follow us on twitter

dOc on facebook

Microsoft Store

Share: email   Print      Technorati.gif   StumbleUpon.gif   MySpace   digg.gif delicious.gif   google.gif   magnolia.gif   facebook.gif
Permalink: Permalink.gif

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

Warner Home Video presents
The Polar Express HD-DVD (2004)

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

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 12, 2006

Stars: Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Peter Scolari, Eddie Deezer, Michael Jeter
Director: Robert Zemeckis

MPAA Rating: G for all ages admitted
Run Time: 01h:39m:12s
Release Date: October 10, 2006
UPC: 012569809659
Genre: holiday

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-BA- A-

DVD Review

The DVD Review and the Extras Review are by Kevin Clemons.

Since its publication in 1985, Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express has become an acknowledged classic of children's literature. It is a yuletide tale about faith and hope made unique not only because of the thoughtfulness of the tale but the author's distinctive illustrations as well. The pictures in the book have become recognizable to young readers and at first thought the notion of turn ing them into a film seems like a doomed idea. However, director Robert Zemeckis is up for the challenge, and from the first frame to the last, Zemeckis makes his own mark on a beloved children's story and manages to ensure it will last for the ages.

On Christmas Eve, a young child struggling with the knowledge that Santa may not in fact be real is startled by a loud sound coming from beyond his bedroom. After rushing from his bed, he is surprised to see a large black locomotive and a conductor (Hanks) asking him if he is coming along for the ride to the North Pole. After a some trepidation, Hero Child (Sabara) boards the Polar Express dressed in his pajamas and slippers. Along the way he meets other children along for the ride to Santa's home, including Hero Girl (Gaye), Know-It-All (Deezen), and several other interesting individuals. The children experience fantastic adventures including a descent down a steep cliff aboard the locomotive, a rekindled faith in Christmas, and the wondrous North Pole.

It's a fairly simple story, and Zemeckis and screenwriter William Broyles Jr. have had to add elements to Van Allsburg's story to get the film up to feature length as the story is only 29 pages including many illustrations. Luckily, they succeed more often than they fail. Among the successes are the inclusion of a poor boy whose faith in Christmas and his family has been shattered, plus some lively songs and a tremendous sequence in Santa's toy factory that proves almost as thrilling as any roller coaster. The film tends to rely a tad too heavily on thrilling sequences, which threatens to obscure its heartfelt theme at times, but overall it manages to maintain the majesty and innocence of Van Allsburg's story.

The film is a visual delight; a revolutionary new process used by Zemeckis, called "performance capture" pushes computer animation in a fascinating and daring new direction. All of the main roles, including the young boy, his father, the conductor, a hobo on the train, and Santa Claus are brought to life by Tom Hanks, whose movements were recorded by 72 different cameras, all running at once. The images were then fed into a computer, adjusted, and integrated into an elaborately rendered world drawn to resemble Van Allsburg's work. The result is truly spectacular: The Polar Express treats the viewer to crystal-clear animated sights that are eerily realistic. At times the animation is, well, a bit creepy, but with the amount of heart emanating from the story it is easy to overlook this one small flaw.

As I watched The Polar Express I became immersed in the experience of it. It will be hard for any adult to not get caught up in the ride just as much as a small child would. Zemeckis has crafted not only a technical masterpiece but also a film that is wholesome and winning and sure to fill anyone's heart with Christmas cheer.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Due to the highly stylized look of this movie, it's a bit difficult to gauge exactly how well it has been transferred to HD. There does seem to be some mild posterization at times, which gives skin tones a slightly blotchy appearance. It does mimic the children's book coloring and appearance well for the most part, however. Edge enhancement crops up every now and then; there are substantial haloes around the conductor in his first appearance, and also frequently around the train itself. The HD transfer makes good differentiations of shades of black and of white. The flying snow, smoke and fog are all rendered impeccably, which were the elements that standard DVD had the most difficulty with, so it does nonetheless provide a substantial improvement. The sequences on top of the speeding train have a dizzying 3-D quality that makes them much more effective here.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Only an English 5.1 DD+ track is provided. It does have extensive range, however, and the sound of the Express is booming and provides a solid impact. I particularly liked the grind and screech of the train as it comes to a halt. The audio is very clean overall, with no noise or hiss, as one would expect for a recent picture. The music and effects make good use of the surrounds throughout. Directionality and echoes are represented well, providing a reasonable facsimile of a real soundfield. The tapdancing on the Hot Chocolate number feels like it's overwhelming, which given the context is probably right on the money.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (closed captioning only)` with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The HD-DVD includes all of the materials on the two-disc special edition standard DVD, though none of them are presented in HD. Although the extras may seem like a lot, the collection is merely a group of small featurettes lasting an average of three to four minutes each. For a film with as much visual inventiveness as this, I would have liked to have seen more in-depth discussions about the crafting and completion of the film, but what is offered does its best in a scant amount of time. There are discussions on the motion-capture techniques via interviews with Hanks and Zemeckis in You Look Familiar. Performance Capture is no more than an extension of the previously mentioned featurette but offers a little more information about the process used to convert the actors to animation. Other brief pieces include a look at the Virtual Camera, which looks at the tools used to craft shots and sequences, while Hair and Wardrobe showcases how the animators managed to craft realistic hair and clothing for the film. Creating the North Pole covers how the filmmakers came up the design and layout of Santa's home while Music presents the creation of the score and songs by Glenn Ballard and Alan Silvestri.Singer Josh Groban is showcased in a live performance of his song, Believe, in a look at the creation of the film's closing song. Finally, there is a series of set-top games but being the 28-year-old I am, I am clearly out of the demographic and could not figure them out for the life of me. An anamorphic widescreen trailer rounds out the extras.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

The Polar Express will become a holiday tradition in my household as, more than any other film, it manages to evoke the spirit of Christmas while completely enthralling in nearly every aspect. Highly recommended.


Back to top

Microsoft Store

On Facebook!
Promote Your Page Too



Original Magic Dress.com

Susti Heaven

Become a Reviewer | Search | Review Vault | Reviewers
Readers | Webmasters | Privacy | Contact
Microsoft Store