Monday, 12 December 2011

Hugo does for 3D what Jurassic Park did for CGI

Warning - contains spoilers.

Dinosaurs have been part of cinema since Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914.
Gertie the Dinosaur
In the decades that followed special effects improved, but dinosaurs were still animated, frame by frame, by hand. Growing up in the seventies, I loved the special effects of Ray Harryhausen. It took quite a bit of effort to suspend disbelief, but part of the fun was figuring out how it was done.

In 1983 Steven Spielberg emulated the fictional character John Hammond by bringing dinosaurs back to life. When Jeff Goldblum says, "You did it! You crazy son of a bitch, you did it!" it felt like he was speaking to Spielberg - the holy grail of life-like, on-screen dinosaurs had been achieved and cinema has never been the same since.

Likewise, in Hugo, Martin Scorsese becomes Georges Méliès.

Melies was a trailblazer for the special effects and Scorsese has used the 3D effect to reboot cinema - his use of 3D is the most profound advance since the introduction of colour. Much has been made about how this film is an ode to cinema - I would go further and say it is an ode to 3D.

This is because watching Hugo in 2D, the film would make no sense. 

Several times in the movie, characters are watching 2D films. 

Sitting in a cinema, watching the characters in a cinema in 3D, watching Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last" in 2D, is not just mind-boggling, but weirdly intimate - you feel like the actors are beside you. If you watched this scene in 2D you wouldn't know they were watching a 2D movie.

Scorsese pays homage to Safety Last in this scene from later in the film.

In a flash-back sequence, we see another 2D film being shown in a 3D cinema: the famous Lumière brothers film "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat". In keeping with urban myth, the audience fear they will be hit by the 2D train. (Years later the real-life Lumieres made a 3D version of this film) Scorsese echoes this film also with his 3D trains arriving at the station with very dramatic results. 

When Melies' shows one of his movies in his house it is in 2D. Gradually the grainy black and white 2D image fades into the glorious a color 3D recreation of the same image. The "making of" a Melies film fades into 3D. The monsters, sets, costumes and special effects are lovingly recreated.

This sequence ends with 3D colorized footage of World War I. This is the first time old footage is shown in 3D and the effect is startling. The familiar haunting images acquire a new solidity. These were living, breathing people.

The finale of the film involves Melies showing his recovered and restored movies to an audience in Paris. This is the pay-off - the punchline: This montage of Melies' original films has been converted to 3D. 

This is why anyone watching Hugo in 2D will see a completely different movie. The sequence is short, but funny. The actors pop off the screen and back into life, capturing the vivid imagination and variety of stories Melies was famous for, including the famous "A Trip to The Moon".

The 2D version above doesn't do justice to the version in Hugo. Even the modern recreation of the "making of" these sequences depicted in Hugo aren't as spectacular as the originals converted to 3D.

In Jurassic Park, Spielberg emulated his on-screen alter-ego by bringing dinosaurs back to life. 

In Hugo, Martin Scorsese has emulated his on-screen counterpart by using amazing special effects to create an engaging narrative driven film. Melies would be proud.


Jurassic Park is currently being converted to 3D!

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