Tell me this doesn’t sound like some sort of elaborate hoax. Martin Scorsese, director of some of the finest films like Raging Bull, GoodFellas and Taxi Driver is directing a PG-rated movie based on a children’s book that’s shot in 3D. Sound fishy? Yes? No? Well as we all know, it was true and that film, Hugo was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (of which it won five). Scorcese claims that his 12 year-old daughter wanted him to make the film and as it was his first non R-rated film in nearly two decades, he must have caved. But it does show the true talent of a director who can go from mob movies to biopics to kids movies where they’re all not only entertaining, but well-received. Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, you’d think that a movie about an orphan set in a train station might not be the most entertaining film to watch. You’d be mistaken, of course.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) has just lost his father (Jude Law) in a freak accident. He’s been sent to live with his Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), an alcoholic, in the train station where he makes sure the time is set and everything’s on schedule. It’s not the best life for Hugo, but it does beat the orphanage. Hugo passes the time by, well, keeping it. He manages to survive by stealing food from the vendors and avoids the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) by scurrying through the series of passages hidden behind the train station walls. Hugo runs into a toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) where he’s caught red-handed and his possessions are taken from him. Among them is a mysterious notebook containing drawings of an automaton (a robot of sorts). Hugo begs in vain to get it returned, but it’s not meant to be. And this begins the second part of the movie in which we learn that the toy store owner is actually Georges Méliès. That name might not mean much to some, but for those well-versed in cinema, it means a ton. Hugo befriends Isabella (Chloë Grace Moretz) and the two start to figure out that there’s much more to this man than originally thought. I won’t delve into the second part of the movie at the risk of ruining it, but suffice it to say it’s well worth watching.
Hugo is a masterpiece. It not only showed the range of director Martin Scorsese (not like we didn’t know he had it), but I feel that in lesser hands, this movie could have been a train wreck (pardon the pun). Young Asa Butterfield manages to hold his own with the likes of Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley and the incomparable Sacha Baren Cohen. Not to be left out Chloë Grace Moretz, does a fine job as well. The film is one I’d heard of and it’s had Oscar “buzz” for quite some time now. It delivered as it ended up winning 5 of the 11 awards it was nominated for (though they were more technical in nature). The great thing about the film, and the Pixar movies have this in common as well, is that it appeals to people of all ages. Don’t be frightened by Sacha Baron Cohen’s appearance in the film. His performance is quite subdued, though he’s much more entertaining in one of the featurettes. Those who might usually steer away from a Scorcese film due to excessive language or violence need not worry here. Truthfully with Hugo there’s something for everyone.
Video: How does it look?
I’m going to try to avoid any grandiose statements in regards to how the film looks. I will take a line from Roger Ebert’s review in that “…isn’t it odd how Martin Scorsese’s first 3D movie is about a man who pioneered special effects in films?” Yes, Hugo is certainly Scorcese’s first 3D film and unlike some of the other films out there, this doesn’t overdo it. The 1.78:1 AVC HD image is literally flawless. The use of CGI helps give us some shots that would be next to impossible with a traditional film. The opening sequence gives us an uninterrupted, sweeping view of the train station which is only possible with computer effects. Flesh tones appear a bit bland, but it isn’t so much that it’s a distraction. This was the 2D version reviewed, so I can’t comment on the use of 3D, suffice it to say that if the scenes that utilized it, it worked. Detail is amazing, and though there are several scenes that make use of shadows and blacks, the image is never compromised. This is reference-quality video if I’ve ever seen it.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is robust, yet intricate as well. The best way I can describe it is that it’s not “in your face” as some other films, yet all the elements are present that make it a very alluring soundtrack. There’s an amazing train crash sequence, the little clicks and whirrs of the automaton and dialogue is rich and robust. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, so if it’s a top-notch mix you’re looking for then you’ve found the right film. This isn’t one of those films that will shake the room, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be to sound amazing.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This two-disc Blu-ray doesn’t have too much to offer in the supplemental department, but the included series of featurettes are both entertaining and interesting. We start off with “Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo)” as we get plenty of information from director Martin Scorsese, author Brian Selznick and some others involved in the film. We get a look at the cast and crew, working with 3D and some other technical aspects of the movie. “The Cinemagician – Georges Méliès” is a look at the man who many might not know, but they’ll no doubt know some of his work. His great granddaughter gives us on overview as we’re joined by his life and his contribution to cinema. “The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo” is a look at the automatan, some history of them (yes, they do exist and can do what was done in the film) and how the look was chosen for the one in the film. “Big Effects, Small Scale” focuses on the train wreck sequence. Lastly we have “Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime” as we see how truly funny this man is. He stays in character, not surprising, and tells of his conflicts with Scorcese and some of his antics on the set (all made up, of course). There’s also a UltraViolet coy and a digital copy for your mobile device.
Check out an exclusive extra from the Hugo Blu-ray!