We've enjoyed Hugo in 2D and 3D and now Arrow Video brings director Martin Scorsese's captivating and innovative family film to 4K UHD. The story of an orphaned urchin who discovers the true identity of a bitter toy shop owner in 1920s Paris not only stresses the importance of human connection, it also celebrates the wonder of motion pictures and how they inspire and unite us. The strong Dolby Vision HDR transfer, hours of new supplements, and collectible packaging distinguish this limited edition release of a beloved and meaningful movie. Must Own.
[The following review was written in 2012 upon the film's initial 3D Blu-ray release. I stand by every word of it today, more than 11 years later.]
"The movies are our special place."
So says the pensive, 12-year-old title character in Hugo, and though most of us who go to the movies blithely share this simple sentiment, director Martin Scorsese brilliantly and perceptively shows us why. His beguiling ode to the magic of cinema and the sense of wonder and community the art form inspires ranks as one of the director's greatest achievements (and that's saying something!). Flashy yet subtle, grand yet understated, Hugo brought tears to my eyes, not because of any emotional plot development, but because this heartwarming film celebrates with grace and lyricism the personal connection we all have with film and the important, intimate role it plays in all of our lives.
No other director could express those ideas more simply and with more potency than Scorsese, who infuses Hugo with an uncharacteristic yet utterly charming warmth and innocence that augments its power and makes it resonate. And no other film encapsulates the essence of Scorsese - who he is and what he does - better than Hugo, which ties together the director's passion for motion pictures (spawned from a lonely, challenging childhood, much like Hugo's) and his intense commitment to the cause of film preservation. Hugo may start out as a tale of both an orphaned boy searching for a home and a bitter old man at war with the past, but it becomes a story about all of us and how movies collectively bond us through dreams. With ceaseless urgency, almost all humans strive to connect with someone or something - it's in our DNA - and Scorsese depicts how film often satisfies that innate, burning need, and consequently brings us joy.
Based on the Caldecott Medal-winning novel by Brian Selznick, Hugo chronicles the wide-eyed adventures of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young, penniless French boy who lives alone in the clock tower of a Paris train depot after his father dies and his guardian uncle goes off on a bender. Hugo leads a hand-to-mouth existence, swiping croissants and milk from station vendors and stealing toys from a booth run by an austere elderly man (Ben Kingsley). Hugo deconstructs the toys and uses some of the parts to repair an automaton (a primitive robot) that his father, a clockmaker, purchased from a museum and the two worked on together. One day, the toy dealer catches Hugo red-handed and, as punishment, forces him to relinquish his prized notebook that contains diagrams outlining the automaton's mechanisms.
In an attempt to reclaim the notebook, Hugo comes in contact with the toy dealer's goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), and the two embark on a voyage of discovery, each exposing the other to unexplored wonders. Isabelle opens Hugo's eyes to the world of books, while Hugo introduces Isabelle to movies. In an odd coincidence, Isabelle, quite literally, holds the key to the automaton, which in turn sheds light on the true avocation of her godfather, Georges Méliès, who they discover was a once-famous filmmaker. Méliès, who's now forgotten, depressed, and impoverished, forms a tenuous bond with Hugo, who tries to help him while continually evading the clutches of the tyrannical station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who relishes sending stray children to the city orphanage.
Though he's adept at fixing things, can Hugo repair the shambles of his own life, restore the reputation and self-esteem of Méliès, and indirectly heal the crippled station inspector, who feels like half a man? It's a tall order, but Hugo, with the movies and the automaton on his side, proves he's up to the task.
There's a Dickensian air about the characters of Hugo, especially the plucky urchin who's reminiscent of Oliver Twist, that lends the film additional charm. Though many of the minor figures - a flower peddler (Emily Mortimer), café owner (Frances de la Tour), bumbling café patron (Richard Griffiths), suspicious bookseller (Christopher Lee), and Hugo's gruff, drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) - only play marginal roles, they're essential cogs in the film's wheel and Scorsese treats them with respect. And in a further homage to the great movies of yore, we often witness their actions through Hugo's peering eyes, á la Hitchcock's Rear Window. Scorsese also beautifully incorporates into the story sequences Hugo himself views on film, such as comedian Harold Lloyd swinging from the hands of a clock tower, and tips his hat to Méliès by giving some shots, like the Paris skyline, a fantastical, animated look.
