Release Date(s)2011 (July 18, 2023)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor's Note: There are reports that Arrow (or Paramount) may have prepared a new Blu-ray 3D version of this film without noting it in their insert booklet, rather than using previously existing 3D assets. We're attempting to get our hands on a copy of the original Paramount Blu-ray 3D disc to do a proper comparison (we didn't have it at the time of the review), and we will update when and if we do.]
In the late aughts and early twenty-tens, filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Martin Scorsese had become infatuated with shooting their films in 3D after the massive success of James Cameron’s Avatar. The studios were only too happy to produce more 3D content, though they would eventually find a less expensive way to do so by post-converting 2D films into 3D, which is still in practice to this day. The 3D craze eventually tapered off and became what it always was, a novelty, despite Cameron, Jackson, and Scorsese declaring it to be the future of storytelling. At this time, Scorsese made an unusual move by taking on an unorthodox project and shooting it entirely in 3D. Hugo, which was adapted from Brian Selznick’s children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret and pays tribute to the great Georges Méliès, was unfortunately a box office failure.
Fully embracing major Hollywood special effects and what can only be described as more generic narrative trappings, Hugo stands out the most among the rest of Scorsese’s filmography (with projects like Kundun, Bringing Out the Dead, and Shutter Island not far behind). Perhaps that’s what makes it so special, that a filmmaker of his caliber would deliberately step out of his comfort zone and make something totally out of the box. The film is as much a tribute to the early days of cinema as it is a children’s adventure story and familial drama, meaning that there’s much going on in Hugo. The core of the film is, obviously, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), but the revelations about Ben Kingsley’s character in relation to Hugo sees Scorsese taking immense pleasure in highlighting the works of Georges Méliès. It’s magical in a way that mixes idealized fantasy with a grounded reality, allowing for surprisingly heavy emotion amid a mostly light-hearted fable.
Not all of Hugo is perfect, by any means. Its running time is often felt, and there are certain shades of comedy that don’t really gel. The latter is mostly due to the presence of Sacha Baron Cohen. Try as he might to venture beyond what he’s primarily known for, it always seems to be a shadow looming over him that he can’t fully shake, and his portrayal of a bumbling and handicapped conductor never truly flies, even with some occasional emotional beats. But besides Butterfield, Kingsley, and Cohen, the film is an embarrassment of riches in regards to the acting talent. Also among the cast are Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, and Richard Griffiths.
When Hugo was released, it was lumped in with the many large budget 3D releases crowding movie theaters, and because of that, its finer points were perhaps overlooked. In truth, it doesn’t fully work as a traditional story and is definitely uneven, but the love of the magic of cinema that comes through is far more intriguing than its perceived “Hollywood” confines. This is a filmmaker who’s exploring a different side of himself than we’ve ever seen before, speaking through the vessel that is Hugo Cabret. Ultimately, the wonder of the silver screen is the star of the show in Hugo.
Hugo was captured digitally by cinematographer Robert Richardson in the ARRIRAW codec (2.8K) using ARRI Alexa cameras and a series of Cooke 5/i, Panchro/i, and S4/i spherical lenses. Also employed were Sony HDCAM-SR and Cameron Pace Fusion 3D camera systems. Everything was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate and presented theatrically in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in both 2D and 3D. Arrow Video brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time on a UHD-100 disc, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available), with Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D presentations offered on a separate disc. All of these masters were supplied by Paramount Pictures.
The new UHD is beautiful. For some, the advantages of a higher quality presentation from a 2K source won’t be obvious at first glance. Indeed, the previous Blu-ray and this disc share similarities in terms of framing and color, though in the case of the latter, not always. It’s a brighter presentation with a bitrate that hovers primarily from 80 to 90Mbps, spiking above 100Mbps frequently. The film is gorgeously detailed with extreme fine detail and lighting, particularly in close-ups. The CGI additions, especially the smoke from the train during the film’s sweeping opening shot, as well as some of the interiors of Hugo’s hiding places among the clock gears and oversized pendulum, have a mild softness to them. The color palette features a rich diversity of hues, though they lean towards blues, browns, and golds for the most part. Flesh tones are more even and natural, and contrast is near perfect, save for a few moments when the 2K source just can't soak up as much shadow detail as a native 4K image could. Still, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference at first glance.
