I saw Tintin a couple of weeks back, but time hasn’t really allowed me to comment on it before (besides, there was an element of public duty in warning people about The Thing). This weekend I went to see Hugo, and it got me thinking about how the careers of probably America’s two premier directors have diverged since the beginning.
Spielberg & Scorsese are pretty much contemporaries in modern American cinema, both graduating from the studio system at the beginning of the Seventies through to being able to cherry pick projects at this stage in their respective careers. The two are also close friends, having swapped projects in the past when they thought the other was more suited to it (Spielberg was given the initial rights to the Cape Fear remake, one suspects that it wouldn’t have been quite the visceral experience it was if he hadn’t passed it over), but both have chosen to release children’s films in the run up to Christmas.
Tintin is the far more conventional of the two, but more fun with it. Technologically it’s the director learning a new set of tools (it’s interesting to see that in terms of large scale studio movies it’s still the old guard who are doing the experimenting) in order to tell a story. There’s a huge shout out to his own earlier Raiders, and despite it’s entirely CGI construction, there’s a pleasing physicality to the film that we don’t often see these days (if there is any justice the DVD will allow us to view the motion capture version of the film). There’s a distinct lightness of touch to the film and an understanding of the limitations – unlike Zemicks there is no attempt at photo realism, thereby eliminating the dead-eye stare element. It’s never less than entertaining, and it’s always nice to see a film with a sub two hour length, especially one aimed at the younger audience.
Hugo sees Scorsese not only embrace 3D technology, but also a completely different genre than normal, but in doing so he produces probably his best film since Gangs of New York. It’s quite clearly a work of love from start to finish, a love letter to the art form that has dominated his life and it’s effect on him (it’s quite easy to see him in the hero of the film). He never loses sight of the story, but it is the latter half when the film packs its real emotional wallop as it discusses how much of the birth of cinema has been lost (Scorsese has long been an advocate of film preservation & restoration, not only in American but all over the world) and what we stand to lose as a result. There are also glimpses of his recent pre-occupations – industrialisation & the industrialisation of war – but these are presented in a subtle fashion. It’s a film that works on a number of levels, and multiple viewings will probably reveal more of the references I’m sure the film is littered with.
It’s also the first film in a long time where I can say the 3D genuinely added to the experience. Filmed in 3D, in a constructed set rather than in front of a green screen, there is a genuine sense of depth to the film, but moreover it is used as a means of progressing the story rather than as a gimmick. Up until now a number of directors seem to have adapted their style to suit the format (less movement, wider shots), but here things feel more like the established language. If we get more films like this it might not die as a gimmick in a few years.
Both films come recommended, although only Hugo is an essential film. More interestingly is the fact that neither director seems content to rest on their laurels and produce more of the same, instead they still show a willingness to experiment with what is possible.