 06/03/12

      Im not trolling I’m serious

      about AVATAR

      the special effect were fine I guess (didnt see it in theatre) but it wasnt enough to carry the movie

      the story was Cliche…I mean REALLY cliche, which might have been forgivable had the movie not been so preachy about its “morals”

      I mean you ask some peopel and most of them say they were rooting for the humans..why is that? well first of all I dont care how friggen amazing the blue people are, earth is in trouble and we need to do somthing, the main charachter screws everything up for everyone at the end

      the movie treats its audience like Idiots “evironmentalism good! racsim bad! the blue people are better than you! duuurr huuurr”

      compared to similar film…district 9, has alot of similarities but handles everything a millions better and in amore interesting way

    • The Free says:

      04:09pm | 06/03/12

      Amy I didn’t see this as a greens vs corporations type battle (avatar), I thought it was a sentient being’s property vs illegal occupation.

      Different planet, different culture, established ownership and all.

    • Nick says:

      04:46pm | 06/03/12

      Avatar was Fern Gully: The Live Action movie.

      Human goes to rainforest? Check.
      Human goes native? Check.
      Big tree that really shouldnt be cut down? Check.
      Identical looking “home base” machine? Check.
      Main character is a blonde guy? Check
      Female lead has compassion and understanding, falling in love with the human interloper? Check.
      Scene where everything lights to touch as the two lead characters move through the rainforest? Check.

      See if you can spot the rest.

    • Audra Blue says:

      04:52pm | 06/03/12

      I thought Avatar was a brilliant movie with an excellent moral core.  I saw it for the first time when I shelled out a few bucks on the special edition DVD.  Definitely not a waste of money.

      I saw Clash of the Titans in 3D at the cinema.  The story was pretty weak and the 3D useless but was okay for the giant scorpion fighting scene.  Everywhere else it didn’t do anything to enhance the story.

      It was my first 3D movie and I was pretty impressed with the technology overall but I could see how it could be overused just to get the punters in.  I wish that I saw Monsters -v- Aliens in 3D.  The animation in that was definitely worthy of 3D and I could actually see the bits where it would have been awesome.

      Unless the movie is an action/adventure or disaster type movie, 3D isn’t really worth the price of admission.  But like all fads, Hollywood wil embrace it and pretty soon you’ll see the likes of Howard’s End or Sleepless in Seattle being converted to 3D.

    • amy says:

      05:24pm | 06/03/12

      @The Free

      I see

      its not like I think the humans were right (they werent) but the “ohhhh look at what bastards we are!” thing got old very quickly… It felt like a white guilt peice

      I didnt mind AVATAR at the time but the more I thourght about it the more I hated it

    • Phil S says:

      05:27pm | 06/03/12

      http://www.realorfake3d.com

      This is not my website, but I was pointed onto it via the whirlpool forums. It basically segments good 3d from bad. Anything whose 3d looks terrible is likely a post production job (aka fake 3d).

      The good movies are either shot with a 3d camera (aka 2 cameras) or rendered from 2 points of view. The ones that are really crap are those like hoodwinked 2, which was rendered for one camera, and then converted to 3d. If it’s animated, surely it is easy to just render a second pov rather than extrapolating two pov from the one image…

    • Scott finey says:

      06:32pm | 06/03/12

      To all you trolls out there, Avatar is a spectacular movie in which one can relate to in everyday proceedings of life.
      Personally Amy being “never really impressed with 3d” gives me the sense that you are uneducated and it will give me blistering nightmares of what you would think when 4d comes out. And to your words “Avatar sucked” ?? Please look up the definition of narrow, watch the movie again and then rephrase your statement.
      P.S I have 2 gold class tickets to Hugo? Interested? Reply to my post

    • amy says:

      08:42pm | 06/03/12

      @Scott finey

      assuming youre not trolling yourself, having a different opinion does not eaqual trolling, Im am well within reason to dislike avatar, and I gave valid reasons

    • killbill says:

      12:38pm | 06/03/12

      Loved Hugo

      Best movie in the last 2 years without a doubt.

