The Polar Express: Presented in 3-D
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari
After full screen single disc, widescreen single disc, and widescreen Two-Disc Special Editions released in 2005, an HD-DVD release in 2006, and a Blu-Ray release in 2007, Warner has found a way to go to the Polar Express well again in 2008 by releasing this two-disc edition including the 3-D version of the film on SD DVD (and a Blu-Ray version, too!).
This SD DVD release of Robert Zemeckis' motion capture animated feature contains both the 2-D and 3-D widescreen versions of the film split across two discs. In fact, the 2-D disc is bit identical to the first disc in the Two-Disc Special Edition from 2005. Even the silk-screened on-disc art is the same including the "Disc One" indication. Rather than re-cross that bridge, I will offer up the following link to Herb Kane's enthusiastically positive review for an assessment of the film as well as its 2-D video and audio quality on disc:
Note that none of the extras from the second disc of that edition are included with this release.
The balance of this review will focus on the video quality of the 3-D presentation as well as the few extras unique to that disc. I could not discern any difference in the audio quality between the two releases, which is a not a problem since the track, as Herb noted in his earlier review, is quite good.
As with most red/blue anaglyph 3-D presentations, the 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 widescreen transfer is difficult to assess based on typical criteria such as resolution, color accuracy, and contrast. All three of these criteria are inherently obscured by the colored lens 3-D process. Compared to previous 3-D DVDs that have used a similar process such as Journey to the Center of the Earth or Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, I can say that the colors are generally conveyed a little better, but that amounts to little more than damning with faint praise.
As such, one can really only comment on how well the 3-D effect is conveyed, and in this case, the answer is, fairly well. Even when I viewed the film theatrically in IMAX 3-D, it was clear that there are certain sequences of the film that lend themselves more strongly to the 3-D process than others. While this results in fewer shots that exploit the format than appear in a film conceived for 3-D from the ground up such as the recent Journey to the Center of the Earth, there is frequently a nice sense of depth. Some shots that seemed like they would be natural fits for 3-D exploitation actually do not work as well as one might think. One such example is an impossible tracking shot sequence that follows a lost ticket on an elaborate circuitous journey. At times the ticket really seemed to be floating in front of my eyes, but frequently, fast motion would cause me to lose the perception of depth.
When the disc is first spun up, a skippable 69 second promo for Warner Blu-Ray discs plays. It is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
The only extras for this edition are a set of promos. All are presented in 2-D with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. The promos are for The Polar Express (16:9 - 1:02), A Christmas Story Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD and BD (4:3 letterboxed - 1:22), and Fred Clause DVD and BD (4:3 letterboxed - :32). The Polar Express trailer is the same brief teaser that appears on the disc with the 2-D presentation of the film.
The discs are packaged in an Amaray-sized hard case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. The cover image adapts the art from earlier releases and adds a prominent indication of the "3-D" content on the disc to distinguish it from its predecessors on store shelves. The hard case is in turn inserted into a cardboard slipcase with a lenticular 3-D version of the cover. Inserts include four sets of 3-D glasses and a printed "viewing tips" sheet. Strangely, there is a sticker on the front of the slipcase crediting "Special 3D Imagery by Sony Pictures Imageworks" which can be opened up further to reveal a list of names of people who apparently worked on the 3D conversion of the film.
This latest DVD re-issue of The Polar Express adds a mildly effective red/blue 3-D version, but nothing else of significance to the existing 2-D DVD presentation (also included, but without the disc of extras from the Two-Disc Special Edition). 3-D enthusiasts, Polar Express completists, and folks who would otherwise be purchasing the single disc widescreen version of the film might consider picking this up, but there is otherwise not an especially compelling reason to upgrade from previous issues of the film on SD DVD.