Written by Clayton Self
The Polar Express is a milestone in digital film making. Making use of “performance capture” (little attachments connected to the body to mimic human movement) and green screens, Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) has created a stunning visual world that is sure to find its way into homes of millions to be enjoyed during the Holiday season. Labeled by some as creepy because of the not quite real, yet not quite fake digital characters, The Polar Express is nothing more than an epic Christmas a…venture to be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
Based on the book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express is about a young boy (Daryl Sabara) whose belief in Santa Claus has started to dwindle, and as he lays in bed Christmas Eve, waiting to hear Santa’s sleigh bells, what he hears instead are the sounds of a locomotive train thundering into his front yard. This train, he finds out from the Conductor (Tom Hanks in one of 5 performances), is bound for the North Pole. Hesitant at first, the boy quickly changes his mind and hops aboard. The excitement really picks up on the train, with many issues presenting themselves, such as a runaway ticket, a lonely boy who almost misses the train, an exciting chase sequence on skis on top of the train and the tracks being frozen over on a lake. This is just on the train however, as more excitement lies in store when they actually arrive at the North Pole! The traditional Christmas themes of hope and friendship are present here, but the one theme that recurs throughout the movie, and even in the hit song recorded for the soundtrack by Josh Groban, is “Believe.” Bottom line: this is an innocent Christmas adventure that is enjoyable for all ages. Call the graphics creepy if you want, but it adds a visually dream-like quality that this movie demands and would not have been able to deliver any other way.
The digital-to-digital transfer is absolutely gorgeous and leaves Episode 3 in the dust (sorry Star Wars fans, but it does). The edge enhancement throughout allows for maximum enjoyment of this film. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen is the only way to go for a movie with this much to see. The colors are vibrant and presented without any hint of pixelization. This is, without a doubt the best video transfer I have ever seen on a DVD.
The moment the train comes thundering into the front yard, you’d think it was in YOUR front yard. The 5.1 Dolby Digital is magnificent. It has a great balancer of dialogue (which is always clear through the center speaker) and the Alan Silvestri score really shines in the moments that matter. Your rear speakers get a work out, but the effect is very neat.
In the two-disc special edition, the second disc is loaded with special features mainly just for kids. All give good insight as to how the film was brought to life though.
- Deleted song: A song deleted from the final cut mostly due to time constraints. The cut was necessary and had it been left in I think it would have taken away from the movie.
- You look Familiar: A look at how Tom Hanks lent himself to the many characters he portrays in The Polar Express. A lot of it is technical, but watching Hanks change characters is fun to watch.
- A Genuine Ticket to Ride: A featurette that includes 5 parts, all detailing the making of the film. Included are chapters on the performance capture, the camera work, the hair and wardrobes, creating the North Pole and the music of the movie. All are basically your base-line featurettes, but with a movie like this, they are all also very insightful.
- True Inspirations: A profile on Chris Van Allsburg, told mostly by Van Allsburg himself in which he talks about where he grew up and his background in art sculpture and drawing.
- Believe: Josh Groban’s performance of the song, live from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
- Behind the scenes of Believe: A look at Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard’s score, and their story on convincing Josh Groban to perform the song.
- Polar Express Challenge: A game for kids in which you use the remote and memory to steer the train to safety.
- Meet the snow angels: The actors and crew talk about their Christmas memories and best gifts they ever received.
- THQ PC Game Demo with 2 playable levels.
- Trailers and Weblinks.
- 5 hidden “stocking stuffers.”
The unique features and cool packaging make the two-disc release the only way to go. The transfer and audio are perfect and this is a movie destined to become a Christmas classic. Don’t miss your chance to own it!
Special Features List
- Never-before-seen Smokey and Steamer song
- You Look Familiar: The Many “Polar Faces” of Tom Hanks
- True Inspirations: An Author
- Josh Groban at the Greek performing the Academy Award nominated original song “Believe.”
- Behind the scenes of “Believe”: bringing a hit song to life in the recording studio
- Polar Express challenge
- Meet the Snow Angels: the moviemakers
- THQ PC game demo with two playable levels
- Theatrical trailer