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Hugo (Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
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351 of 396 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
Few read reviews to find out whether the reviewer liked the film. They want to know whether THEY will like the film--to decide whether to see the movie or not, and whether to see it in the theater or wait and see the DVD (or the download). That's the task I'll take on here.

As the Rottentomato website has already shown (it assembles and correlates scads of reviews from the press and the web, along with reader responses), the critics adore this film, the audience somewhat less so.

Part of this has to do with managing expectations. The marketing presents Hugo as an Avatar-ish 3D fantasy with a C3P0 (StarWars)-type flying robot. this is actively misleading, though that's not the director's fault.

What Hugo is, is a fable--not a fantasy--that's part tween adventure and part infomercial for the preservation and viewing of old silent movies. Most importantly--and this is a point that hasn't been made by most reviewers here and elsewhere--it's a film about ex-magician/early filmmaker Georges Meliés that Scorsese made, to a degree, IN THE STYLE of a Georges Meliés movie. That's part of the homage.

Thus "Hugo" contains a lot of adventurous running-around, a brilliant exploitation of the best 3D filmmaking technology extant, and a leavening of slapstick elements--particularly from the surprisingly restrained Sascha Baron Cohen.

It's a fable based on real events in the early history of movies. "Sleepless in Seattle" was a fable with no fantasy elements other than its happy-ending-inevitability, which you feel from beginning to end. That's the essence of a fable, not whether it has fantasy elements or not. A fable is a kind of ritual that reaffirms the tribe's values and faith in its vision of life.

Hugo reaffirms faith in goodness--that even in many apparently hard-hearted people there's an ember that can be fanned into life by the right person. The movie's vibe from its first seconds tells you that you are riding towards a happy ending.

Two Russian intellectuals that I saw the movie with hated that fact. They think a movie is unrealistic unless everyone's doomed, and if you'd grown up in the Soviet Union that was probably realistic. Especially since Soviet-era fable-movies did guarantee a happy ending--"happy" as defined by Soviet ideology at least. So for my friends. fables aren't just false, but evil State Propaganda. And a lot of Americans who fancy themselves intellectual have a similarly jaundiced perspective about Hollywood's addiction to guaranteed by hook or by crook happy endings.

I think this issue stems from not understanding the ritual validity of fable. I love realistic movies without this guarantee of happy outcomes, but I also love a good fable. I'm certain of my spouse's love for me and of my love for her. I'm certain of our relationship with our closest friends, as they are of us reciprocally. I'm certain of the law-abidingness of my society (especially compared to the third-world countries we've traveled in). Predictable good outcomes are, within reasonable constraints, reasonable to believe in, in many ways.

So "Hugo"'s ultimate predictability is a valid artistic choice. It's not a spoiler to say this because you know it from the start and you should know so you don't confuse this with a Sundance-type art film where everyone is confused and faces an uncertain future, usually alone. I apologize for "Hugo" not being a slit-your-wristsathon. I also like such films, and they usually set your expectations from the start as well, for that matter.

So who will enjoy "Hugo" ?
1. Bright tweens. It stars a pair of bright tweens, so this is a natural. Many younger kids will like it as well--it's visually a treat, and it is based on a kids' story. But duller/much younger/Disneyfied kids who want nonstop action and/or the relentless cheerful action of a Disney film will probably find their attention wandering in places.

2. Everyone who's interested in the history of filmmaking--particularly right at the beginning.

3. Everyone who's interested in modern filmmaking. This does represent the absolute state of the art in 3D cinematography--where its 3Dness is integral and almost taken for granted, not tacked on, not poke-you-in-the-eye, not several layers of 2D images.

4. Everyone who's interested in good fable direction/screenwriting/acting. This is not to say anyone involved in this project can't do naturalistic films or fantasy films, or, in the case of Chloe Grace Moretz, naturalistic fantasy films ("Let me in"). So no negatives are proven here. That said, I believe the casting was spot on for the major and minor roles. This is one area where Scorsese didn't copy the stagy mugging of Meliés' films (except during re recreations of those films). The large, intent close-ups of the major characters really exposed their acting chops, and all came through. The boy, who I'd never seen before, kept it subtle, as well as the other juvenile character, Isabelle (played by Moretz). The young actors in many youth-oriented films tend to mug--again, Disney movie style--and kids who expect that need to be prepped by their parents to look for more lifelike acting here.

Who won't love it?

1. It's not a Selena Gomez/Demi Lovato/Disney vehicle. It's nothing like Lindsay Lohan's wonderful "Parent Trap," one of the best of the normal good-quality kids' film. It too is a fable, but it isn't overlaid with all the stuff about film history and suchlike. "Hugo"'s ideal kid audience is going to be like Isabelle in the move--sweet, bookish, curious, and not locked into peer culture as the source of everything that could possibly be of interest to one.

