Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a delightful movie experience; a tale of loss, love, meaning and purpose all disposed to lovingly reflect on the magic and wonder of cinema and the journey of finding ones way. It is a testament to Martin Scorsese that Hugo – a significant departure of story and approach – is such a stimulating success. With performances that delight and engender enchantment, this ode to film is a beautifully crafted example of the skill of all creative souls involved, from Scorsese’s directorial prowess, Howard Shore’s lush and playful score, cinematography by the gifted Robert Richardson, Production Design by Dante Ferretti, and a host of other talents. Hugo is why we go to the movies; to be enthralled and engrossed in the lives of others and the wonder and magic that only film can bring.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: PG
Film Length: 126 Minutes
Video: MPEG-4 1080P High Definition 16X9
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS HD-Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Review Date: February 27, 2012
Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do... Maybe it's the same with people. If you lose your purpose... it's like you're broken.
5 / 5
It is 1931 and young Hugo Cabret lives between the walls of the train station, servicing the myriad clocks that hang throughout the cavernous station building. He lives alone since his father was killed in a fire. His uncle, the man hired to maintain the clocks, is a drunk and has long been absent. Hugo is alone. He steals the food he needs to survives, watches the various characters that make their living at cafes and flower stalls, and takes the tools he needs to repair an automaton from the nearby toy store. The automaton is in a state of disrepair and had been rescued by his father from storage at a local museum. It is a mechanical doll of intricate detail and complexity and was the last thing his late father was working on before he died. Hugo, believing that this machine (which can write) holds a message for him, uses his father’s notebook to try and complete the repairs. One day he is caught by the toy store owner, a man named Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who confiscates his notebook and threatens to burn it. Hugo must work for Méliès to earn back his notebook and repay the theft of many tools he had taken.
Order in the station is maintained by the stiff-legged and unforgiving Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) whom Hugo must avoid at all costs lest he be snagged and scurried off to the orphanage. Life is a challenge for Hugo, but his earnest pursuit to repair the automaton and, along the way, restore the faith and joy of a forgotten old man, give rise to one of the more magical movie-going experiences of recent times.
The lead children in Hugo are exceptional. Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pijamas) as Hugo and Chloë Grace Moretz (Let Me In) as his newfound friend Isabelle (goddaughter to Georges) are dynamic as the innocent players in the thrust of the story. Butterfield in particular is a wonder to watch bearing the weight of both the cheeky and emotionally worn young boy. Between them they carry a mature family film with a certain grace that rewards the watcher. Chloë Grace Moretz has perhaps delivered finer performances (she is haunting in Let Me In and brilliantly brazen in Kick-Ass), but this young Atlanta, Georgia native pulls off the English accent exceedingly well and has lovely chemistry with Asa. Ben Kinsley’s alternating curmudgeonly and wounded performance is excellent, as are the brief turns by Jude Law as Hugo’s father, and Ray Winstone as his alcoholic uncle. Emily Mortimer – a joy to watch in almost anything – is simple and demure as the flower girl who catches the eye of Inspector Gustave, played by Sacha Baron Cohen in his finest performance to date. Sacha delivers a pitch-perfect blend of comedy and menace, drawing ire and empathy precisely where required. Christopher Lee portrays Monsieur Labisse, the Station’s bookshop owner, Frances de la Tour portrays the refined Café owner Madame Emile and Richard Griffiths her shy suitor, Monsieur Frick the newspaper seller. Each of these fine actors is a side-character who makes up a small part of Hugo’s peripheral world, but important and necessary elements all the same.
Martin Scorsese has achieved something wonderful with Hugo, a film that is every bit a celebration of the history of film – and its marvelous invention – while at once itself being a celebration of an innovation within the world of cinema; 3D. Of course, 3D has been around for decades. Just ask Home Theater Forum 3D expert Bob Furmanek. There is nothing new about films with the added dimensionality of filming in 3D. But the recent advances in technology, most successfully accomplished with James Cameron’s Avatar, have given rise to a revival, one that is also very slowly making its way into living rooms. Scorsese’s embrace of filming in 3D serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the ‘gimmick’ argument. One of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived has brought to bear his considerable skill and experience into a crafting a film of magic, wonder, sincerity, humor, and joy. Armed with John Logan’s screenplay, which is rich with heart, warmth, and nuances of character and location that make the viewing experience a true joy, Hugo becomes something more than merely a big-budget family film. It is afforded more depth and meaning as the tale of Hugo becomes both a celebration of the art and innovation of early cinema, and a deeper pondering of our place in life, the world, and history. All augmented and worthily supported by the use of 3D.
