According to a source in the audience, when "Hugo" screened at the Academy last Friday it was missing a key visual effect shot. That report lines up with the version shown to the press last Saturday at L.A. Live with director Martin Scorsese in attendance for a Q&A session.
"Hugo" is the first 2011 release to screen at the Academy unfinished, and the decision to do so may be a damning one since the film is a contender for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.
The shot in question opens the film. A single take zooms through the distant train station where the film is set and moves from the tracks and loading area to the station's interior. People walking alongside trains appear as faceless, ill-defined figures. An Academy member present for the screening gave his initial impression saying, "I thought it was an animated film." Once the shot pulls into the station interior, actual actors distinguish that the film is indeed live-action.
The rules for the visual effects category were changed earlier this year. There will be 10 finalists rather than seven to screen clips for branch members who will then determine the five final nominees. If "Hugo" can make it to the bake-off, it could showcase the finished opening shot Academy members did not get to see.