2. People who don't like the fable genre. The film embeds pretty naturalistic performances and note-perfect sets showing a Paris train station circa 1931, where most of the action takes place within a non-naturalistic film fable. There are lots of non-fable films. See one of those unless you really do want to see state of the art 3D cinematography and want to ratchet up your suspension of disbelief in order to watch this.

3. People with zero interest in film history. This is where a lot of movie critics err. Of course nearly all of them are fascinated by early film history. But this film verges on being a high quality 2 hour infomercial for film preservation, and you know, reading this, whether such prolonged self-regard on the part of the filmmaker towards his medium will fascinate or annoy you.

4. Adults who don't like films starring children. I detect this bias in people who criticize the performances of "Hugo"'s two junior leads, who are both exemplary. Also, I hadn't seen the boy before, but I have seen Moretz costarring in the grim, critically acclaimed "Let Me In," in which she portrays--with almost no dialogue and almost no special effects--a bloodthirsty (literally) yet profoundly conflicted child vampire, and in which those averse to sunny endings will get their wishes more than satisfied. And in which her appearance and performance have been compared favorably to a very young Ingrid Bergman. That is, she has gravitas. Of people in her age bracket, the only other actor I can think of who has that is Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).

My point here is that Moretz's acting chops are now an established fact. She has a far less complex character to portray in "Hugo," yet even in Isabelle's wide-eyed pre-ingenue role she infuses her character with a kind of luminosity that holds its own even when she's sharing the screen with great adult actors like Ben Kingsley.

5. Adults who only want to see heavily plot-driven films. It's not like "Hugo" is one of those kaleidoscopic non-narrative films. It tells a story, to be sure. But besides the child-centered narrative there's a biopic about Georges Meliés (and his wife) here, told in flashback, along with excursions into film history. Some people will find that as rich as a multicourse meal; others will be annoyed by "Hugo" not being propelled by a singular narrative drive. Such people will sit there saying "All right, Scorsese--get to the point!"

6. Those who are really reluctant to pay to see the film in a theater, even if they're eager to see it on DVD. I agree with this feeling nearly all of the time. However, some films are so visually huge--and, especially, if they're 3D and do that well--you need to bite the bullet and see it in a theater, if only to compare what it's like in a theater in 3D with what it's like on your flat screen TV at home in 2D. Hey, you can always see it in a bargain matinee, as we did. But we'll probably get the DVD when it comes out as well, because it both makes and recalls film history.
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97 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2012
I was able to legitimately get an early review copy of the 3D version of the Hugo 3D blu-ray. I am not reviewing the film. I am not reviewing the acting. I am reviewing the 3D. It is incredible. Every bit as engrossing as it was in the theater. If you own a 3DTV, you owe it to yourself to buy this movie. Sure, the film itself is not everyone's cup of tea, but if you're just looking for reference quality, mind-blowing 3D? This movie will suck you in from start to finish. You are a part of the world of Hugo, from beginning to end. And, honestly, no 3D has been this engrossing since Avatar. If you love silent film, film preservation, or cinema in general, along with your three dimensions, this will be the absolute must own disc of the year! Even if they don't like the movie itself, your friends will be impressed with the 3D FX. This is one of the few films released where you can genuinely and proudly claim, "This is why I bought a 3D television!" Enjoy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2012
Martin Scorsese has a deep love for movie history and film preservation. Both passions are imbued in Hugo, a charming tale of a child's personal search that leads to a treasure of memories and redemption.

At a Paris train station in 1931 a young boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives a solitary existence. The train inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) lurks about looking for stray children to send to the local orphanage. One day Hugo notices an elderly watchmaker (Ben Kingsley) who sits lonely and silent. Joined by a curious girl, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the two join forces to investigate the old man and learn that there is much more to him than meets the eye. Add to this a mysterious mechanical man built by Hugo's father and known as an automaton whose cryptic writings may provide clues to the past. But how to unlock these secrets? What the young couple finds will lead them back to the old man as there seem to be a surprising connection, and through the old man, a remarkable past is rejuvenated that will harken back to the birth of movies.

As the mysterious, old man, Ben Kingsley provides the gravitas to flesh out a character that at first seems dull and lonely, whose past catches up and reveals a lifetime of hope and genius heretofore forgotten by the public until Hugo and Isabelle rediscover it. The kids are well cast although Hugo comes across a bit of an oddball whereas Isabelle is a sweet girl who compliments him. Cohen, quite effective in a villainous role, is properly mean and threatening until he has a change of heart near the end, and you wish there had been more of him because his character evolves toward the end.

