Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical Trailer; You Look Familiar;
A Genuine Ticket To Ride; True Aspirations An Authors Adventure;
Josh Groban At The Greek; Behind The Scenes Of Believe; Meet The
Snow Angles; Flurry Of Effects Easter Eggs; Polar Express Challenge
Kid Game; CDROM Links.
CHRISTMAS extravaganza, The Polar Express, boasts some landmark
animation and is based on the classic children's tale by Chris
Van Allsburg, but it almost de-rails itself by being too ambitious.
Robert Zemeckis' film, which reunites him with actor, Tom Hanks,
is a tale about believing that boldly aims to provide a magical
experience for any children watching it.
Yet as impressive as certain moments are, the film cannot escape
the Hollywood need to pile on the sentiment, making the journey
undertaken by its young children almost as sugar-heavy as the
The story in question finds a young boy (Hanks) preparing to
fall asleep on Christmas Eve, determined to prove that the legend
of Santa is just a myth.
Instead, he finds himself transported to the North Pole by a
magical steam train, The Polar Express, which promises to strengthen
his faith about the Christmas spirit.
Along the way, he meets a wise old train conductor (Hanks), a
mysterious hobo (Hanks again), several other children (including
Nona Gaye's heroic leader and Peter Scolari's lonely boy), and
Santa himself (yep, Hanks again!), all of whom contribute to the
boys' own journey of self-discovery.
But while the journey does offer plenty of thrills along the
way, it falls short of achieving the sort of Christmas classic
status that it seems intent on achieving.
Much has been made of the special effects, which are impressive,
due to the ground-breaking nature of them.
Zemeckis, working with Sony Pictures
Imageworks, has vividly brought the story to life in full CG animation
using a new system called performance capture, which allows Hanks'
live-action performances to drive the emotions and movements of
the digital characters in a way never seen before.
Hence, Hanks can appear in five roles, including that of the
boy, simply by dressing in a special skin-tight bodysuit, covered
in hundreds of infra-red sensors, which relay the smallest nuance
of movement back to a computer, which, in turn, translates it
into human motion.
As innovative as the finished product appears, however, the film
is probably too long, too earnest and just too sentimental for
its own good.
On the plus side, there are some wonderful moments, as you would
expect from a Zemeckis-Hanks partnership, such as a sequence involving
the flight of a lost ticket, and several of the roller-coaster
style train set-pieces.
But too much of the latter part of the film feels laboured, especially
when ramming the point home about the importance of Christmas
and during some particularly cumbersome songs.
A curious lack of humour also hinders its progress, making things
appear far more serious than they really ought to be, while the
script fails to match the quality of the effects in terms of ingenuity.
What's more, I couldn't escape the feeling that Raymond Briggs'
The Snowman did it all far better in a much shorter space of time.
It's a shame, given the amount of work that has clearly gone
into bringing Van Allsburg's tale to the screen, that a film which
boasts the tagline 'journey beyond your imagination' couldn't
have used a little bit more itself.