Just as Méliès was an innovator in the early 20th century, Scorsese breaks ground today with his keen use of 3D, bringing what many still regard as a flamboyant, commercial fad into mainstream movie making. Never a distraction, the 3D images in Hugo unfold naturally as a part of the story, enhancing impact and providing delicate shadings, while the more overt effects salute the showmanship of Méliès by adding a whimsical playfulness to certain scenes. Film, Hugo explains, is the essence of magic, and 3D, when employed judiciously, can be a vital aspect of the spell celluloid weaves. Scorsese, in his infinite wisdom, recognizes that, and Méliès surely would have appreciated his perspective.
And anyone who truly appreciates movies - what they do and say, the care with which they're often made, and how they make us feel - will fall in love with Hugo. There's a reason it received 11 Academy Award nominations and won five Oscars. And though it's a shame Scorsese himself didn't take home a gold statuette (even more than Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and GoodFellas, this picture defines him), he doesn't need the award to validate this amazing work. As Isabelle says in the film, "Thank you for the movie today. It was a gift." And Hugo is Scorsese's gift to those of us who cherish movies. With respect, reverence, and a boyish enthusiasm that will never leave him, Scorsese shows us that film was a magical, wondrous entity 100 years ago and it still is today.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Hugo arrives on 4K UHD in a 3-disc limited edition boxed set. Arrow Video only sent High-Def Digest pre-production check discs (one of which did not arrive until well after the set's release date) for review, so I can't evaluate the packaging or enclosed booklet and poster. Video codec for the 4K UHD disc is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround. (A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also included.) A 1080p Blu-ray disc that contains both the 3D and 2D versions of Hugo and a Blu-ray disc that's completely comprised of supplemental material are also included. Once the 4K UHD disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
There's not much transfer information regarding this release (except that Paramount Pictures supplied the masters), which leads me to believe the existing masters were used to create the 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision HDR. As far as 4K Dolby Vision transfers go, this one rates highly, but when compared to the excellent 2D 1080p transfer, the upticks in quality really aren't that noticeable. The wider color spectrum of Dolby Vision certainly benefits the 4K presentation, adding richness and vibrancy to the hues. The Station Inspector's blue coat looks brighter and bluer and the orange warrior costumes during the scenes in Méliès' movie studio exhibit some welcome pop, but because Hugo's color palette is rather muted to reflect the train terminal's drab, grimy atmosphere, we don't get as much bang for our Dolby Vision buck in the color department. Clarity and contrast are slightly improved, producing a crisper image with a hair more depth, but fine details like Kingsley's wrinkles, mustache, and beard, Hugo's freckles, and the dust specks that float in the shafts of light look pretty much like they do on the standard Blu-ray. If you own the 2012 Blu-ray and are satisfied with it, I don't see an urgent need to upgrade to this 4K edition based on picture quality alone.
After comparing Arrow's 4K and standard Blu-ray transfers of Hugo in 2D, I took a gander at the 3D Blu-ray presentation to see if I could detect any differences between it and Paramount's 2012 3D disc. The short answer is no. I never experienced any of the crosstalk issues that others noticed on the 2012 disc and didn't detect any on Arrow's disc either, even during fast-motion sequences. Arrow's 3D presentation seems identical to Paramount's 2012 release and that's good news. That said, sampling various scenes drove home the point that Hugo demands to be seen in 3D, if possible. It's a completely different, more immersive, more emotional, and much more dazzling experience in that format, and because of the enhanced depth and dimension 3D provides, the 3D image - at least to my eyes - appears sharper and more detailed than its 4K counterpart. The colors may not be as vivid, but I noticed elements in the 3D frame that escaped my gaze in the film's flat presentation. If you own the 3D version of Hugo and require a very good reason to watch the film in any other format, there's no need to upgrade to 4K...unless you want a 4K backup copy of the film in the event your 3D-capable TV conks out (something I don't dare even think about). For a more in-depth review of the 3D transfer on the 2012 Paramount disc, click here.
This appears to be the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that graced the 2012 Blu-ray...and there's nothing at all wrong with that. As I wrote in 2012, the reference-quality audio is stunning in its clarity, precision, and level of detail. Hugo possesses a rich audio fabric, juggling big moments and delicate nuances, yet all the sound is distinct, perfectly balanced, and awash in superior fidelity and fine tonal depth. From the opening frames, featuring the rhythmic interlocking of mechanical gears spread across all the room's speakers, it's evident we're in for an aural treat, and the track never backs down over the course of the film. Superior dynamic range handles screeching highs and low rumbles with ease and nary a hint of distortion creeps into the mix.