In fact the whole heart concept permeates Hugo. There is the budding love between Hugo and Isabelle, the old man's romance in his past, and even the hint of love from a flower girl. There is the heart shaped key that unlocks the automaton's mechanism. The automaton serves as a static character, a kind of Pinocchio in scenes where Hugo talks to it in the absence of his father. Above all, it's all about a love for movies past and present.

It is clear how much Scorsese loves movies in smaller, intimate scenes as when Hugo and Isabelle sneak into a Harold Lloyd film or when he shows snippets from earlier moving images. The main thrust of Hugo's plot provides Scorsese the excuse to restage classic kinescope and film clips. It's like reliving history. Film buffs will love these moments as Scorsese lovingly and painstakingly recreates early silent film. We see history and magic being made simultaneously!

A minor problem with the film is that it feels a bit uneven at times, and you never feel fully engaged with the characters as much as you want to be. Hugo and his friend Isabelle should be the focus all the way, but the film seems to occasionally stray from their journey. As a couple, they are more tentative and reserved than Harry Potter and his friend Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It lacks a strong emotional center. One wonders how a director like Steven Spielberg or Tim Burton would have interpreted the story.
Technical and production quality are superb. This is a fully realized fantasy world especially with the overall design and art direction and costumes within the train station and immediate neighborhood. Even the visual effects work well within the story without being a distraction.

The film does works for both children and adults. Hugo in a way represents the painful and joyous past that people keep hidden until it is released by patience and love.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2012
This is a beautiful, masterful movie, as one would only expect from Scoresese, and I thoroughly appreciated its artistry, and enjoyed watching it. My kids however, ages 5 and 7, were a bit young for it, and found it slow. The shots in old Paris are lovely, and the train station setting is wonderful and allows for some amazing shots, especially as the young Hugo works inside the clocks, and the trains race through the stations. Orphan Hugo works with a friend to discover the trick to getting an old automaton his father left him to work, and ends up discovering the world of early film making. This movie basically offers a brief history of film, with footage from pre-war movies both real and created, and I loved this. It does verge on sentimentality though, and wasn't nearly as fascinating to my kids. For all the talk of movies being like dreams, I thought this could have used a little more of a nod to modern-day special effects, beyond some of the train scenes, to capture the youth of today. Other than that though, this is a wonderful film with a warm heart, and safe family fare.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2014
A moving and satisfying story. Amazing imagery. Good acting. Suitable for adults and children to enjoy together. Best viewed in 3-D I think because of the intricate moving clockworks and dynamic characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2013
Charming and sweet tale of a boy who finds friendship and a family in the most unusual way. Sacha Baron Cohen is great as the terminal officer. The scenery is amazing and this is well worth the rental.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2013
unfavorable in trying to play on U.S. dvd players. Read the fine print before you buy. I wish I had. Seller wrote me and explained they were truthful in listing it. I recognize now that you have to be careful in reading the pre-requisites of dvd's. Amazon compensated me with a gift card for the value of the purchase.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Wife and daughter loved the story.
the 3D version was entertaining but not sure I got more out the 3D than a blu ray version.

the goal of illusions was very good in 3D but it didn't seem to put me there with them as other movies have. even with this storyline.

the sound track was good but not great in matching the 3D look and feel.
glad we bought since wife and daughter like it but not one of my top favorite family movies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 30, 2012
Okay, this movie obviously is not a companion piece to "The Dictator" in terms of content or story. However, I was quite surprised when I began playback to discover that the two stars of "The Dictator" - Sacha and Ben Kingsley - were also the stars of "Hugo"! These movies were released around the same time, and they do a marvelous job of showing just how talented these actors are. The roles they adopted could not have been more different (especially those of Kingsley), yet they pull it off with astounding aplomb. Their acting styles are polar opposites (Kingsley is emotion driven and somber; Sacha radiates an idiocy that ranges from muted to over the top), but their personalities seem to offset one another quite nicely.

The imagery of "Hugo" is magnificent, and it really captures the imagination. The setting of Paris in the 1930s is rendered beautifully, with particular emphasis, of course, being placed on the elaborate train station where the majority of the movie takes place. While the pace can be a bit plodding at times, what slowly reveals itself is a beautiful tale of finding one's place in the world, letting go of past failures, and moving on to embrace life in the present. And as these themes are slowly unveiled and explored, this is when Kingsley turns on the juice and steals the show!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Incredible visuals, good storyline and nice characters. Hugo is a masterpiece visually. It is very entertaining tail thanks to the great actors that follow Hugo's journey. This is a nice story of a very unfortunate orphan that follow his heart and discovered an important message that changes his life.
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