Best Movies of All Time + [Tom Hanks]

THE POLAR EXPRESS

THE POLAR EXPRESS2004

"Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
-- The Conductor

The Polar Express is a 2004 animated film directed by Robert Zemeckis that was one of the first films to utilize motion capture technology to create an entire feature-length film. The story follows a young boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara) who has started to question the existence of Santa Claus and the spirit of the Christmas holiday. On Christmas Eve, he is awakened by a train rumbling to a stop outside his house. He goes outside to investigate and meets a conductor (voiced by Tom Hanks) who tells him that the train is on its way to the North Pole. The boy reluctantly agrees to go, and he embarks on a journey with a number of other children. The trip is long and dangerous, but once they finally reach the North Pole, they learn that Santa will choose one of them to receive the first Christmas gift of the year.

The first thing you're going to notice about this film is how stunning the visual effects appear to be. Well, stunning for the most part. Upon its release, The Polar Express faced mixed reviews, and a lot of the negative feedback came as a result of the mixed quality of the special effects. While most of the scenery and background effects are simply beautiful, there's something inherently creepy about the human characters that doesn't seem the least bit lifelike. It was so 0ff-putting that it took me out of the film, and I couldn't find a way to form any type of relationship to the characters. I blame the use of motion capture for this particular flaw. While motion capture has worked wonders in the past (see: Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the Na'Vi in Avatar or, more recently, Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes), there's something a little off with it in this film. Still, it's not necessarily the filmmakers' fault - any time that a new technology is used, there's going to be some setbacks. It took Zemeckis to be the trailblazer, and from his start, more effective means have been found.

Sadly, the storyline and plot don't really make up for the shoddy special effects. The story seems a tad bit stale, and it's definitely rote in comparison to some of the holiday fare we've seen in the past. It so conforms to past Christmastime films that it's easily predicted. You know exactly where it's going from the very start, and that doesn't bode well for any film. A little unpredictability never hurt a movie, but a lot of predictability can kill one. Still, there's enough Christmas spirit in this one to keep a child occupied for the film's duration.

However, this is really a Tom Hanks vehicle. You'll be surprised to see that he occupies six different characters in this film, and it's all thanks to the powers of motion capture. I've already mentioned that he portrays the film's conductor (the character that most looks like the real-life Tom Hanks), but he also gives life to a hobo, Scrooge, the boy's father, the voice of an older boy reminiscing about the experience and Santa Claus himself. If you're a fan of Hanks, you'll recognize his voice in the many incarnations, and although he varies his vocal talent from character to character, it's undeniably him in each respective role. We're also getting bit parts from the likes of Michael Jeter and Steven Tyler, but if you're not paying attention, you're going to miss them.

I think the biggest reason I wanted to watch this film was for the Academy Award-nominated original song titled "Believe," which was sung by Josh Groban. The song became an instant staple during Christmastime, and I heard it over and over again in the holiday seasons that followed this film's release. For those of you unfamiliar, here's the song:

The rest of the film's soundtrack, composed by John Debney, takes its orchestral chords from "Believe," and it proves to be a delightful soundtrack overall.

At the end of the day, The Polar Express is a decent film, but it doesn't quite hold up to the holiday classics of old. The shoddy final result with the motion capture animation kept me out of the film, and the inaccessibility of the film was it's most major downfall. Had the screenplay been a bit stronger, I might've been able to look past the issues with the special effects; however, we had no such luck, so The Polar Express is destined to live in a state of mediocrity.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
1 Thumb Up