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The Polar Express (SE)
DVD disk
12.09.2005 By: Jason Coleman
The Polar Express (SE) order
Robert Zemeckis

Tom Hanks
Peter Scolari
Leslie Harter Zemeckis


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A young boy disillusioned by the fact that Santa may or may not be real, finds himself a passenger on a train that leads right to the North Pole. Along the way, he learns many lessons about friendship, the spirit of Christmas, and the importance of believing. (Cue Christmas song!)
When I think of Christmas films that resonate and have that feeing of nostalgic bliss, there are a couple of greats that come to mind. Flicks like MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn, not the 1994 version with Richard Attenborough!), A CHRISTMAS STORY, and NATIONAL LAMPOONíS CHRISTMAS VACATION. (Better go easy on that nog, Clark!) The problem with THE POLAR EXPRESS is that while it seemingly has all the whimsical qualities a holiday story should, it just doesnít have a lot of those moments that makes Christmas memorable. Itís always been more then just love, schmaltz, and snow. Getting socks from Grandma, that toy we didnít get, and how our families drive us nuts, these are the things that remind us of Christmas. And I know that director Zemeckis was going for a human take on all this, as his new computer generated characters are a hair away from having the actual actors in the room. (Why not just use real actors?) His unique process had me on the fence. At times it was seamless, like I was watching a real person, but then it would go up really close and started to disturb me. Zemeckis seems to want to take a regular cast and turn it on its ear, not be limited by the regular conventions of movies and let his imagination run free. Itís just too bad he didnít spend as much time on a story that would have helped enhance his vision.

Tom Hanks, a Zemeckis staple with CAST AWAY and FORREST GUMP, does multiple voices here and the end result is characters that sound very much alike! No, the kids wonít be able to tell, but any adult with a modicum of hearing capability will be disappointed in the lack of variety. What separates THE POLAR EXPRESS from other classic holiday films, is that lasting quality that helps define what Christmas is about. The film seems so impressed with the fact that it can do anything and yet ends up doing nothing. Bottom line - the kids will watch this one till the end (free babysitter alert!), but there isnít much for the grown-ups. Best to watch this one just after that big Christmas dinner, so you can catch a great cat nap!

(Note: My five year old, who watched this one all the way through, said to give this one ďa lot of starsĒ. Thought when asked what he thought of this one in comparison to his current favorite Madagascar, he quickly replied, ďItís good, but itís not that goodĒ! Like father, like son!)
Disc One:

The only feature on this disc is a Theatrical Trailer, what no tag team Hanks/Zemeckis commentary? Ba humbug!

Disc Two:

You Look Familiar (4:11): A look at the many characters, all of which are played by Tom Hanks. This is a short and succinct min-doc that has just the right amount of film footage, on set stuff and itís not too talky. This is the way these featurettes should be. Quick and easy. (Interesting for adults only!)

A Genuine Ticket To Ride (1:58): I was initially annoyed at this one, and then realized that it was a doc designed for kids! Very smart. Just loose Hanks and Zemeckis talking, and you could have the first featurette that explains complicated stuff to kids in an entertaining way! (Could they go back and re-edit it?!) It will still mostly be liked by the little ones, but itís much too childish for grown ups. (Whose your damn audience for these featurettes!?) Itís then broken down into five mini docs that can be played individually or as a Play All (11:27)

ē Performance Capture (2:18): Having the characters in the film describe the special effects process is a great learning tool for the little ones. The interruptions by real life boring technicians and others, not so much. This one is a half and half, half for kids, half not.

ē Virtual Camera (2:02): Damn, there was so much possibility here. This one focuses on camera placement when creating through a virtual world. Too many talking heads will bore the kids! (Aka loose the damn real people!)

ē Hair And Wardrobe (2:23): Enough stuff for the kids to enjoy, as there is more character explanation then real people. This one discusses creating hair and clothes for virtual characters. Nice goodies in this min-doc sack!

ē Creating The North Pole (1:43): Guys, how can you take a featurette about the North Pole and make it almost 90% real person, talking heads?! (Itís about the friggin North Pole, donít make it rocket science!!!!!)

ē Music (2:59): Not for kids and adults will be yawning. (Like I just did!) And a five year old doesnít know who Steven Tyler is and probably doesnít care!

True Inspirations: An Authorís Adventure (5:29): Strictly for adults, this one goes into the background of the author of the book, Chris Van Allsburg. Put together well, and saves what could have been a boring doc and turns it into something fun to watch.

Josh Groban At The Creek (4:33): Here, footage from the film is edited alongside Josh Groban singing the song ďBelieveĒ live on stage. Strictly for fans of Groban, which judging by the audience is teenage girls!

Behind The Scenes Of ďBelieveĒ (4:24): A thorough ass kissing session. Everyone is great, everything is completely fulfilling, isnít the world wonderful when you have fame and money?!

Meet The Snow Angels (2:44): Here, the cast and crew discuss their Christmas experiences and favorite presents. A little self serving. (And isnít this the sort of stuff that people like celebrities complain they want to keep private?!)

Additional Song (7:04): This is a musical number that was cut from the film, Smokey and Steamer singing It Takes Two. Both characters were voiced by the late, great Michael Jeter, who passed away during the filming. A nice tribute to a funny guy. (Check out his great and over the top work in THE FISHER KING!)

There is also a THQ PC Game Demo (0:32) and a Polar Express Challenge, a game that kids will definitely like to play, as they control the steering on an out of control Polar Express. Plus there are hidden Easter eggs for those who crave more! (Hint: check out those golden tickets!)
While THE POLAR EXPRESS will keep the kids occupied, it wonít go down as one of the greatest Christmas films of all time. Lack of those little things that an audience can relate to and a non-memorable quality, makes this Express holiday trip slow and bumpy.
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