      What a sham the Oscars are.

    • Stefano says:

      05:12pm | 06/03/12

      I agree, my faith in cinema had also been restored and Hugo was the most wnderful film I had seen in a while.  Scorcese is a brilliant story teller.  One enters the cinema believing that the film is about a young boy named Hugo.  Over a two hour period we are enchanted and mesmerised to the point that one realsies the film i actually a homage to George Milies, the father of special effects, and his many wonderful movies that captivated audiences before the Great War.

      For the record, I liked Avatar but I agree that most films promoted as “3D” are not and we are bing ripped off by unscrupulous producton conglomerates.

    • Mr Fresnel says:

      12:42pm | 06/03/12

      Directors are still learning how to film in 3d.  Most are still shooting fast cut action with 3d cameras and this does not work.  3d requires less speed in the shot with little camera movement and longer scenes for the brain to savour and understand the image.  Youtube stereoscopic 3d’ers know this already and i am sure Hollywood professionals will catch up at some point.  3d cannot improve a bad story and script, if the film is awful it will still be awful in 3d. As most films Hollywood produces are awful, it is surely no surprise that most of the 3d films are awful.

    • Mahhrat says:

      01:22pm | 06/03/12

      This:  If the story is already crap, all the technology in the world won’t save it.

    • Hamish Blake says:

      02:04pm | 06/03/12

      I agree. Story is the point of a movie, and all the effects in the world won’t fix that.

      A good comparison is Jurassic Park vs Avatar. Both pushed the envelope with technology and although JP looks (somewhat) dated now, it is still a great movie and will be for some time. Avatar looked mindblowing, but once you’ve seen it there really isn’t anything compelling to go back to see again.

    • St. Michael says:

      12:44pm | 06/03/12

      “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.”

      FFS—the whole subtext of Avatar was that Pandora itself was technology—right down to hard drive storage for the consciousness and frigging personal USB jacks out of the Matrix.  I only saw it once and even I picked up the point that the planet was more mathematically complex than the human brain.

      The movie was really just suggesting that you shouldn’t destroy or make massive changes to that which you don’t fully understand, admittedly told through a pretty transparent hero story.  Nobody suggested using Unobtainium as a superconductor was a bad thing, only that humanity had to learn to control its excesses and understand what it was doing to its source first.

      And for the record, the 3D in Avatar was still annoying except for a few moments here and there.  These were where the 3D was used to create depth of field rather than (as most dumb 3D does) putting things forward in the field so you feel like a rock’s about to get shoved up your nose.

    • yobogod says:

      01:41pm | 06/03/12

      ” 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.”
      Bit of a throw away line there, after all ... “you’re using a digital medium to trash talk a digital medium.”
      I haven’t sen too many 3D movies on the basis that the movie must entice me to see it, with or without the 3D.
      Hugo looks like it might be a good watch ... with or without the 3D.
      Presumably there will be landmark 3D films, whose cinematography will inspire, but as with all of the arts, there will also be RomCom 3D, Kiddy Film 3D, TV Commercial 3D and fairly much the proliferation of this film technique, as evinced by the spread of colour films, or Talkies.

      I’m still confused over whether your article is about 3D filming or a review of Hugo.

    • Tony of Poorakistan says:

      12:58pm | 06/03/12

      I watched your trailer and it was still in 2D. What gives?

    • bella starkey says:

      01:13pm | 06/03/12

      I have seen this movie but not in 3D. I thought it had far too little story to fill it’s far too long running time. Maybe the 3D effects would distract you from that fact.

    • Mark Roberts says:

      01:27pm | 06/03/12

      This film is beautiful- a fine homage to the early days of cinema. At last, a movie that has lived up to the hype. We were so transfixed by it that our first comment leaving the cinema was ‘we’d really like to see it again’. The 3D effects enhance the story: instead of being gimmickry it instead seems natural to the whole story. See it soon before it leaves the big screen.

