Martin Scorsese, Hollywood titan, enjoys a special reputation for directing violent, foul-mouthed crime flicks. Admittedly, he does this very well, but the notoriety of movies like Taxi Driver, Casino, and most recently The Departed tends to eclipse the true diversity and scope of his body of work.
Even when his choice of material seems misguided, Scorsese manages to elevate his subject with careful crafting and good casting. His remake of Cape Fear is at least three or four tokes over the line, so to speak, but is wild and pulpy enough for the television late show anytime. Shutter Island is based on an extremely dumb book by an author whose appeal among high-profile Hollywood screenwriters is a mystery. Nonetheless, the movie’s elegant style and achingly beautiful soundtrack mask the plodding mystery and stale plot twists to a surprising degree.
Then of course there are his left-field “serious” projects, like Kundun, The Age Of Innocence and The Last Temptation Of Christ. The man makes the movies he wants, not just the movies he thinks we want, and as he grows older he seems to be more and more in the business of surprising his audience, often on an epic scale. Whether he succeeds or fails, he continually gives the impression that he makes films because he loves doing it, not simply because he has a talent for it.
Now we get a first look at his latest – Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s fantasy adventure book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret. In this day and age, it is hard to open a trailer with a snow-covered train station without evoking thoughts of the Hogwarts Express. Perhaps that is exactly the nostalgic void Scorsese hopes to fill with record speed. A whimsical story of orphans and mischief-making certainly seems well-timed as everyone is in the throes of No More Harry Potter Syndrome.
The book’s references to illusionist and cinema pioneer Georges Méliès seem the most likely cause of Scorsese’s attraction to the story. The trailer looks awfully bright and silly compared to what we know of the director up to now. One has to wonder whether Terry Gilliam passed his darker imagination over the prospect of telling this tale at any point. And whether the title was shortened to minimize comparison both to the Harry Potter titles and to Gilliam’s noble flop The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.
As one of the more scholarly of Hollywood’s major directors, Scorsese will hopefully do his best to capture the manic energy of the Méliès influence. Méliès himself was given to a bawdy kind of slapstick in his marvelous little films. The test for Scorsese, in creating what appears to be his first indisputable attempt at a family film (in 3D no less), will be to attract all ages effectively. If he pulls it off, he will be one monster movie, one war film, and one porno away from having done just about everything.