There is an idea running through Hugo that the world is a machine and that no machine has any unwanted, unnecessary extra parts. Taking that as truth, it would mean that each of us as a piece in that machine must be necessary; needed; important. While this is foremost about Hugo clinging on to the notion that he has a role to play in this world (and he most certainly does), it is more abstractly about the role that Georges Méliès played in the birth of cinema. Following Méliès' discovery of the Lumière brothers camera, he built his own camera, and using his considerable experience as a magician, experimented through the production of hundreds of films in creating illusions, effects, and fascinating narratives to enthrall audiences. His Le voyage dans la lune in 1902 (Voyage to the Moon) is a marvel of imagination and illusion on film. Following the harrowing experience of The First World War, Méliès’ brand of entertainment fell out of favor with a more sober public and he was forced into bankruptcy and obscurity, but Méliès’ role in cinema cannot be overstated. His works as a cog in the larger machine of filmed entertainment is no more and no less a vital component. And that notion is layered within this wonderful, wonderful film that reaches into the child within us and touches us.
Paramount brings home Hugo with an exceptional looking 1080p High Definition transfer. With deep blacks, vibrant golds and lighter hues amongst the shadowy world behind the train station walls, the sparkling view of Paris at night, and the authentic look and feel of 1930’s France, Hugo is glorious on Blu-ray. There is an antique quality in the excellent costume work, in Monsieur Labisse’s bookshop, and in Georges Méliès’ home that is evocative of the 1930s yet also quite fresh and present. Detail is wonderful with everything from the frayed clothes on Hugo, the falling snow, and the texture on the steam train inviting awe. The bronze and blue hues that exist throughout the train station continue these two major color themes that complement each other quite strongly throughout the sets in the story.
The real power of this video presentation however is in the expert use of 3D. BBC News, in an article published online last year, asked if Martin Scorsese (and Hugo) could save 3D. I don’t believe it was necessarily in the need of ‘saving’ per se, but if it were, Hugo most certainly would be a confident owner of the savior title. In that same article, Scorsese remarked of shooting his first film,
“I found 3D to be really interesting, because the actors were more upfront emotionally. Their slightest move, their slightest intention is picked up much more precisely”.
If other filmmakers can grasp that concept and leverage the special dimensional capabilities of 3D, beyond the entertaining but easily hardly foundational ‘gimmicks’ of objects lunging toward the screen, then this format of film, as a companion to 2D, has a genuine chance to thrive. I should add that Hugo does not avoid thrusting items toward the screen – quite the opposite– but it is always apropos to the story or moment and used sparingly, such as the snout of the Inspector Gustave’s Doberman Pincer giving chase to Hugo through the crowded station in a very funny sequence.
Hitchcock filmed in 3D, Spielberg recently created the wonderful The Adventures of Tintin in 3D, other great directors have in decades past dipped their toes, and now Scorsese has found this medium in which to further express his cinematic skills. We need more directors and auteurs of this caliber to pick up the mantle and craft 3D storytelling and help push the bar higher. As Scorsese says of 3D, “…let’s use 3D as part of the story. Let’s embrace it”.
The audio presentation is perfect. A full-bodied and bold aural experience wholly enriched by Howard Shore’s Academy Award nominated score (one of the 11 Academy Award nominations this film received). The bustle of the busy train station, with footsteps, the murmur of traveler’s conversations and the echoes produced in the cavernous building come alive throughout the English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 channel option. Dialogue is mint in the center channel, the machinery of the various clockworks clunk, ting, and ring with precision and the trains that run several times during the film rumble deeply giving the living room something serious to consider. The audio is every bit as superlative as the video.
3 / 5
3D version of the film
Blu-ray (2D) version of the film
Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo) (19:48) (HD): A nice look at adapting Selznick’s novel – and the perfect scenario of Scorsese as director – featuring interviews with the main cast and crew speaking highly of each other.
The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès (15:41) (HD): An informing feature (and nice trip back to a subject I found fascinating during my college days in Film Studies) covering the history of Méliès and his origins. This provides in more direct exposition what Hugo provides through the absorbing narrative.
The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo) (12:45) (HD): A look at the automaton featured in the film and how it was actually created to do exactly what the story calls for it to do (in other words, it isn’t a visual effect)!
Big Effects, Small Scale (5:55) (HD): A look at the train crash sequence whose climax was created as a large-scale miniature, which was later married seamlessly with visual effects that lead up to the crash – which itself mirrors a real photograph of an unusual locomotive accident.
Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime (3:13) (HD): A fun little extra as Scorsese and Sasha talk about preparing for the role of Inspector Gustave – very tongue in cheek.
DVD + UV Digital Copy of the film
Hugo is such a rare wonder; a children’s film that is more for the child in all of us than strictly for the young. The film begins with little exposition and yet we instantly become involved in the pursuits of the young Hugo, awash in the Paris of the 1930’s, and connected to the cast of characters that adorn the corners of this rich, involving world. Filmed primarily at the famed Shepperton Studio’s in London, and with superb visual effects, Hugo is a glorious blend of imagination, technique, traditional filmmaking craft and an embrace of the revival of 3D filmmaking.
There is greater subtlety and meaning woven into the fabric of this tale than first viewing might reveal, and the level of technical accomplishment and boldness of storytelling achieved by a master classmen is a sight to behold. I honestly don’t know how this film could have been any better.
Overall (Not an average)