    • Andrew says:

      01:47pm | 06/03/12

      Yes I agree… as much as I loved the movie visually and the characters were all nicely drawn (quite refreshing from the glut of nastiness in movies today), the story panned out to be rather underwhelming.

      Scorsese managed to create the foundation for a brilliant movie early on showcasing his fantastic movie-making skills, but it wasn’t until the end we realised there wasn’t the rewarding payoff we hoped for after 2.5 hours.

      It was a pleasant experience (not really worth the hype we bought into)... since it is a ‘story based’ movie, I’m not sure if the 3D would have changed that.

      And yes Avatar did restore my interest in 3D a bit - not the ‘pop out’ stuff, but rather the depth it created… incredible.

    • The Other Martin says:

      01:56pm | 06/03/12

      3D technology is meant to prevent the films being pirated - it has nothing to do with entertaining the paying public. Trying filming it with a handheld camera and it just doesn’t work!

    • Markus says:

      02:52pm | 06/03/12

      What if your video camera keeps its glasses on?

    • Leah says:

      04:06pm | 06/03/12

      Then why do they also produce these same movies in 2D also? You can just take your hand-held camera into the 2D cinema.

    • Jeremy says:

      04:28pm | 06/03/12

      Are you still buying 15 year old pirate films from Thailand? The money 3D costs is far too much for the minuscule loss from in-theater piracy - it’s digital print leaks and DVD rips that provide almost all pirate material.

    • Matthew says:

      07:49pm | 06/03/12

      Leah, as they say…Rome wasn’t built in a day.

      If you want to achieve something than you don’t just do it straight out or others will see through your plan.  Instead, make them think they came up with it and let them run with it until you’ve achieved what you want.

      They start with making some stuff in 3d as well as 2d.  Then they start making everything in both (where we’re getting at now).  They convince everyone that 3d is better than 2d (trying hard but not convincing a lot of people yet, myself included).  Lastly they phase out the “old technology”.

      Unfortunately, 3d is not good for a lot of people and can make others sick.  Personally I hate it and am more than happy to watch it in 2d.  One day my kids will laugh at me for preferring 2d but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

    • Al says:

      02:03pm | 06/03/12

      The main problem with 3D movies is that the vast majority still try to use the 2D movie techniques to focus your attention on the main part of a scene.
      2D movies that is primarily at the point that everything is focused around (the point where the perspective of everything else is focused from).
      3D movies require a different thought and shooting style where the things that are ‘closest’ to the viewer are the main parts of the scenes.
      This is why many 3D movies look fake or even give people headaches, the brain is looking for the main point close to the viewer, but it tends to be further back in the 3D enviroment.
      This was explained to me by someone in the film making industry in more detail (and using more accurate descriptions etc.)

    • MK says:

      08:29am | 07/03/12

      Maybe you’re confused, or your friend is confused or trying to soudn smart
      with traditional 3d camers, using 2 caers, there is still only one point of focus,
      (only the very recent Light Field cameras arent limited to one point in focus, but the benefits of this would never transladte to a movie)

      I beleive what your friend may be trying to say, is in a 3D scene,
      since it is projected onto the flat movie screen, our eyes are still seeing it an image porjected at the distance of the screen,
      while it’s apparent 3D depth is either behind or in front of the screen,

      but that is an important point

      I have yet to watch a 3D movie without my brain fighting my eyes for the entire length of the movie

    • master says:

      02:40pm | 06/03/12

      Martin Scorsese makes a good movie… really?? more ground breaking journalism from the woman who bought us the stupidity that was the trolling article. Any chance we could get you to go back to writing for Tiger Beat magazine?

    • sometimes sue says:

      03:10pm | 06/03/12

      Ooh - nasty master.  Not sure why you are reading the article by Claire if you don’t like her writing or her opinions.

      And just by the by, I enjoyed Hugo - a little long perhaps, but definitely well made, and I agree that the 3D was cleverly used, and not gimicky as it has been in some other movies of late.

