Paramount Pictures has begun test screening Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo, with screenings in New York City and Chicago. Like many of you, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this film. Not just because its a new Scorsese film, but I’m really interested to see what a master filmmaker can do with the 3D camera. Advance buzz coming out of the first test screenings is quite positive. Read the first spoiler-free reactions, after the jump.

Disclaimer: Test screenings happen for a reason. The film has not completed post production and the filmmaker/studio want to see what works and what doesn’t. Films can change drastically from a test screening cut, or might not change at all. The bottom line is that you can not take the opinions from a test screening as a true review of the final feature film. But I think it gives you an indication of the possibilities.

We received the following exclusive report from an anonymous /Film reader:

When I heard that Martin Scorsese was doing a film in 3D my interest was piqued. I’m not a fan of the technology, to be clear. But to see such an old master experimenting with something new is inherently exciting. I knew that if nothing else, Scorsese would not be one to resort to using 3D as a gimick.

Unsurprisingly I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of popping out at you, the 3D in “Hugo” takes you into the film. It’s used to enhance the depth of field, and this is done masterfully. Particularly splendid are the scenes of Paris and those within the station walls. It still gave me a bit of a headache, however, and I’m no more a fan of those ridiculous glasses, but the film displayed the possibilities of 3D to be something more than a novelty.

Then there was the film itself. Again, something exploratory for Scorsese; a children’s film. Aside from some comedic relief bits that may seem unnecessary to adults, it completely managed to transcend that distinction and offer a cinematic experience for people of all ages. Asa Butterfield gives a truly great performance as a young orphan boy living inside the walls of a train station, where he steals parts from a toyshop run by Ben Kingsley in order to fix a machine he had been working on with his father. When the boy is finally caught in the act, a mystery concerning Kingsley’s murky past begins to unravel. Chloe Moretz does a wonderful job as Kingsley’s goddaughter, as does Helen McCroy who plays his wife. Sacha Baron Cohen plays the station inspecter, around whom much of aforementioned comic relief is centered, but he’s entertaining as ever to watch, while Jude Law appears briefly in some flashbacks as Hugo’s father.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I won’t say how, but the early history of film plays huge part in “Hugo”. For cinephiles this is a great opportunity to feel glib about your knowledge, and for those who are less versed on the subject I think it offers an interesting history lesson. It’s clear that Scorsese had fun with this aspect of the film, which may very well have been a factor in his choosing to direct it.

This is largely a movie about overcoming the past, whether it be the loss of a father or in Kingsley’s case something else. It is also about the search for self-identity and offers some profound if unsubtle ruminations on the subject. The sincerity of the subject matter is such that the disclaimer “for a children’s film” need not be added to any claim about its merits- “Hugo” stands on its own as a singular new work by a beloved director.

And here is another report from the NYC screening from a couple weeks back:

the family had been invited by some friends from their church to an advance screening of the invention of hugo cabret, now being called simply hugo. i’d read the book upon which it’s based this past spring. i had enjoyed the concept but had been a little irritated that the content (i.e. storyline/plot) wasn’t strong enough to match. still, i was curious to see what sort of spin the director, one martin scorsese, would give to it. martin scorsese himself walked in to introduce the film. he explained, in simple language, for there were about 15 or so kids present, that this was a rough cut. some of the digital effects were still being tweaked and sometimes, we would just see the green screen backgrounds. … sacha baron cohen provided some much needed comic relief to balance the solemnity of the story … the state of the film as described by scorsese was true but considering that it’s due out in november, it felt mostly finished. of course, after the candid observations which we poured into the surveys passed around once the lights returned, hopefully the movie makers will respond to our suggestions and comments by making the film the best it can be. overall, i thought it was quite good. and as previously noted, i thought the comic elements inserted into the somewhat dry story helped a lot.

And here are some of the reactions from the September 15th Chicago screening from Twitter users:

  • eedunbar: I just saw the test screening of Hugo. I thought it was really good. But unfortunately that’s all I can say.
  • Fortitude1913: At a movie screening-although I’m told I can’t say what it is or else they’ll have to kill me… (@ AMC River East 21) Chicago news is depressing me. Gonna focus on the great movie I just saw…
  • happyrhodesfan: I’m off to go stand in line for the Movie Which Must Not Be Named (but rhymes with You Go). So excited! Except that it’s in *beep* 3D. Ugh. Rhymes With You Go @ RE21. Had to sign away my life and First Born prior to seeing it that I wouldn’t talk about it. But…**LOVED!!!**
  • TXTMovieClub: Hugo was a masterpiece… I think it is shockingly one of his best- and ultimately his most personal film. Touching and about loving movies at its core.
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