The surrounds are almost constantly engaged, as bits of detail gently flow from one channel to another. The hustle and bustle of the busy train station is especially well rendered, with footsteps, the rustling of clothing, steam, whistles, and rail sounds at once distinct and yet unified. The gears and clicks of the automaton are crisp and lively, the swoosh of flying papers floats about the room, and when the train crashes through the station the cacophony of destruction crashes through the speakers. Stereo separation across the front channels is also excellent and the potent bass frequencies are perfectly integrated into the track's whole.
Howard Shore's gorgeous, Oscar-nominated score boasts exceptional presence and fidelity, caressing small moments and accenting big ones, yet never overwhelming the on-screen action. Dialogue is always well prioritized and easy to understand and no surface noise or hiss intrude or distract. Hugo won Academy Awards for sound editing and sound mixing and this superbly clear, active, and immersive track makes it easy to understand why.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is also included on the disc.
A substantial supplemental package combines a wealth of impeccably produced new material with all the extras from the 2012 Paramount Blu-ray.
NEW Audio Commentary - Filmmaker and writer Jon Spira, co-author of The Long-Lost Autobiography of Georges Méliès, sits down for an amiable and interesting commentary that combines his thoughts about Hugo with plenty of fascinating information about Méliès. Spira questions whether Hugo is really "Scorsese's love letter to cinema," as many have opined (including myself), discusses Scorsese's passion for film restoration and preservation, analyzes the film's financial failure, and examines the movie's presentation in both 4K and 3D. He addresses Méliès' "justified pomposity," notes Méliès was the first filmmaker to explore storytelling and the fantastical in cinema, and chronicles both the struggles he faced during his prime and his sad decline. Spira also praises the cast and shares a few anecdotes, including one about Chloë Grace Moretz, whom he says lied to Scorsese about being British to get the part of Isabelle. While I would have preferred a commentary by Scorsese himself (or one that at least included him to some degree), this track covers most of the bases and is well worth a listen.
NEW "Inventing Hugo Cabret" (HD, 55 minutes) - In this lively, absorbing, in-depth 2023 interview, Brian Selznick, the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the novel upon which Hugo is based, talks about the influences in his life that led him to magic, movies, and Méliès, how Maurice Sendak inspired him, the genesis of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and how he used cinematic techniques to tell the story. He also discusses Scorsese's faithful yet innovative adaptation of his book, notes some of the changes Scorsese made, relates how a novel he swore would never be made into a movie became a Scorsese project, recalls his awestruck visits to the set and cameo in the film, and identifies some moments from the book that didn't make it into the script.
NEW "Capturing Dreams" (HD, 40 minutes) - Director of photography Robert Richardson, who won an Oscar for Hugo, covers such topics as his admiration for Méliès, the evolution of 3D and how it enhances character development, Scorsese's methodology with regard to cinematography, the extensive prep work required for every Scorsese film, and the challenges they faced during shooting in this interesting 2023 interview. In addition, he outlines his own working process, talks about his experiences with other directors, emphasizes the necessity of experimentation when implementing 3D, and lists the keys to a successful working relationship with Scorsese. Extensive behind-the-scenes footage (presented without sound) and clips from the film enhance this largely technical piece.
NEW "The Music of Dreams" (HD, 14 minutes) - Composer Howard Shore, who earned an Oscar nod for his Hugo score, provides a step-by-step outline of his personal working process, notes how he implemented the "metronomic effect of the clock" into his music, and talks about the "all enveloping process" of working with Scorsese and how he was inspired by the film's other craftsmen in this 2023 interview.
NEW "Ian Christie on Hugo" (HD, 23 minutes) - The film historian, scholar, and editor of Scorsese on Scorsese discusses how Scorsese's commitment to film preservation is at the heart of Hugo, addresses the movie's faults, assesses the performances, shares some colorful recollections of his day on the set, points out instances where Scorsese broke the rules of 3D, cites where the film and Selznick's book "falsify" the story of Méliès, and analyzes where Hugo sits in Scorsese's film canon.
