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Timothy E

Jul 20, 2007
Real Name
Timothy Ewanyshyn


Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2008
Rated: G
Film Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes, 56 seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (2.4:1)
Audio: Dolby True HD, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Dutch

Release Date: October 28, 2008

The Movie
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The Polar Express is the CGI animated adaptation directed by Robert Zemeckis of the acclaimed children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. A nameless young boy (informally named “Chris” by the film-makers in honor of the book’s author, and named "Hero Boy" in the credits) is waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve when he is invited on a magic train ride to the North Pole.

Since the original storybook is relatively brief, the film-makers have expanded the story with some action and musical set pieces that remain true in spirit to the source material. Anyone who has read the original book will probably attest that the character models and backgrounds are very consistent with the illustrations in the book. Tom Hanks plays a number of different characters in the movie, including the Conductor and Santa, by voice acting and physically by motion capture technology used by the animators in filming facial and body movements for translation in animated form. Hanks’ co-star from Bosom Buddies, Peter Scolari, also plays a role in this movie, which also includes contributions from Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit) and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (playing a singing elf).

It seems that viewers of this movie fall into one of two camps: you either love this movie or you hate it. I happen to love this movie since I saw it for the first time several years ago. Your affection (or lack of affection) for this movie may depend ultimately on your reaction to “uncanny valley syndrome”. For the uninitiated, this is the theory that as CGI models of facial expressions become seemingly more realistic, realism is diminished at the same time as dissimilarities to normal facial expressions become more apparent. CGI characters typically fail to appear normal particularly in their eyes, which may appear to be inanimate, leading to what some critics call “dead eye syndrome”. If you are not bothered by a lack of realism in the human characters’ facial expressions, then you may consider this movie to be a Christmas classic.

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The movie is in 1080p high definition in a wide-screen 2.4:1 aspect ratio. This Blu Ray disc has the movie in both 2-D and 3-D versions, and comes with 4 pairs of 3-D glasses. The 3-D format is the traditional red-green style with the red lens over your left eye and the green lens over your right eye.

The Polar Express is a lot of fun in 3-D. It was released in the IMAX 3-D format several years ago. The IMAX 3-D version uses different lenses and a somewhat different technology from this 3-D version designed for home viewing. The only drawback to the red-green format is that colors lose much of their vibrancy. The color palette in this movie is fairly rich, and those colors get lost in the translation in the 3-D version. What is lost in the color scheme is made up for, however, in the extra dimensions added to the screen. The action and musical numbers that were added to the screenplay for the movie are obviously designed with 3-D in mind. The scenes with thousands of dancing elves at the North Pole are alone worth the price of admission. Other sequences have various objects popping off the screen and there is even a scene in which the train tracks turn into a virtual roller coaster.

The studio has thankfully included the original 2-D version on the same disc. Even though I enjoy 3-D, it takes a strain on the eyes, and sometimes it is preferable to watch the original version without the concentration entailed in watching a 3-D movie. The picture quality is as excellent as expected given the digital source of this material.

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The Polar Express sounds great in either Dolby True HD or Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound quality is rich and pure. I can not find any flaws in the audio but this is not necessarily the movie you will use to show off the range of your sound equipment.

This movie has a wealth of language options compared to most other Blu Ray movies. English options are Dolby True HD and English Dolby Digital 5.1. There are actually 2 different French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, in Parisian French and Quebecois French, respectively, as well as Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1.

Special Features
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The special features seem fairly comprehensive, and the only flaw overall is their video quality, which fall short of the excellent picture quality of the movie itself. The best way to describe the special features is that they look like videotape translated into 1080i high definition.

The special features include all of the following:

Deleted song by Smokey and Steamer (7:04): This is a rough computer animation sequence with completed dialogue and song by the train engineers.

You Look Familiar: The Many Polar Faces of Tom Hanks (4:11): Tom Hanks provides his thoughts and feelings regarding the challenges in physical and voice acting in animation assisted by motion capture technology.

A Genuine Ticket To Ride: 5 featurettes (13:17): The five featurettes are self-explanatory in their titles: Performance Capture, Virtual Camera, Hair & Wardrobe, Creating the North Pole, and Music.

True Inspiration: Profiling author Chris Van Allsburg (5:29): The author of The Polar Express talks about his influences.

Believe: Josh Groban Performance and Behind The Scenes (4:24): This featurette covers the work performed in the sound studio and includes Josh Groban’s performance of Believe at the Greek Theatre.

Flurry of Effects: 5 Motion Capture Sessions (8:48): Five different scenes are broken down from their motion capture elements through final animation.

Snow Angels: Moviemakers’ Christmas memories (2:44): Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis, and others offer brief thoughts on their fondest Christmas memories.

Theatrical Trailer (1:02)

THQ Videogame Trailer (0:32): Footage from the Polar Express videogame for Nintendo and Playstation game systems.

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The studio deserves credit for offering both 2-D and 3-D versions on the same disc. Although the 3-D effects fall short of perfection, the 3-D version becomes a feast of eye candy after a slow start. The first 5 minutes of the movie offer little in the way of three dimensionality but that changes quickly as the movie picks up steam like the locomotive for which it is named. The Polar Express is one of those movies that welcomes repeated viewings. Although it received a mixed critical response upon its original release, I believe that The Polar Express will be considered a perennial Christmas classic in the future, assuming that has not already come to pass.

Jesse Skeen

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 1999
Again, I beg all studios to please STOP releasing 3-D movies using the red/blue format. Please wait until the new electronic system is on the market.

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