Being that it’s the director’s intended presentation, the inclusion of the 3D version of the film is vital. Enormous depth is on display for the most part, which goes hand in hand with the film’s thematics. What it offers that the UHD presentation cannot is that it hides the lesser visual qualities, particularly the false motion blur of computer generated imagery, not to mention the somewhat dated computer generated elements themselves. Because of this, there’s a better visual blend of live action and CGI. Many will be unable to view the Blu-ray 3D presentation, yet the uptick in quality on the UHD will be more appealing. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but at least the options are here for all preference points.
Audio is included in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 LPCM, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The multi-channel option is wonderfully immersive, surrounding the listener from the very get-go with the sounds of the train station and the hustle and bustle of commuters. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible, and the overall track is presented at an ideal volume. Also included is an alternative stereo mix-down, which is powerful in its own right.
The 2-Disc 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D presentations of Hugo sit in a black amaray case alongside a double-sided poster featuring the original theatrical poster artwork on one side and new artwork created by Tommy Pocket on the other, as well as a 24-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay Cinema, Mon Amour by Farran Smith Nehme, transfers information, and a set of production credits. Everything is housed in a slipcover that features another piece of artwork by Tommy Pocket. The following extras are included on each disc, all in HD:
DISCS ONE & TWO: FILM (UHD & BD/BD-3D)
- Audio Commentary by Jon Spira
- Theatrical Trailer (2:18)
DISC THREE: BONUS MATERIALS (BD)
- Inventing Hugo Cabret (54:49)
- Capturing Dreams (40:02)
- The Music of Dreams (13:49)
- Ian Christie on Hugo (23:12)
- Secret Machines: Hugo and Film Preservation (18:17)
- Creating New Worlds (37:43)
- Papa Georges Made Movies (10:05)
- Méliès at the Time of Hugo (7:43)
- Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo) (19:48)
- The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès (15:40)
- The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo (12:45)
- Big Effects, Small Scale (5:54)
- Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime (3:33)
- Image Gallery (24 in all)
Writer and filmmaker Jon Spira takes up commentary duties, speaking on the quality of the film, the life and career of Georges Méliès, the wave of 3D films at the time, and the work of the various people involved. Inventing Hugo Cabret is an hour-long interview with the author and illustrator of the original novel, Brian Selznick, who details the creation of his book and its eventual adaptation. Capturing Dreams offers another interview, this time with director of photography Robert Richardson, who talks about collaborating with Scorsese and his work on the film. The Music of Dreams speaks to composer Howard Shore about the score. Film historian and editor of the book Scorsese on Scorsese, Ian Christie, discusses his feelings on the film, and how it both does and doesn’t tie into the breadth of Scorsese’s filmography. Secret Machines is an essay by filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya about the finer textures of the film. Creating New Worlds talks to French film historian and author Julien Dupuy about Georges Méliès and his eventual impact on filmmaking. (It’s worth noting that this featurette is presented in French with English subtitles.) Papa Georges Made Movies is narrated by film critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson, and offers glimpses of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in the UK where many pieces of ephemera of the early days of film are lovingly preserved and displayed. Jon Spira returns for Méliès at the time of Hugo, a visual essay that details the period in which the film takes place, and what was truly going on in the life of Georges Méliès at the time.
Next are a series of five archival featurettes on the making of the film, which are carried over from previous home video releases. They include Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo), The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès, The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo, Big Effects, Small Scale, and Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime. All include interviews with the main cast and crew, including Scorsese, as well as academics who speak more about Méliès. Last is an Image Gallery containing 24 stills of posters and behind-the-scenes photos. All that’s missing are a pair of featurettes from the film’s French Blu-ray releases.
Arrow’s overall 4K-UHD package for Hugo is a much-needed upgrade that offers three presentations of the film and a bounty of bonus materials, old and new. In some ways, it’s one of Scorsese’s more forgotten films, only because it’s so overshadowed by many of the classic films in his filmography (which is certainly not a terrible position to be in). It’s definitely worth another look, in 4K or 3D. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons