Hugo Blu-ray Review
This review is for the 2D version of Hugo.
With its golden glow of burnished copper and bronze blending into a palette of midnight blue and cool turquoise, Hugo has a very highly stylised look. This heightened aesthetic is entrancing to some, and perhaps irritating to those who are allergic to the orange and teal effect. Personally, I adored this gleaming industrial stance and it looks just as captivating on BD as it did at the flicks.
Shot digitally, the image is clean-swept and slightly soft, although this is down to the lighting as much as any lack of film-grain. Facial detail is definitely on offer, but there is an undeniable lack of texture. But one second’s glance at the rest of the frame will firmly establish that no sort of DNR had robbed the image of any finite layer of definition.
The disc keeps us glued to the full motion immersion of Scorsese’s world, smoothly riding alongside Robert Richardson’s camera with a bravura sense of fluidity at all times. Incredibly well resolved, both in close-up and far away objectivity, and boasting an intoxicating level of depth (aye, even in 2D that view down the gantries in the clock-tower looks stunning, as does the moonlit Parisian vista), this is an image that is immediately arresting and totally spellbinding for its full duration. It positively invites to come close and to pore over its finite attention to detail. Contrast is excellent and totally reliable. Black levels are irresistible. They have intricately delineated shadow play – just look at the lattice of shadows that fall from the machinery in Hugo’s lair – and they never mask any inner detail. Interior or external darkness is always peerlessly integrated into the image to create wonderful fusions of light and shadow.
Definition is stunning. From the bewitching mechanisms that power the station and the trains to the finite etchings that the automaton is able to draw, and from pipes, grills and leather-bound book jackets to trays of freshly baked croissants that really do look good enough to eat, this is an image that constantly rewards scrutiny. The automaton, itself, is a rare prize that the transfer renders with supreme class. Looking like a Victorian midget version of one of those crafty ‘bots in I, Robot, he is a vaguely macabre object that, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, actually seems to have some inner life of his own. The transfer reveals every tarnished inch of his metallic skin and his fantastical inner-workings with pin-point accuracy, and the movement of these bits and pieces, as well as those that criss-cross the station, itself, is fascinating to watch.
This is a very artificial look. The entire environment, the costumes, the machinery, the people themselves – it all looks heightened, garish in some ways, yet powerfully moody in others. But colours within this specifically designed aesthetic are very well presented and help create a milieu that is, at once, comic-book and atmospherically subdued. The amber cast of the daylight within the station, with gorgeous filigrees of light streaming through windows and cracks, is perfectly juxtaposed with the sombre, semi-melancholic vogue of captivating midnight blues and black parameters that smother the night outside Isabelle’s house and Hugo’s industrial warren. The flashbacks to the past are, by contrast, flamboyant and gaily coloured in terms of sets, costumes and vintage special effects. The push to blue still permeates most of the film, however, though when Scorsese wants to splash some colour, he does so with panache.
Needless to say, there is no edge enhancement, no smearing, banding or any aliasing taking place. About the only detrimental effect that I noticed was some slight shimmering on tight patterns – costumes, grill-work etc – but this is not enough to detract from a transfer that is, to all intents and purposes, a flawless reproduction.
Whatever my misgivings about the film, itself, it is difficult to imagine it looking any better than this in two dimensions … and even if I was bored by the narrative, I remained thoroughly entranced by the video transfer.
And if the image wasn’t spectacular enough … just wait until you hear how Hugo sounds!
We’ve got 7.1 channels of thoroughly senses-deceiving surround immersion to savour here, folks. Coming via a DTS-HD MA transfer, the audio track for Hugo is simply stunning and will amaze, amuse and astound from start to finish. Scorsese has not made this a film full of explosions, gunfire or high-velocity impacts, yet this is as dynamic, exhilarating and richly evocative a mix as you could wish for, and one that makes such amazingly effective use of the full set-up that you will honestly believe that your room has been transformed into an intimate clockwork nirvana.
Dialogue and music are first rate, folks, immaculately prioritised and smoothly presented. Voices are warmly rendered with nuance and depth, and always clearly discernible. Howard Shore’s wonderful score gets a glorious treatment from this track too. Individual instrumentation is crisp and full of breadth and timbre. The sweep of the orchestra is beautifully engaging and swells around the set-up with symphonic finesse. The accordion gets lots of attention, as does the piano and the woodwinds, whose gentle yet epic notes float across the soundscape with ease.
The film makes terrific use of cogs and wheels, gears and levers, pistons and springs – be they comprising the guts of the big clock and the trains or the minute mechanisms of the automaton and the various toys that Kingsley’s toy-man deals with. Positioning and steerage of even the smallest click, whir and grind is absolutely spot-on. Even the squeaking of the Station Inspector’s leg-brace is brilliantly placed within the design. The added channels of surround ably carry movement around, but they also supply crystal clear detailing and marvellously embedded ambience – the babble of voices from all around, the deliberate positioning of someone hammering a nail in somewhere behind you. The track is a constant delight of both the subtle components of the scene-setting and the brasher, broader, more conventional activities that hustle and bustle and blunder around the station. Action is enormously well steered around the set-up and it bursts with life and vigour. Even the cracking of a wooden chair sends splinters around the channels, and the subsequent wafting of slow-motion pages and diagrams that go fluttering about the room after the collapse of the chair is unbelievably vivid and detailed, and you’d swear that they were fluttering about in your room. And, remember, this isn’t the 3D version!