    • Martin says:

      07:31am | 07/03/12

      @master

      Have you directed anything worth seeing lately ? Any directing experience or skills at all ? Oh, and filming the kids in the backard with the handycam or jerky concert footage on the iPhone doesn’t count.

    • cybacaT says:

      02:47pm | 06/03/12

      I saw it in 2D and still loved it - a beautifully filmed creation.

    • Chris says:

      03:22pm | 06/03/12

      ‘We see the train plummet of the tracks as it swerves to avoid him’ - Really…? The train swerved?

    • Dave says:

      03:42pm | 06/03/12

      Did you actually expect accurate and quality journalism from the so-called “IT Enthusiast”, Claire Connelly?

    • Andrew says:

      03:56pm | 06/03/12

      Saw when it first came out, a few months late aren’t you?  I thought this was “news”, not archives.  And your Avatar call is a bad one, Hugo is good but Avatar 3d is still the benchmark.

    • Leah says:

      04:05pm | 06/03/12

      TinTin was an excellent use of 3D.

    • The Free says:

      04:13pm | 06/03/12

      I’m not sure Scorcese can make a bad movie.  Hugo was very good, but I would not go as far as to call it truly great.  Sasha Cohen wasn’t very good at all and the characters weren’t particularly likeable.

      Nice enough story,  but it did meander a lot at times and the ending might have satisfied some saps, but for me it lacked.

    • kim says:

      04:36pm | 06/03/12

      all 3D movies are lame , gimmicky and offer poor quality in terms of image sharpness , brightness , contrast and vividness of colors . Plus the 3D affect is generally an after though after shooting the movie and run through a computer filter to give it the 3 affect . They are just a gimmick to try to get people back to the cinema and for the public to buy new tvs again .

    • Simple Simon says:

      05:23pm | 06/03/12

      If you want spectacular unbeatable immersive 3d stereoscopic graphics - just go for a walk, not a great plot and often with a dull script “how ya going?  ..good thanks” but always unbeatable, high production sound and visuals (with smellarama).

    • Megs says:

      08:47am | 07/03/12

      Absolutely! About to head out there now with my dogs and what a beautiful day for it.

    • K says:

      05:40pm | 06/03/12

      TRON Legacy’s 3D was rather good, it wasn’t intrusive(i.e. they didn’t spend shot after shot jamming stuff at the screen), and just made the world they had created seem more alive. I am sad I wont get the chance to see Hugo in 3D but simply seeing it at all will suffice.

    • James O says:

      05:45pm | 06/03/12

      3D can be regarded as a gimmick but i suspect that the CGI industry sees it as a commercial necessity for the the ever innovative computer games industry as they develop games for the latest 3D capable televisions.  The next generation of HD television screens will be lightweight and paper thin so they will be ideal for installation on walls or where ever you please and could well remove cinemas altogether with the future potential to link them together and convert your wall into a cinema style 3D experience with surround sound. By then the standard 3D of today could well be obsolete.

    • Dann.C says:

      06:35pm | 06/03/12

      Well,I gather you have not seen The Three Musketeers which was certainly over the top but entertaining and the 3D was excellent and Avatar was most certainly better than Hugo,maybe you have the mind of a child.

    • Shaggy says:

      08:33pm | 06/03/12

      Great review Claire. You go to the movies to be transported to another reality and this movie is one of the best in the last few years. The 3D wasnt gimmicky but added to the feel of the movie.

    • Not impressed says:

      06:33am | 07/03/12

      I went to see Hugo in 3D at Hoyts Erina - the projector was out of focus for the entire move (I wasn’t the only one to notice this). It ruined the entire movie for me and my kids.  I thought the movie/story was Okay at best - a bit long and drawn out at the start.

    • prosperity says:

      09:46am | 07/03/12

      What about those people who only have sight in one eye? Can they still get to see it in 1D?

    • Martin says:

      12:23pm | 07/03/12

      There are plenty of one-eyed movie critics around !

    • Louisa says:

      12:46pm | 18/10/12

      I read your post and wieshd I’d written it

 

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