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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Hugo

February 25th, 2012

Hugo - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack

Hugo is Martin Scorsese's first family film and the first film he's made in 3D. It is certainly a risk for a director to branch out in such a radical way. On the other hand, the last time Martin Scorcese directed a film that didn't earn overall positive reviews was Boxcar Bertha, which he made back in 1972. Because of this, expectations are really high. Can the director live up to his past success in this new genre / format?

The Movie

Hugo takes place in a Parisian train station where everyone speaks with a British accent. The film begins with us following Hugo Cabret as he walks through the giant clock at the heart of the train station and looks in on the various inhabitants. There's the strict Station Inspector, the bookstore owner, the toymaker, the toymaker's young goddaughter, and others. It's the toymaker he's most interested in, and when the man falls asleep, he attempts to steal one of his toys. It's the not first time he's stolen from the man, but this time it's a trap and the toymaker was only pretending to sleep. After catching Hugo, the toymaker threatens to call the Station Inspector, unless Hugo empties out his pockets and gives back everything he stole. However, the toymaker doesn't just take back his gears, he takes Hugo's notebook. The notebook sparks memories in the toymaker and when Hugo refuses to tell him where he got it, he takes the notebook and threatens to burn it.

That night Hugo follows the toymaker home and tries to get his notebook back. When appealing to the toymaker directly doesn't work, he asks Isabelle to get it for him. She refuses, unless he tells her where its from. (She loves secrets.) When he refuses to tell her, she at least promises to not let her godfather, Georges, burn it. We then start to learn why that notebook is so important to Hugo.

To do so, we flash back to happier times for Hugo when he was living with his father. His father was a clockmaker who worked in a shop and also did work with some of the exhibits in a museum. One day he finds an automaton in the attic. The clockwork apparatus is the most complex he's ever seen, but he and Hugo work hard to rebuild it. Before that can happen, however, he's killed in a fire. Hugo's Uncle Claude takes Hugo to live with him in the station as his apprentice. Uncle Claude teaches him to work the clocks, but shortly afterward leaves Hugo on his own. While on his own, Hugo has to steal food to survive. But he has also been stealing windup toys from Georges for parts to fix the machine. The machine and the notebook are the only things from his father that he has left.

Fortunately, Isabelle is able to convince Georges not to burn the notebook, although Georges initially tells Hugo otherwise. Isabelle wants to help Hugo, because there could be an adventure to be had. Or at the very least, there's a film history lesson to be learned.

If you've been reading our Oscar Category Highlights, you know I think this film should win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is the best movie I've seen all year. It tells the parallel stories of two people, Hugo Cabret and Georges Méliès, the first is looking for his place in the world and the second had found his place, only to lose it. This part of the film works so well that if the viewer had no idea or interest in movie history, this would still be a engrossing film. The writing, the directing and the acting are simply magnificent. Martin Scorsese has created a wonderful world that is captivating from the moment we see Hugo observe it from behind the walls. I'm annoyed none of the cast were nominated for any major awards. (Although Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz did earn a few nominations for Young Actors in a few local Critics Society Awards.) Quite frankly, the acting here was better than in The Help, which won the SAG for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Additionally, Hugo is also amazing as an ode / history lesson regarding the earliest years of the movie business. I don't want to get into the details of this part of the film, as it is too far into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, if you weren't interesting in the early history of the movie business before seeing this movie, you likely will be interested after seeing it.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray include a handful of featurettes, starting with Shoot the Moon, a 20-minute making of feature that's the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès is a 16-minute look at the real life Georges Méliès and his place in movie business history. The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo is a 13-minute look at the automaton from the film, as well as the history of such clockwork creations. Big Effects, Small Scale runs six minutes and it is about the filming of a major special effects shot, which I won't describe here because it is a spoiler. Finally, there's Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime, a four-minute interview with Sacha Baron Cohen and others about his performance in the film. Overall, it's close to an hour of extras and all of the featurettes have strong replay value. That said, I would have loved an audio commentary track, or two of them (one with the cast and one with the crew).

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but technically it is damn near perfect. And the only reason I'm using the word, "near", is because I might have missed some minor issue with the picture or sound. As far as I can tell, it is flawless. The detail levels are amazing, the blacks are as deep as you can imagine, the colors pop, contrast is spot on, and of course there are no compression issues. The 7.1 audio track is just as impressive with excellent immersion, plenty of directional effects, and the subwoofer is put to good use often. Absolutely reference level quality throughout.

I have not yet made the leap to 3D so I can't judge the quality of the effects, but this film makes it tempting.

As for the price, the DVD is just $15.49 on, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack is $21.99. Paying 42% more for the Blu-ray is on the high end of the acceptable range for a film with no exclusive extras. This is partially because the DVD is less expensive than a lot of first run releases. Additionally, the audio / video quality is so strong that it is definitely worth it. The 3D Combo Pack is $27.99, which is inline with most other 3D releases, if a little on the high side. However, you get what you pay for.

The Verdict

If there's any justice, Hugo will become the big winner on Oscar night. It is the best movie from 2011 that I've seen and it is a must have. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack have enough extras to be in contention for Pick of the Week, while the 3D Combo Pack is almost enough for me to upgrade.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hugo, The Help