There is a superb sense of involvement at all times. As the camera moves through the station, or through any of the frequently busy scenes, we experience the sensation of moving, ourselves. With the 3D version this envelopment into the movie would be utterly complete, of course, but even in 2D, this aural clarity and precision is so devoutly natural and real that you can’t help but marvel at the acoustic dexterity at play. The echoes of Cohen’s dog, Maximillian, barking through the metal tunnels, and the sound of his paws on steel steps is also splendidly depicted.
If I had one complaint to make … and it’s not actually a complaint, really, just more of an observation … it is that even with the wraparound action and the various set-pieces that swerve and swirl around you, there is a curious lack of genuine heft to any of it. There are occasions when the sub seems to have been left out of the party just when you’d expect it to be making its presence felt. For a while I thought that this could have been a mistake, but the mix is so accurate and so delightfully crafted in every other respect that I find this difficult to believe. We have a sequence involving a train-crash, for instance, that just seems to cry out for deep-set, gut-shrivelling .LFE, but this is not the case at all. Now, to be fair, the scene in question may not have any intense bass activity because it is only a dream and, thus, exists as a fantastical interpretation of the event from one individual’s viewpoint. But with a mix that is so damn engrossing and so impeccably detailed in every other way, this still seems a touch unusual, especially as we get the massive vibrations of the tracks, themselves. Yet, this is clearly how the mix is meant to sound, so we can’t hold that against the transfer.
All in all, Hugo could well be considered as reference material. Wonderful stuff.
Both US and UK get the same extra features. This American release also gets DVD and Digital copies of the film, and Ultraviolet streaming capability.
There is a 19-minute look at what went into the production from the initial concept of the book to the use of 3D to tell the story cinematically, that provides a decent, though rather brief overview in Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo.
A nice but, again, rather too brief featurette takes a look at Georges Melies, himself, and seeks to explain his profound influence and importance to Cinema in The Cinematician, which lasts for around fifteen minutes, and really could have done with a big, full-on documentary.
We get to learn a bit more about how the film’s automaton was crafted in The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo, but this is better at establishing the history of these splendid, but eerie contraptions.
Woefully short is the look at the practical and visual effects that went into creating the train crash sequence in the 5-minute long Big Effects, Small Scale.
My favourite extra, though, is the most unlikely one. Considering that he thought he was one of the worst elements in the film, I really enjoyed Sacha Baron Cohen’s typically off-the-wall, micky-taking spoof interview session in Role of a Lifetime. It is only on for three-and-a-half minutes, but he provides more fun in this than he does in the entire movie.
What we get here is good, don’t get me wrong, but even though I’m not a fan of the film, I would have expected more in-depth material than this. A film of this stature should have had commentaries and much more comprehensive docs. As it stands, this collection barely scratches the surface.
You know, cinema has the capacity to make children of us all – and I would love that line to be an argument that I could proffer in the film’s defence – but Hugo has such a cold lack of character and a dearth of proper storytelling narrative that it just falls flat on every dramatic level.
A beautifully made, though ineptly structured, poorly told and emotionally shallow film, Hugo is an unlikely test of endurance. At the flicks I was visually captivated, at least for a while, but struggled to see what a fair few commentators were going on about. Giving it another go on home video in light of its Oscar swoop, and now only in two dimensions, has only strengthened my opinion that it is nothing more than a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Martin Scorsese is lionised by all and sundry, but I have had serious problems with this and his previous two films. It is all well and good to be a technical genius, but you need also to have the ability to tell a good story and to enable the audience to engage willingly in that story. Yeah, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York are undisputed works of visceral art, but they were made a while ago, and his innate flamboyance has since gotten the better of him at the expense of the class that we justifiably expect from such an auteur. Hugo is a gorgeously decorated, but incontrovertibly empty egg-shell. There is great casting that goes underused, as far as I am concerned, and a guessed-before-it-happens story that never really hatches anything other than yawns.
And yet, even for me, there is a level of magic that can be savoured in the refined production design, amazing visual flair and totally immersive period detail that, taken as one dazzling whole, becomes something of an intoxicant. Hugo, thus, becomes a film that I adore looking at, but do not feel touched by.
Its Blu-ray release however, even in this 2D presentation, is simply stellar, and this pumps up the final marks regardless of what I think of the film they serenade. With agreeable, though slight supplemental material, it is the jaw-dropping transfer that makes this, undoubtedly, one of the top discs of the year, so far. This is wonderful stuff from Paramount. The image is highly stylised and people who denounce orange and teal transfers are apt to be dismayed by the deliberate visual aesthetic, but this is a fabulous image that will have fans of the film in raptures.
I wish I could ladle some more praise on the movie – and, at any rate, I do have to say that it is much, much better than Spielberg’s War Horse, which I loathed – but this is definitely a case of awed or bored. I admire a great deal of what Scorsese has done here, but you know which side of the fence I’m sitting on.
Hugo if you want to … but I’m okay, thanks.
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