Moviegoers are a funny breed. Critics can applaud a film until they are blue in the face and the public ignores the flick completely. Or, the critics might slam a film and the public will flock to the theaters, embracing the full-on train wreck as highest of entertainment experiences.
Or some variant therein, betwixt and between...
That said, I recently picked up a copy of Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning 2011 film Hugo on Blu-ray for $5 at Best Buy. Five dollars, brand new, sealed, for a film that won five--count 'em 5!--Oscars.
That's about $1 per Oscar.
I had wanted to see this movie in the theaters but life being what it was in 2011 (I was going through a major move and downsizing at the time after the passing of my dog), I missed it. The 3D is supposed to be spectacular, although I never really did find out what the film was actually about back in the day (some friends just said things like "go see it!").
Alas, as I don't have a 3D set up at home, this bargain bin "standard" version was a total no brainer for me to pick up without having even any real clue as to what the storyline was about. After watching Hugo, I found myself completely charmed by the tale and its cultural subtext integrated into the fabric of the film. You see, the director's incredible attention to detail makes the film extra fascinating as an almost quasi-documentary tribute to one of the earliest movie makers in history: Georges Méliès.
Marketing is a funny process, as key messages can positively or negatively impact a film's chances of success if they aren't carefully considered right from the get go. In this case, from what I can ascertain, the film was marketed primarily as a children's film (and thus was something of a box office flop despite the critical acclaim). This is a shame because Hugo is much more than a simple children's film. Like the Harry Potter films, there is much fun for adults as well within Hugo, with its compelling storytelling, the sense of historical wonderment, world class acting (Sirs Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee) and breathtaking sights and sounds.
Speaking of sounds, you may be wondering why should you actually want to own this film on Blu-ray as opposed to just streaming it in stereo from your favorite subscription service?
Well, first off the 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is superb, with fun, compelling and immersive sound design that puts you inside the clock towers, in and around the train station, in Paris and other sets on the film.
I'll put it this way: if you like the surround sound mixes of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon hit "Money," then you'll enjoy Hugo's soundtrack, with its clockwork ticking in sequence all around you at times. Its really very cool.
The images are spectacularly clear and remarkably realistic -- so much so I immediately expected that the movie had to be all CGI. Guess what? I was completely wrong.! Mr. Scorsese made large as real life sets for this film including actual clockworks and a train station for the actors to perform in. Everything feels remarkably realistic because it is! He even recreated Méliès' all-glass film studio and sets for key films they wanted to showcase in-the-making (this is some of the documentary-style detailing I mentioned earlier).
Even the scale sets recreating a famous train wreck (for Hugo's dream sequence, an event that actually did take place back in the day in Paris!) are large scale. This level of precision alone makes this film a must see.
The Automaton that is used in the film is real -- they actually made a genuine mechanical man for the making of this film! Can you begin to contemplate the time and energy that went into making this??? It really is a labor of love. Hugo was clearly a film that had to be made and made a certain way -- a movie for the ages.
The bonus materials on this disc -- which explain these details -- are essential viewing which leads me to reason number three of why you should buy the Blu-Ray Disc version: I'm guessing, but I suspect you probably don't get those bonuses when you stream the film.
Of course, then there is the story which is both sweet and compelling and something you may want to watch many times in the future (so why not add it to your collection?).
While entertaining, Hugo gives the viewer a basic lesson on the history of movie making, particularly though the eyes of pioneering cinematographer George Méliès, creator of one of the most inspiring and important -- widely considered to be the first! -- science fiction movies called A Trip To The Moon. So consider this all you Star Wars and Star Trek fans: Méliès' A Trip To The Moon is ground zero for big screen sci fi. Fans of the Smashing Pumpkins will recognize this footage as the inspiration for the video for their hit song "Tonight, Tonight" (from the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album).
Maybe I'm borderline evangelizing at this point (and I apologize to those of you whose feathers get ruffled by that sort of thing) but his is terribly important stuff to consider, as there are movie making traditions which have been passed through the years to future generation cinematographers. With the world being what it is these days -- a time when people don't read quite so much anymore and perhaps many are not getting the inspiration to become full time movie makers in an old school sense, working with actual cameras and such (as opposed to those who work entirely "in the box" on completely computer generated productions; no disrespect intended) -- a film like Hugo takes on greater significance.
So, you may be asking by this point in my review just what is this fabulous, historically significant, gorgeous-to-look-at and fun-to-immerse-oneself-in movie actually all about?
You think I'm really gonna tell you that? Y'all should know me better by now... ;-)
If you haven't seen Hugo before, I think you should dive in without preconceptions, just as I did, unfettered by the influence of advertising, marketing and typical movie critic buzz. Just watch it and see what happens, see if you connect with it, with the characters, with the Automaton, with the surreal joy of a movie that at its root is about a pioneering and -- at one point in history -- almost forgotten artist.
Actually, when you step back and look at the big picture viewpoint of Hugo, I think it is itself a reminder that film is an art form not to be forgotten as well.
So, yes, Hugo is more than a throwaway children's flick and certainly worthy of the critical accolades and Oscars it received.
For just $5, Hugo delivers a vital history lesson for everyone of us.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.