Polar Express (2004) – movie review

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Movie Reviews by Vivienne Messenger and Neils Hesse

Starring: Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Nona Gaye, Leslie Zemekis, Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Review by Vivienne Messenger

THE POLAR EXPRESS is a darker, edgier and more suspenseful Christmas movie than the usual offerings at this time of year and is the first feature film to be made entirely in ‘Performance Capture’. This is an advanced form of motion capture technology that “simultaneously records 3-dimensional, high fidelity facial and body movements from multiple actors, through a system of digital cameras providing a full 360 degree coverage”. The result is a mind-blowing cinematic experience full of adventure as the story unfolds in breathtaking fashion. The Performance Capture technology used here has really set a new standard in the industry and as to be seen to be believed.

Nurtured by director Robert Zemeckis and based on the Caldecott Medal children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, THE POLAR EXPRESS follows the story of a young boy who’s growing up fast and on the brink of maturity about his understanding of Santa Claus and hesitant to take that next step forwards towards adulthood. So we find our young hero lying in bed awaiting Santa’s visit but it’s not the jingling of sleigh bells he hears but a thunderous roar that reverberates through his bedroom and into his body shaking him into alertness. Venturing outside into the snowy night he is met by the awesome sight of a huge, gleaming steam train and a conductor asking him, “Well are you coming?” “Why to the North Pole, of course, this is the Polar Express!”

Cautiously boarding at the very last moment as the train impatiently pulls away he sets off on an unforgettable journey of adventure and discovery that will thoroughly entertain all the family with its sheer pace of action to reach the North Pole on time.

The talented Tom Hanks heads the cast starring as five different characters in the movie and with Robert Zemeckis at the helm the film is an exhilarating experience not to be missed! Mesmerising, thought provoking yet sometimes fearful (especially for the younger ones in the family) as the train rushes through the night winding its way northwards on its hazardous journey with a carriage load of youngsters, THE POLAR EXPRESS has a Christmas message for each of its young passengers who will learn something special and individual from the extraordinary experience that befalls them.

5 out of 6 stars

Review by Neils Hesse for IMAX version

All aboard! All aboard for the classic children’s Christmas tale about a boy with doubts about Christmas, who gets a chance to take a ride on the Polar Express to see for himself whether the legend of Father Christmas is all true or just make believe, finally makes it to the big screen in a big way.

Using technology that’s similar to that used in FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN, this is not standard animation as it is meant to be very close to the real thing. This method enabled the filmmakers to make the most of their very famous star and as such Tom Hanks plays no less than five characters in the film including the young boy with all the doubts. Now being a Christmas movie it is inevitably all gooey and sweet in parts but it also has a bit of an edge to it, particularly one scene where the young boy gets stuck in a part of the train and gets taunted by a puppet on a string for his doubts. This film was converted into IMAX 3D and this is the first time that an entire motion picture intended for standard cinematic release has been developed in this way. The film is perfect for an outing to IMAX. It is like a Christmas roller coaster ride rammed full of ridiculously high drops and impossible curves. One outstanding scene has the train travel over a frozen lake with no track whilst the lake is cracking in order to rejoin the track on the other side. The spinning and sliding as the train swerves to and fro is just, in one word breathtaking!

Spills and thrills all wrapped up in a classic Christmas tale makes this a must see for any family on the IMAX screen at this time of the year!

Tom Hanks is on great form as Santa Claus, the little boy, a strange wise man, the strict train conductor and the father of the little boy. The supporting performance from Nona Gaye as the little girl, who sparks up a friendship with the little boy, is also very endearing.

Featuring a handful of musical numbers it proves to be a rollercoaster ride of pure undiluted Christmas fun, perfect for the family!

If you want to experience a safer rollercoaster ride this Christmas pop down to the IMAX and give this a go – it is definitely worth it.

4 out of 6 stars