Blu-ray: Hugo

  Hot on the heels of its five Oscar wins (for cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects), viewers who missed Hugo in theaters have another chance to experience the first children’s movie from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, as it’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

“Once upon a time, I met a boy named Hugo Cabret, who lived in a train station. Why did he live in a train station, you may as well ask?” That is really the basis of Hugo, or so the trailers would have one believe. The movie advertised to audiences seems to be about a young orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the aforementioned train station, winding the many clocks and evading notice by the authorities (embodied brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen). His only companion, a broken-down automaton that his father (Jude Law) was fixing before he died, can only be activated by a special heart-shaped key. He finds said key around the neck of the precocious goddaughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) of the local toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley), and adventure ensues.

That’s not to say that story isn’t part of the film. If Hugo were a sandwich, that story would be more like the bread surrounding a thick slice of something completely different. The meat of the story is actually the touching tale about an early pioneer in moviemaking, Georges Méliès, who had to give up his passion after the first World War and settle for running a toy shop instead.

Butterfield and Moretz are remarkable young actors, perfectly cast in the lead roles, carrying their part of the movie (the one that promised two kids having a magical adventure) aptly. For his part, Kingsley embodies the bitter toy maker with pitch-perfect cynicism, as well as the mischievous magician and joyful filmmaker.

While the film is exceptional in many respects, the blended storylines have the effect of dragging down the action midway through. It isn’t that there isn’t anything interesting to say, but more that there is too much…and said in too many ways.

Every few minutes, a character shares the idea that early films had the power to capture dreams, and Hugo plays like a dream. It is visually stunning, the colors and lighting making a 1930s-era train station come vividly to life, even without the 3-D. Unlike other 3-D movies viewed in two dimensions, the missed effects aren’t distracting from the story.

“Do you ever wonder where your dreams come from? Look around. This is where they’re made.” Méliès’ words to a young Rene Tabard (who would one day become an avid historian, played by Michael Stuhlbarg in the film) could have just as easily applied to the moviemaking magic accomplished in this film, from the spectacular effects to the almost hypnotic atmosphere. The filmmaking is an homage to the art of cinema, even if Hugo’s storyline isn’t always up to the task.

While the bare-bones DVD release (Paramount Home Entertainment, MSRP: $29.99) contains only the movie and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film, both the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with digital copy (MSRP: $39.99) and the 3-D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with digital copy (MSRP: $44.99) have a number of special features. “Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo” features interviews with the cast, crew and director Scorsese.

Viewers intrigued by the filmmaker portrayed in the movie should truly enjoy “The Cinemagician, George Méliès,” a look at some of the actual films that have survived the past century. This short feature showcases some of the innovations and ground-breaking effects used by the filmmaker, while further exploring his impact on cinematic history. Méliès’ great granddaughter also gives her insights into the man she knew (and the great similarities between him and Kingsley).

Likewise, those whose interest was piqued by the automaton, wondering if such a thing ever existed, will find answers in “The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo.” The featurette explores the history of automatons and their makers throughout history, showcasing some that were made in the 1700s and are still functioning today.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the film, that of a train engine running off the tracks and through a window of the station, is explored in “Big Effects, Small Scale.” From the photo of the actual train accident that inspired author Brian Selznick to include the scene in his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, to the models used to recreate the action, this method of moviemaking is a throwback to days before CGI was the norm.

Finally, “Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime” features Cohen at his satirical best, explaining why Scorsese is a terrible director and why he should be allowed to do things as he wants to do them. One might wonder if anyone has successfully interviewed Cohen as anything other than a character; this feature does nothing to dispute that notion.

While Hugo may be magical, it’s not magical in the way one might expect given how the film was marketed. It is, however, a must-see for film buffs and for those who want to know about how this singular young man searched so hard to find a secret message from his father, and how that message made its way all the way home.

Hugo is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. 

Posted on LifeInLA.com

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