Hugo on Blu-ray

Hugo is supposedly a kids film – or at least a family movie – from director Martin Scorsese, a man who knows how to make a movie.

It's a strange but compelling film about a boy, his secret life, and about movies and – specifically – one of the movies' earliest and most imaginative craftsmen.

We're still not sure how much we enjoyed the movie itself, but it's an entertaining visual feast that's well worth an evening in the home theater.

Based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," the story follows a young lad named, not surprisingly, Hugo Cabret (played by Asa Butterfield).

Left with no adult in his life, he continues his family's gig of keeping the station's clocks running (though it isn't true to say he's always getting "wound up!") while he lives in the station's walls and clocks.

He keeps his existence secret because he doesn't want to be sent to an orphanage, which is exactly what will happen if he's caught by the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who manages to function not only as a kind of tough as nails law enforcement officer but as the film's comedy relief as well; an interesting balancing act, indeed. He's aided in both law and laugh duties by a big Doberman and an annoying war wound.

Hugo eats because he steals (which also makes it dangerous to be caught by Cohen's cop) and his driving force in life is to repair a remarkable clockwork automaton left by his father. He doesn't know where it came from, but it's his obsession. Good thing, too, as it turns out, because circumstances have put him into contact with a mysterious toy shop owner, Georges (Ben Kingsley), who will play a huge part in the film's eventual outcome (otherwise they probably wouldn't have needed an actor of Kingsley's stature!).

Hugo, despite Georges' actions to stop him, manages to repair the mechanical humanoid which is actually able to write like a human - or maybe not write but something like that. Alas, Hugo's missing a key element to getting it fired up: a key. Fortunately, Georges' Godkid Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) befriends Hugo (much to Georges' chagrin) which not only sends the kids off on a cool adventure but which also brings meaning to their lives as well as Georges'.  And finding out who Georges' really is (or was) is an unexpected delight to fans of cinefantastique.

Hugo could have really sucked, and may very well have done so in lesser hands. Instead, Scorsese and screen writer John Logan have crafted a finely detailed and compelling film. Heck, it's worth seeing for its look alone – and even though we're "3D deniers," if any movie would look interesting in 3D, we'd bet it's Hugo.  Even better, the story draws you in, you care for the characters, and there's just so much neat gee whiz stuff that you can't take your eyes off the movie.

Scorsese's recreation of the ancient movie productions is fascinating as well, but we won't spoil it by saying more than that.

As mentioned, the movie is a visual feast, and that makes Blu-ray the best way to experience it. Shot digitally, the 1080p picture looks almost rich and deep enough to reach in and touch – and that's the 2D version!  There's a classic look overall, with exquisite shots and special effects. Detail and color are exemplary. This is definitely reference quality material, truly amazing.

Likewise the sound, which is presented in DTS-HD Master audio 7.1 lossless is equal to the task. We listened on a 5.1 system, like most people do, and it was an enveloping and seamless audio experience. The background, ambient sounds, the noise made by the mechanical stuff, trains – it's marvelous and it uses every channel you have to its best effect. The music, the voices, the effects, are clear and spaced perfectly in the room.  An excellent use of the technology.

The extras aren't bad, either. "Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo), which is in HD, is a pretty good featurette on adapting the book for the screen, the story, casting, and the like, including a focus on director Martin Scorsese's work.

There's also a decent featurette on "Georges" and the influences he had on the motion picture industry. Paramount also tosses in a short look at the type of automaton seen in the film – and others, a very short look at how they did the special effects and an even shorter piece on Sacha Baron Cohen and his approach to his role.

Hugo, from Paramount Home Entertainment

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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