It’s nearly the festive season, so there isn’t much that can put everyone in the mood like an atmospheric Christmas movie. Some critics didn’t care for the technical exercise that The Polar Express represented, but even the most hardened were charmed by the Robert Zemeckis direction of the Chris Van Allsburg written and illustrated children’s classic.
At the time this came out, many parallels got drawn between the CGI Final Fantasy movie, and its notorious ‘dead eyed’ synthetic characters. My technical take on that is that, while this isn’t perfect by any respect, it’s far superior to Final Fantasy in both execution and the quality of representation.
The Polar Express has some slightly odd moments, but it also has some really great character sequences, my favourites been those where Tom Hanks delivers an excellent mo-cap performance for the hobo. It isn’t entirely consistent, but more works, generally, than doesn’t.
Where I think it works brilliantly is in capturing the children and their reactions to the magic of Christmas. The scene where the boy walks out into the snow and the Polar Express is revealed from a huge cloud of steam is pure undistilled magic, as is the entire sequence that takes place on the roof of the train, and the frozen lake ride.
If I’ve got a complaint about the movie overall it’s that they get to the North Pole far too quickly, as proceedings are far less interesting once they get there. I’d have quite happily taken more train adventure, and a lot less Santa and his irritating elves.
I could also have happily had Eddie Deezen drown off the LA coast in Spielberg’s 1941, than to survive to subsequently appear here.
That said, this is rapidly becoming something of a Christmas classic, even if I can happily turn it off after about 60% of its running time. What The Polar Express did achieve was an important stepping stone toward the dream of entirely digital productions without which Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and, dare I say, Avatar, wouldn’t have been made.
It’s difficult to imagine a more suitable festive gift for any animation fan at this time of year.
I’m not sure what to say about this release, as it combines the very best of what Blu-ray offers and some of the very, very worst.
There are two discs in the box, one being Blu-ray and the other DVD, which I presume is the one you’re supposed to let the kids borrow.
The Blu-ray disc contains both the 3D and 2D release, and all the extras in standard definition. The big problem I have is with the 3D release, which uses the red and cyan specs they include four pairs of in the pack. There are problems with doing this to my mind, the first being that this system robs the images of colour to create the 3D effect. To be honest, it’s just not worth it, and after a relatively short time these gave me a splitting headache. When I took them off and restarted the movie in 2D it was a revelation, but I still have a complaint there.
For Blu-ray they should have transferred the 2.0 to 1 ratio IMAX render, as this would have left the smallest borders, but, alas, they took the ordinary 35mm version over. That was a blown opportunity, although it still looks utterly fantastic.
Why all the support material is only in DVD resolution I’m unsure, but it’s probably to avoid using a third disc to get all the content on here. There are some nice featurettes and a deleted scene, but it’s hardly what you might expect for the full geek effect. They also have the nerve to threaten the British public with ‘Federal’ action for piracy, when, as I recall, we all live in a democratic monarchy last time I checked.
The English soundtrack is lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, which is actually better than the initial Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases of this production. I’d say that this aspect, for me, was a bigger justification for owning this new release than the 3D version, which I think was a mistake to include.
My only unfulfilled wish on Santa’s list with this movie is an IMAX transfer, but then I’ve probably been spoiled this year with Blu-ray as it is.