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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012

No resting on its laurels for 'Hugo'

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Asa Butterfield, left, portrays Hugo Cabret, and Ben Kingsley plays George Melies in a scene from 'Hugo.' Asa Butterfield, left, portrays Hugo Cabret, and Ben Kingsley plays George Melies in a scene from 'Hugo.'
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

The Academy Awards are over, and one of the major contenders was released on video Tuesday.

That's Hugo, the Martin Scorsese-directed homage to film and an important filmmaker, which topped all Oscar nominees with 11, including nods for best picture and for Scorsese as best director. It ended up winning five technical awards.

Although the nominations did not translate into any wins outside the technical categories, they certainly attest to the movie industry's admiration of Scorsese. And they reflect the industry's delight in his dual trick of using 3-D technology (which, thanks to the premium attached to theater showings, can be very lucrative for studios) to pay tribute to a man, Georges Mèliès, who made screen magic with the limited tools available around the turn of 20th century.

Yes, the 20th. Mèliès made movies in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but his work resonates. HBO's marvelous space-exploration saga From the Earth to the Moon ended with an episode talking in part about Mèliès' film A Trip to the Moon.

That film is also showcased in Hugo, the story of a boy living and working in a French railway station, dodging the authorities, and gathering mechanical bits to restore a mechanical man that Hugo's father had been working on before his death. But that mechanical man has a past too and one that intersects Hugo's life with that of an old man running a small shop in the station.

The cast includes Asa Butterfield as Hugo, Ben Kingsley as the old man, Jude Law as Hugo's father, Sacha Baron Cohen as a station inspector, and Chloe Grace Moretz as a girl who becomes friends with Hugo. The effects, especially in 3-D, are at times marvelous, especially when they focus on the station clocks that Hugo must keep running. And, as you would expect from a film lover like Scorsese, the affection for Mèliès' work is considerable and heart-warming, as well as offering a message about the importance of preserving relics of the past.

That being said, I was not crazy about the movie as a whole. It drags badly in the middle, and tries to juggle too many stories (with a subplot about Cohen's character seeming especially unnecessary). Butterfield's performance was less than impressive. And it's curious to see a movie try to convey the wonder that greeted Mèliès' work by using far more elaborate technological tricks; it makes an interesting contrast to Oscar-winning best picture The Artist, which argued that silent, black-and-white movies can still entertain an audience.

Paramount released Hugo in three packages: a combo pack including the Blu-ray 3-D version, standard Blu-ray, and a DVD along with a digital copy ($44.99); a combo including the standard Blu-ray, a DVD, and a digital copy ($39.99), and one with just the standard DVD ($29.99). Extras in the combo packs include pieces about the making of the movie, Mèliès, the mechanical man, the effects and Cohen. The single DVD package has only the making-of piece as an extra.

Also of note: Fox Home Entertainment has added 15 more titles to its "manufactured on demand" line of movies sold through online retailers. They include The Wonderful Country (1959), with Robert Mitchum; Wanda Nevada (1979), with Peter Fonda and Brooke Shields, and Sinful Davey (1969), one of director John Huston's works.

In this day of beautifully restored and remastered video releases, Fox carefully notes that these on-demand titles "have been manufactured from the best-quality video master currently available and have not been remastered or restored specifically for these DVD releases."

Down video road

Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 17. There was Oscar talk about Fassbender, who plays a sex addict in the film, but he was passed over. Still, the movie was much praised, with an 80 percent positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review-aggregation site.

Fans of the animated Wallace & Gromit can rejoice over the release of the six-part BBC series Wallace & Gromit's World of Invention, coming to DVD and Blu-ray on March 13. It's the U.S. home-video debut of the 2010 program.



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