Finally, we can all bask in the glory of Martin Scorsese's HUGO in the comfort of our own homes. How does it hold up outside of the theater and in 2D? This review will answer that. Before we get into the review at hand, I want to disclose that after viewing the blu-ray, I really decided that I feel no differently about it than I did when I initially saw it theatrically. Thus, I'm copy/pasting my theatrical review for the film section of this. If you have already read that, there is nothing new added and you can skip straight ahead to the A/V and Special Features sections to know if the blu-ray is worth your money (it is!)
Martin Scorsese surely needs no introduction here but, unfortunately, HUGO may. HUGO, based on Brian Selznick's 2007 novel/graphic art hybrid, THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET is ambitious yet hard to define, perhaps more so than any other American, family-targeted, holiday release in recent memory. That it was released during the same week as THE MUPPETS and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS will only further hinder the likelihood of it being noticed by the average moviegoer. That being said, it deserves their (and your) utmost attention.
HUGO tells the story of an orphaned boy named - you guessed it - Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who spends his days winding clocks in a train station in 1930s Paris. Being an orphan, he is subsequently labeled a thief (and he is one) by the nefarious station inspector, played with deadpan glee by Sascha Baron Cohen. This alone would make a fairly decent holiday family film, and for the first half of the film's run-time, it practically does. However, as you should likely ascertain, Scorsese is not content with merely entertaining families post-Turkey dinner. No, he has a much grander purpose with HUGO and one that needs to be shared with anyone willing to attend a screening (and wear 3D glasses...again).
Where HUGO distances itself from any other family film I've seen in recent times, is that Scorsese never once compromises his work for younger viewers. This, more so than being entertainment for children (though it is entirely appropriate for them), is candy for cinephiles. What I have not mentioned regarding the story of the film thus far is that it also greatly concerns early cinema visionary Georges Melies, who is played here rather wonderfully by Ben Kingsley. I won't spoil many of the film's most rewarding moments, but I don't think I'd be spoiling anything to say that Melies is the film's backbone and perhaps is the reason Scorsese made the film in the first place. Watching Kingsley play a broken, forgotten filmmaker is a moving experience and even more so if you go in with any prior understanding of the fragility of early motion picture film. Which brings us to the real reason that HUGO exists.
Many readers will likely know of Scorsese's vested interest in the preservation of film. If not, it would do you well to check out The Film Foundation and read up on what Scorsese has helped to preserve in the past, and the list is filled with some treasures, to say the least. HUGO takes the time (and it has it, at 127 minutes in length) to show Melies at work, both behind the camera and on. We have seen many film related bio-pics that show directors at work though, but Scorsese finds a way to make this experience unique. Melies worked as a magician prior to being a filmmaker and it is in this appreciation for magic that his love of cinema is conveyed to the viewer. And it is hard to not get a bit sentimental while being truly invested in Scorsese's own magic (realized in rather wonderful 3D) and hearing Kingsley as Melies speaking of "creating dreams". It is moments like this that fostered my interest in cinema and having that passion re-enforced in an auditorium that was speckled with families looking for pre-Thanksgiving entertainment, re-established that rather strongly.
Ironically enough, this is Scorsese's most romantic ode to cinema yet it is also his first foray into digital filmmaking. HUGO is digital 3D and it should be respected as such. Perhaps this was even a cathartic experience for Scorsese in celebrating his love for celluloid so explicitly yet through the very format that will make its presence near-extinct in the next few years. Still, on any format, it is hard to not find adoration for the medium in every frame. HUGO is not a perfect film (what is?) and it may be a tad long and wordy for young viewers but, if anything, it serves as a gateway to early-cinema that did not exist before and anything that makes what film preservationists do more accessible to the public, is a reason for celebration in my personal opinion.
HUGO, as expected, looks astounding at home in HD. Scorsese shot this film digitally, as it was shot natively in 3D not post-converted, and one can't really imagine a more faithful representation. The transfer is 1080p (what isn't these days?) and features solid black levels and colors throughout. This isn't the most vibrant film you will see, but it's color pallet is never saturated and looks just as I recall it doing so theatrically, only less....big.
Sound is equally gratifying with a lossless DTS HD MA 7.1 track that is LOUD, just cue up that train wreck scene and you'll hear what I'm talking about. The music and sound effects almost always have their own channels and are represented flawlessly. I can't think of a better presentation that we could have.
Let it be known that HUGO is also seeing a 3D BD release this week but I will not be reviewing that as I do not have an appropriate display. Word on the internet is that it pretty faithfully replicates the theatrical 3D experience but the transfer pales in comparison to the 2D transfer. Take that for what you will.
This may be the only disappointing section of this disc. It's not that Paramount didn't try, they just didn't try hard enough. And, it seems to be prefect material for a double-dip. Still, what is here is worth looking at. We get:
Shoot the Moon: This is a pretty standard "making of" that runs about 20 minutes. It discuses the book origins of the film and parts of the pre-production and production process. What's here is good but it's short length leaves a lot left to cover and made me wanting much more.
The Cinemagician, George Melies: This is a short piece about Melies and how he fits into the film. It's a nice feature for newcomers to silent cinema but anyone who is familiar with Melies is aware of all of this.
The Mechanical Man at the Heart of HUGO: This examines the automaton in the film and the historical significance of such a thing. I didn't know much about the subject before this so I found it interesting but at 12 minutes it is much too short.
Big Effects, Small Scale: This looks at, well, the effects. It looks primarily at one particular sequence, one that those who have seen the film will likely guess but I'm not ruining it for those who haven't. It barely runs 5 minutes and it definitely could have been longer.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Role of a Lifetime: I'm not quite sure what this is. It's about 3 minutes and is sort of about Sacha Baron Cohen but it basically serves no purpose.
HUGO is a magical film and my favorite American wide release of 2011. It captures everything that I love about movies and shares everything that I respect and try to argue about film preservation. It is not only an enjoyable film, but an important one. It is entirely family friendly while never pandering to the young (or young at heart) that may be in the audience. Paramount's blu-ray rather perfectly represents the theatrical experience in a flawless 2D 1080p transfer with DTS lossless 7.1 sound. The only downside is the short length of the disc's supplements, which imply a future upgrade. Unfortunately, I'll almost absolutely purchase any future disc, will you?