Robert Richardson’s work in “Hugo” takes 3D from a somewhat overused gimmick to a useful storytelling device, and proves once and for all that cinema is not defined by technology, but by artistry and storytelling.
George Melies was the ultimate risktaker and as a result, one of the greatest innovators in cinema history. His approach to filmmaking was distinctive and clearly ahead of it’s time. If Melies were making movies today, he would probably be shooting them in 3D and with the latest digital technology.
Richardson takes these risks with “Hugo” with some pretty inspirational results. He uses the medium to evoke the magical feelings that must have been felt by audiences of Melies films in their time. He makes every moment feel effortless and fresh. It is shot with such precision and attention to detail that we as an audience become immersed in the cinematic world that is created.
The scenes where we flashback to a younger Melies making films in his glass studio are particularly memorable. Many of his films are recreated beautifully in modern 3D but pay homage to the originals with an almost hand-tinted feeling to the color palette. This is contrasted with the bulk of the story taking place in a 1930s train station in Paris, shot from the perspective of a young boy.
When the Lumiere brothers showed their famous film of a train arriving at a station, audiences jumped out of their seats thinking the train was going to come through the screen. In “Hugo” we get to feel this all over again, but this time it does come through the screen.
John Guleserian is the cinematographer on “Like Crazy,” which won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance last January.