How's the movie?
I'll admit the bias right up front: Hugo was my favorite film of 2011. It's a remarkable, beautiful, romantic love letter to both the early pioneers of cinema and current generations of artists the world over who still make going to the movies a magical experience. Having said that, I also realize that unless you're even passingly familiar with film history, this incredible story is probably just going to come across as incredibly dry and overly long. Even if that's the case, though, even if the heart of the story doesn't resonate with you, Hugo is worth watching purely for the performances (particularly Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield), the visuals, and the score.
But don't take just my word for it. Check out the aggregate picture:
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% with Critics, 82% with Audiences
Box Office: $115 milllion worldwide ($69m domestic, $46m foreign)
What are the vitals on the disc?
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Edition: 2D Blu-ray Combo Pack
Number of Discs: 2 (1 BD, 1DVD)
Digital Copy: Yes (Ultraviolet)
Runtime: 126 Minutes
Video: 1080p, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio (Original AR 1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
How does it look and sound?
Hugo is the best-looking new release Blu-ray so far this year. Frankly, it's a flawless presentation. I feared that the only way to ever watch Hugo would be in a movie theater, but damn if ten seconds of this didn't change my mind. That's not a slight against how inconsequential the 3D is - I still think that 2D at home cannot convey an integral dimension of the movie - but a testament to the gorgeous composition that makes up every single inch of every single shot. There's not a pixel out of place in this film, and this utterly perfect video transfer captures that with a consistently mind-blowing clarity that's like a high-definition fan's wet dream of colors, focus levels and minute details.
The exact same sentiment extends to the audio side of the disc. Howard Shore's deeply affecting score is in perfect harmony with the film's sound mix, which will transport any worthy surround sound system-equipped living room to the film's rich and lively train station instantly after pressing play. Seriously, it's just not necessary to pontificate over the film's sound design like its an aged wine. There's no pretense here: this is just an immaculate HD presentation.
What about special features?
Paramount put together an excellent package on this combo pack with a little over an hour of featurettes, each of which is worth watching. All but one of the offerings are far more informative and well-executed than your standard press kit featurettes stuck on most discs these days, though honestly if you're a super fan of the film, you could easily watch another three hours of this stuff.
Shoot the Moon (HD, 20 minutes): This is the all-purpose extra on the disc that takes a look at Hugo from the adaptation process on up to what kind of dogs should be cast, and it speaks to every important cast and crew memeber along the way. It's a lovely look at how intensely personal the film was for almost everyone involved, but it also gives you an overview of how technically complex of an undertaking the entire production was and leaves you wanting more on the technical side, which is where most of the other features step in. Plus, it offers a few insights that only very sharp-eyed viewers might have noticed on their own (such as when and where historical figures like Salvador Dali have cameos).
The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès (HD, 16 minutes): A never-stuffy look at the life of the highly influential filmmaker that inspired it all. If, like me, you're hardly a Méliès biographer, this is a good piece about his life that helps separate fact from the film's fiction-- and if that is the case, you'll also be surprised to learn just how much of Méliès' life in the film was not fictionalized.
The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo (HD, 13 minutes): This was the most mind-blowing feature on the disc for me. Watching the film - and I've now seen it 4 times - I always assumed that the mechanical man was a real-life prop, but that his complex insides and the drawings he creates were all digital. How wrong I was. Dick George Creative studied the history and capabilities of automata to make one (or, rather, 15 replicas) that was merely a heightened version of what was possible during the period of the film, and the result is a very real thing of wonder. When it's drawing on the paper, that's not CGI-- it did that in real time! Simply amazing.
Big Effects, Small Scale (HD, 6 Minutes): I wish this feature were twice as long, but as is it's a cool look at the scale-models that were used to accomplish the train-crash sequence in the film, itself based off of a real train crash.
Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime (HD, 3 Minutes): This is the most EPK-like bit on the disc, which is just Baron Cohen in-character as the station inspector talking about what it was like to star in Hugo. Mildly amusing, but it's the fluffiest thing here.
If Hugo meant anything to you in theaters, this Blu-ray and its informative and entertaining extras belongs in your collection. If you're an HD aficionado that covets the best in high-def presentation, this Blu-ray belongs in your collection. Basically, the only real justification for Hugo not being in your Blu-ray collection is if you A) Have not seen the film and don't want to risk blind buying it, or B) Have no heart.
Now go watch an exclusive clip about the making of Hugo.