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Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/28/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/25/2012
I don't necessarily like being in the minority, but at this point, I've gotten used to it. As a critic, I always try to give my honest opinion -- that's the only thing which makes reading these reviews worth your time -- and that opinion can often differ from the majority. Sometime I like a movie which was savaged by other critics. At other times, I find a movie unappealing and I scratch my head in confusion as to why anyone would have liked it. My reaction to Hugo was the latter. This clearly isn't a popular opinion, as the movie has been nominated for 11 Oscars, but it's the only one that I have. Now, let's explore where Hugo went wrong.
Set in the 1920s, Hugo introduces us to Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a boy who lives in a Paris train station. Following the death of his father (Jude Law), Hugo was sent to live with his uncle (Ray Winstone), whose job it was to maintain and set all of the clocks in the train station. Following the disappearance of his uncle, Hugo continues to do the job, all the while avoiding the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). One of the few things which Hugo was bring along from his former life was an automaton which his father had found. Hugo spends much of his day trying to repair the machine. In order to do this, he steals parts from a local toy shop which is run by Georges (Ben Kingsley). When caught, Georges is very cruel towards Hugo, taking a notebook which is very precious to the boy. Georges' god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) witnesses this and agrees to help Hugo. This leads the two on an adventure in which they will learn secrets from Georges' past and the true purpose of the automaton.
At first glance, Hugo is an impressive looking movie. This would explain why it's been nominated for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Visual Effects. A great deal of care has been placed in creating the look of the film. The train station set is enormous and detailed, and even when we know that we are looking at a green-screen background of Paris, the effects are pretty seamless. Hugo's clock tower home looks real and the camera follows him through a network of tunnels and corridors. In addition, the silent movies which are a crucial part of the plot are meticulously recreated. The film's color palette leans towards golds and browns, but there are splashes of brighter colors at times.
The problem with the movie is that all of this sumptuous beauty hides a story with no soul whatsoever. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo offers a very multi-layered story, but the movie clearly has no idea what to do with it. As you no doubt know, Hugo comes from Director Martin Scorsese, who is clearly out of his element here. Many consider Scorsese to be a genius and one of America's best (if not the best) filmmakers. I completely disagree, as I've never been a fan. The man whose career was kicked off by Taxi Driver and then continued with titles like Goodfellas, Casino, and Gangs of New York, has decided to make a family film (due in part to the fact that he has a 12-year old daughter). However, he obviously has no idea how to do this.
The film's main issue is with the pacing. Yes, the story is involved, but not so much that it should take 126 minutes to tell it. The movie makes no effort whatsoever to pull the viewer into the movie. The first act wanders around, seemingly mirroring the way that Hugo moves through the train station. Scenes go on and on, specifically one where the shy Station Inspector finally finds the nerve to approach Lisette (Emily Mortimer). This scene A) isn't integral to the plot, and B) seems to go on forever. The movie leaps all over the place, as if it doesn't know what the focus of the film should be.
When the plot finally arrives, the movie seems to be much more impressed with it than we are. It's no secret that Scorsese is an advocate for film preservation and that he loves old movies, so it's not surprising that he was drawn to this project. However, that doesn't mean that the audience will be impressed by it. In the invent that you aren't aware of the direction which the film's second half takes, I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that it becomes very involved with silent movies. The events/characters portrayed here are based on real-life, but if you didn't know that going in, you would simply think that this was part of the movie. The characters marvel in wonder at what is happening around them, but there's no emotional content to it -- there's nothing to make the audience feel connected to the movie. The feel is very cold and stale -- this is an attempt by a 70-year old man, who has spent his life making violent and serious films, to capture childhood whimsy, but it doesn't work.
So, why all of the love for Hugo? I wish that I knew. I'm sure that the idea looked good on paper and there is the kernel of a good movie in here somewhere, but the end result is simply boring. Sure, I love it when a robot draws pictures of a Smashing Pumpkins video as much as the next person, but this movie, despite having a great look, leaves much to be desired. As for being a family film, I do know this. I began watching the film with my wife and daughters. Twenty-minutes later, I was sitting by myself.
Hugo owes John Landis an apology when it comes to dream sequences on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is extremely sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture is very crisp and shows a nice amount of detail, as we can make out textures on objects. The depth is impressive, even in this non-3D version, and the actors are nicely separate from the background. The care placed in the making of the movie really comes through here. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The track does a great job of bringing to life the sounds of the train station. The rumbles of the trains and the murmurs of the crowd fill the surround and stereo channels. These effects are very detailed and we're able to pick out individual sounds. Two specific train scenes provide effective subwoofer effects. The score sounds especially good.
The Hugo Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extra features. "Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo)" (20 minutes) contains interviews with Scorcese, the writers, the producers, and the cast. They talk about the source novel and how it was brought to the screen. We then hear about the casting of the film, and get comments from the actors. The piece then examines the look of the film and the inclusion of 3D. Scocese mentions seeing things "through the eyes of children", which goes back to my earlier point. "The Cinemagician, George Melies" (16 minutes) is a mini-biography of the French filmmaker, using Hugo as a starting point. We get clips from Melies films and comments from experts, including Melies great-great-granddaughter. "The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo" (13 minutes) gives us a history of automatons and mechanical reproductions, with numerous examples. From there, it looks at the creation of the automaton in the film. "Big Effects, Small Scale" (6 minutes) takes us on-set to see how miniatures were used for one of the pivotal train-station scenes. "Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime" (4 minutes) is an odd interview with the actor...but then, what would you expect.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long