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If you were wondering why Martin Scorsese decided to adapt Brian Selznick's children's book 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret,' consider this: at one point in the film, a bearded film historian (Michael Stuhlbarg, looking like Scorsese circa 'After Hours') makes a plea for preserving old movies and why its important to remember where the medium came from. Which is another way of saying that 'Hugo' may be the first children's film for Cahiers du Cinéma subscribers. Scorsese screened a work-in-progress cut of 'Hugo' at the New York Film Festival on Monday night (the surprise screening was spoiled earlier Monday by the scoopsters at Deadline) in front of journalists, fans, and Selznick himself, who was seated near me with what seemed like his entire family. They were very pleased with the unfinished 3D film. So were many of the theatergoers, judging from the laughter, applause and general post-screening reaction. Ahead, seven observations from inside New York's Avery Fisher Hall about the first public screening of 'Hugo.'
1. Don't read reviews of the secret screening since 'Hugo' wasn't totally finished.
"So, this is a work in progress," Scorsese said from the stage over loud cheers before the screening. "Which means it's not color-corrected. We're starting that right now. At the beginning of the film and in other places there are things called pre-visualizations, which means they're kinda crude, little computer-generated people, which they promise me are going become human soon. Pretty soon. The visual effects are temporary. The 3-D is still being worked on, and the sound mixes are temporary. The music, for the most part, is still temporary. That means it's an actual score, but it's on temporary instruments. He's recording it now in London -- Howard Shore. The credits are 2-D, and there aren't that many on there right now. And you will see a few wonderful green screens. You can put in anything you want.
"So look: I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that those of you who really do like it come and see the final film."
To that end, Scorsese wasn't fibbing: the opening tracking shot was initially populated with Sims-like humans, and there were at least two shots of green screens and/or unfinished effects. Not that it really mattered: 'Hugo' is about the ingenuity and imagination of cinema, and even those incomplete parts made the film feel magical. As for the Howard Shore score: temporary instruments or not, it's wonderful, transportive and sure to be used in movie trailers from now until doomsday.
2. That said: 'Hugo' is heartfelt and totally the product of Martin Scorsese.
To paraphrase George Bluth: no reviewing! But! 'Hugo' is certainly one of the most lovingly crafted, gorgeous and Scorsese-y films the director has made in some time. Based on Selznick's book, it follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young orphan who lives inside the walls of a Parisian train station. There he must contend with the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, very funny), the grumpy toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley, heartbreaking) and the mystery of an automaton left behind by his kind father (Jude Law, fatherly). With the help of the sheltered Isabelle (Chloe Moretz, adorable), Hugo must figure out how to make the automaton work.
That's the framework of the film, one that Scorsese uses to indulge all his big-screen dreams. By the third act, 'Hugo' feels like cinephile fanfic, a twist that may turn off younger viewers but will endear adults who love going to the movies. As for the 3D: what has been run into the ground in recent months seems fresh and new in 'Hugo'; it's natural and -- most important -- fun! Scorsese has a blast with the extra dimension, and that comes through to the viewer. (Note the opening pre-credit sequence, a master piece of filmmaking that rivals anything Scorsese has ever done.)
3. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz are forced to do a lot of heavy lifting in 'Hugo,' which is a blessing and curse.
Let's just say that Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz often get by on their plucky kid charm and not their thespian skills. The supporting cast is wonderful though, always propping them up when they seem ready to slip. Especially of note is Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein on 'Boardwalk Empire'), who gives such a kind and generous performance that it almost makes you want to cry. Seriously.
4. Butterfield and Moretz also walked out on stage to wave at the crowd, post-screening.
Just to wave, though. That's all. [Note: both look about 15 years older than they do in the film.] [They aren't, but still.]
5. 'Hugo' is an unofficial 'Harry Potter' reunion.
Last November, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' dominated the multiplex. It's doubtful 'Hugo' will have the same record-shattering box office impact, but fans of should know that the film features not one but three 'Potter' day-players: Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy) plays Isabella's godmother Jeanne, Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley) is Monsieur Frick and Frances de la Tour (Madam Maxine) is Emilie.
6. Speaking of casting, blink and you'll miss some fun cameos.
The cast of 'Hugo' is loaded with big names, though many are locked into one-or-two scene moments (see: Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee) or one-second cameos. 'Boardwalk Empire' star Michael Pitt plays a projectionist in the film, which gives him as much screen time as Scorsese himself, who appears briefly as a photographer. But that's not all...
7. Johnny Depp is in 'Hugo' too! Or is he...
He's not! Unless he is! No, he's probably not. After the screening, some prominent film bloggers were discussing whether Depp made an appearance as Django Reinhardt. Judging from IMDb, he did not: that role was played by Depp lookalike Emil Lager. Depp is listed in the IMDb credits for 'Hugo,' though unless he was buried in the background of some scene -- or part of the unfinished visual effects -- he didn't seem to appear. Or maybe he did. Mysteries! Just like Hugo and Isabelle would have wanted.
'Hugo' hits theaters on Nov. 23. Check back to Moviefone for more on the film and the New York Film Festival.
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