Film Reviews

THE POLAR EXPRESS

By • Nov 10th, 2004 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures / Castle Rock Entertainment presents in association with Shangri-La Entertainment / A Playtone / ImageMovers / Golden Mean production
Running time — 92 minutes / MPAA rating: G

QUOTE: Awesome. Tom Hanks – even in CG – sure knows how to act!

Yes, it is visually stunning. In fact, it is breathtaking. But why, why did they need Tom Hanks to voice five roles? I’ve read all about “performance capture;” believe me, it wasn’t necessary for Hanks to go through all that “acting.” Is the movement of Hanks’ fingers really necessary for this technically beautiful film to succeed with audiences?

A young boy, Hero Boy (Tom Hanks) is growing up and the idea of Santa Claus is losing ground with him. Then, surprisingly, on Christmas Eve, a huge fantastic train stops at the front of his snow-covered house. The Conductor (Tom Hanks) beckons him aboard to go to the North Pole and visit Santa Claus. On the train are other children: Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), Know-It-All-Boy (Eddie Deezen), and Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari). When Hero Girl loses her train ticket, Hero Boy’s pursuit of it leads him to find the mysterious Hobo (Tom Hanks) who is riding on top of the train.

Ah! The loss of the ticket, the fast train, the North Pole! It is electrifying! I can’t wait to see the 3-D Imax version.

Every human motion we take for granted is gloriously enacted. This is the future of movies. The tiniest details are carefully drawn – the folds of clothes move ever so gently. And, as the train moves through the dangerous landscape of mountains and frozen peaks towards Santa’s lair, the visual excitement is exhilarating.

I like computer-generated characters, especially since so many movie stars are giving up acting. Now Tom Hanks wants us to believe he’s acting out all five parts (one part, that of Hero Boy’s father, you actually never even see). Was it really necessary to see Tom Hanks “make a face” that is then rendered technically by computer wizardry?

I will again affirm: Everything in EXPRESS is dazzling: The entire production, the visual art, and the story. I liked the strangely dark ominous feel director (and co-writer) Robert Zemeckis and his team conjured up. It reminded me of the eerie quiet that blankets a magical, perfect Christmas Eve. In fact, this is the thing I felt drew me emotionally into the movie. There is a sadness, a feeling of loss, that the entire film captures. Yes, if one wanted to use the word capture, it’s not “performance capture” as much as “emotional capture” that triumphs.

The only thing I objected to – and I know everyone is going to hate me for saying it – there’s just too much Tom Hanks. Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis fawningly said on “Sunday Morning Shootout” of Tom Hanks: “He’s my creative soulmate.” Well, now Zemeckis has studied and obsessed over every muscle in his soulmate’s face.

The stunning artistry of THE POLAR EXPRESS does not need Hanks, et al to loudly insist that he “acted” all five parts. Perhaps actors now want “creative” recognition for just lending their names to projects, but will audiences buy into this?

By constantly reminding everyone just how many reflective dots Hanks had on his face to bring about the rendering of an eight-year-old boy’s quiet expressions, the money people have hedged their investment with star power. But Hero Boy is not very talkative or facially expressive. He’s reactive and pensive. This limits his expressions.

The week before THE POLAR EXPRESS opens, THE INCREDIBLES box office will show the financiers that an animation film does not need a big star to get in front of it: Are people buying tickets to THE INCREDIBLES because Craig T. Nelson is the voice talent?

By the way folks, and this is important for all of us lazy people daunted by the idea of writing a 679 page work of fiction (that’s a lot of typing!), THE POLAR EXPRESS, Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal-winning 1985 picture book, was only 29 pages!

“Entertainment Weekly’s” Nov. 12 story on THE POLAR EXPRESS said: “The grapevine says EXPRESS isn’t the sure thing the HARRY POTTER franchise has been for Warner in Novembers past – and Hanks himself is well aware of a chill in the buzz winds.”

Tom, no need to keep reminding us about “performance capture.” Your financial investment will pay off handsomely. You will not need to start doing voice-overs for Honda.


Cast:
Hero Boy/Boy’s Father/the Conductor/the Hobo/Santa: Tom Hanks
Smokey/Steamer: Michael Jeter
Lonely Boy: Peter Scolari
Hero Girl: Nona Gaye
Know-It-All Boy: Eddie Deezen
Elf General: Charles Fleischer

Credits:
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriters: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr.
Based on the book by: Chris Van Allsburg
Producers: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Gary Goetzman, William Teitler
Executive producers: Tom Hanks, Jack Rapke, Chris Van Allsburg
Directors of photography: Don Burgess, Robert Presley
Production designers: Rick Carter, Doug Chiang
Co-producer: Steven Boyd
Senior visual effects supervisors: Ken Ralston, Jerome Chen
Music: Alan Silvestri
Costumes: Joanna Johnston
Editors: Jeremiah O’Driscoll, R. Orlando Duenas

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