NEW "Secret Machines: Hugo and Film Preservation" (HD, 18 minutes) - This video essay by filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya analyzes Hugo's narrative and its connection to Scorsese personally and looks at the movie's underlying message about the magic of film, the technical prowess necessary to create motion pictures, and the importance of restoration and preservation.
NEW "Creating New Worlds: The Life of Georges Méliès" (HD, 38 minutes) - Film journalist Julien Dupuy, who worked on Hugo tangentially, gives us a tour of the Musee Méliès at the Cinematheque Française in Paris and chronicles the life and legacy of the motion picture pioneer. Among other things, we learn about Méliès' early years, how he became fanatically devoted to filmmaking, and how he developed tracking shots, close-ups, and various visual effects. Dupuy also provides an in-depth look at the production and exhibition of Méliès' most famous movie, 1902's A Trip to the Moon, and takes us to Méliès' grave in a Paris cemetery. FIlm clips, sketches, models, and photographs illustrate this fascinating look at Méliès that's presented in French with English subtitles.
NEW "Papa Georges Made Movies" (HD, 10 minutes) - Film historian Pamela Hutchinson takes us to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in Exeter, England, which contains early film cameras and projectors, posters, artifacts, and gadgets. Hutchinson also talks about the origins of motion pictures, which go back centuries.
NEW "Méliès at the Time of Hugo" (HD, 8 minutes) - Filmmaker and writer Jon Spira, who recorded the audio commentary for this release, produced this 2023 visual essay that examines Méliès' life during the period depicted in Hugo. Spira details Méliès' rift with his brother Gaston and a disastrous deal with Pathé, both of which accelerated his decline. He also outlines the real specifics behind the renaissance of Méliès that's depicted at the climax of Hugo.
NEW Image Gallery (HD) - This gallery contains 23 color images that encompass behind-the-scenes production photos, scene stills, and reproductions of various posters.
Featurette: "Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo" (HD, 20 minutes) – Scorsese, screenwriter John Logan, members of the cast, and other creative personnel examine various aspects of the film's production in this interesting, yet standard behind-the-scenes featurette. Glowing comments about Scorsese are sprinkled throughout this piece, which covers the original book upon which Hugo was based, casting, sets, working with dogs, and Scorsese's attraction to and philosophy concerning 3D films and photography.
Featurette: "The Cinemagician: Georges Méliès" (HD, 16 minutes) – This fond remembrance of one of the film's pioneers and the father of narrative movies covers the artist's life, vision, and contributions to the industry he helped create. The great-great-granddaughter of Méliès adds an intimate perspective, Scorsese talks about which Méliès films he chose to recreate in Hugo, and other experts chime in on the innovations of his work.
Featurette: "Big Effects, Small Scale" (HD, 6 minutes) – This featurette examines how technicians fashioned the shot of the locomotive crashing through the station facade, an actual event that occurred in Paris in the early 20th century. Meticulous research, construction, and attention to detail all contributed to the effectiveness of this striking sequence in the film.
Featurette: "The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo" (HD, 13 minutes) – The history of automatons, from their Greek and Arab origins up through their golden age at the turn of the 20th century, is explored in this informative featurette. Famous automaton makers are also discussed and we learn about the design and intricacies of mechanics of the automaton used in Hugo.
Featurette: "Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime" (HD, 4 minutes) – This amusing spoof allows the comic actor the chance to display some temperament as he talks about his disrespect for the script, the children with whom he worked, and, most importantly, Scorsese himself.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview only fleetingly mentions the movies, preferring instead to emphasize the story's mystery, adventure, and wonder.
Hugo in 4K doesn't match the sublime 3D experience, but the Ultra HD transfer with Dolby Vision HDR is still a treat. Scorsese's innovative and affecting masterwork is a must-view in any format and Arrow's limited edition release gives us every video option as well as hours of new, high-quality supplements and collectible packaging. If you don't yet own Hugo, this is definitely the edition to get, but those who already have the 2012 3D/2D Blu-ray might want to think twice about upgrading, although the terrific new extras and packaging are certainly enough to entice Hugo fanatics.
In the end, whether it's 4K, 3D, or 2D doesn't matter. Anyone who loves movies will fall in love with Hugo, and this comprehensive set reverently honors this wondrous film and the cinema pioneer who inspired it. Must Own.