The Polar Express (film)
|The Polar Express|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Produced by||Robert Zemeckis
Chris Van Allsburg
|Screenplay by||Robert Zemeckis
William Broyles, Jr.
|Based on||The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg|
|Narrated by||Tom Hanks|
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Editing by||R. Orlando Duenas
|Studio||Castle Rock Entertainment
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||100 minutes|
The Polar Express is a 2004 motion capture computer-animated fantasy film based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film's human characters were animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. The 21st century technology used incorporated the movements of live actors into three-dimensional animation  The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. The film also included a performance by Tinashe at age 9, who later gained exposure as a pop singer in 2010, as the CGI-model for female protagonist. The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $165 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on November 10, 2004. The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2006 as the first all-digital capture film.
On the night of Christmas Eve 1956, a young boy who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He wakes up near midnight and when studying evidence of the existence of Santa Claus, the boy hears loud screeching sounds and runs outside. He sees newly blown steam reveal a magical train called the "Polar Express." The conductor tells him that the train is headed to the North Pole to go to meet Santa Claus, and that this is the year he should board it. He initially refuses, but hops on the train at the last second as it begins to move away from the neighborhood.
The boy encounters a group of other children aboard the train, including a young girl and a know-it-all. The train stops again, and a young boy named Billy replays the same events that happened with the protagonist, initially refusing, then running to catch up to the train. Unfortunately, Billy isn't fast enough and is thrown into snow by the train's speed. The protagonist finds this unfair and thinks Billy should get a chance to get on the train, so he pulls the emergency brake and Billy boards, although he enters a bit dejectedly into a carriage two carriages back. A sequence ensues with singing, dancing waiters serving hot chocolate and the girl hides some extra hot chocolate under her seat for Billy, then sneaks away into the back to give it to him. When the conductor asks for tickets from everyone so he can punch them, the boy discovers his ticket is miraculously in his pocket. The conductor forgets to punch the girl's ticket as he takes the girl to give more refreshments to Billy. The protagonist finds the girl's ticket and tries to give it to her so it can be punched. However, he loses the ticket in the wind. The girl comes back to find her ticket missing and the boy guiltily tells the conductor that he lost it, not her. The conductor then takes the girl up to the train's roof, and the kids assume that she will be thrown off. The boy finds that the ticket has miraculously flown back into the train, grabs it and climbs onto the train's roof to give the ticket to the girl but arrives to see the light of the conductor's lantern vanish in the darkness. He hikes across the train's roof until he meets a hobo, who gives him some Joe (Old-fashioned coffee). When the protagonist expresses his doubt that Santa is real, the hobo replies that "Seeing is believing." Afterwards, he helps him pursue the conductor and girl. They are forced to frantically ski down the train when the train is driving to enter Flattop Tunnel which has only one inch of clearance on the roof; just before they can be knocked off by the tunnel the boy hops in the engine as the hobo magically vanishes in the air.
The boy finds that the girl is actually driving the train. She explains that Steamer, the engineer, is trying to fix the train's light, so the conductor is letting her control it in the meantime. The light is fixed but they are forced to stop when thousands of caribou block the tracks. They restart their trip when the conductor comically gets the caribou to move, but unfortunately, he, the boy, and the girl are stuck in the front of the engine. The cotter pin of the throttle slips off causing the train to accelerate out of control forcing the three to have to hope for survival as the train goes down the steepest downhill grade, Glacier Gulch. The train after going down the roller-coaster like gulch, lands on a frozen lake that has frozen over the railroad; and the ice begins to crack because the lost cotter pin rolls off the train and pierces the ice. The conductor has the train slowed down after Stoker, the fireman, uses a back-up cotter pin to re-attach the throttle, but when seeing the cracking ice behind them, the conductor orders the train to full-speed and they make it back on the railroad just before the ice completely cracks apart back into water.
They soon reach the North Pole and get off the train amid thousands of Christmas elves to see Santa and the magical Christmas tree. Billy stays in the train car; he does not want to see Santa, as he comes from a broken home due to a dissolved marriage from his parents' cultural differences. He says that Christmas never turns out well for him. The boy and girl try to get him to come along with them, but are trapped when the observation car speeds backwards. The three of them travel from section to section of the North Pole to get back to the town square, with guidance from the girl, who claims she hears the sound of bells that will show them the way if they follow the sound. Billy hears the bells as well but the boy realizes he can't hear them. Before long, they return to the town square and Santa appears. As his sleigh one of the bells fall off. The boy picks it up and shakes it, remembering that the girl and Billy could hear a bell earlier when he could not. As before, he cannot hear it. The boy then says he believes the spirit of Christmas and finally hears the bell. The boy is handpicked by Santa Claus to receive "The First Gift Of Christmas." Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for the beautiful-sounding silver bell (that only believers in Santa can hear). The boy places the bell in his pocket, and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly deliveries.
As the children leave the North Pole and are each dropped off at their homes, the boy discovers the bell is missing because there was a hole in his pocket. He is saddened by the loss of his bell, but is happy when he sees Billy holding up his present at his doorway, meaning Santa visited him already.
On Christmas morning, the boy's sister, Sarah, finds a small present hidden behind the Christmas tree after all the others have been unwrapped. The boy opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa had found on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and Sarah marvel at its beautiful sound; but because their parents don't believe in Santa Claus nor the spirit of Christmas, they do not hear it and remark it to be broken. The film's last line repeats the same last line from the book; the boy narrating years later:
"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."
- Tom Hanks as the Hero Boy (motion-capture only), the Hero Boy's father, the Conductor, the Hobo, Santa Claus, and the Narrator
- Daryl Sabara as the Hero Boy (voice)
- Josh Hutcherson as the Hero Boy (additional motion-capture)
- Leslie Zemeckis as Sister Sarah (motion-capture only) and the protagonist's mother
- Isabella Peregrina as Sister Sarah (voice)
- Ashly Holloway as Sister Sarah (additional motion-capture)
- Eddie Deezen as the Know-It-All Kid
- Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak as the Know-It-All Kid (additional motion-capture)
- Nona Gaye as the Hero Girl
- Chantel Valdivieso as the Hero Girl (additional motion-capture)
- Meagan Moore as the Hero Girl (singing voice)
- Peter Scolari as Billy the Lonely Boy (motion-capture only)
- Hayden McFarland as Billy the Lonely Boy (additional motion-capture)
- Jimmy Bennett as Billy the Lonely Boy (voice)
- Matthew Hall as Billy the Lonely Boy (singing voice)
- Dylan Cash as Boy on Train (voice)
- Brendan King and Andy Pellick as the Pastry Chefs
- Josh Eli, Rolandas Hendricks, Jon Scott, Sean Scott, Mark Mendonca, Mark Goodman, Gregory Gast, and Gordon Hart as the Waiters
- Michael Jeter (in his final film role) as Smokey and Steamer (motion-capture only)
- André Sogliuzzo as Smokey and Steamer (voice)
- Chris Coppola as Gus the Toothless Boy and an Elf
- Connor Matheus as the Toothless Boy (additional motion-capture)
- Julene Renee as the Red Head Girl and an Elf
- Phil Fondacaro, Debbie Lee Carrington, Mark Povinelli, and Ed Gale as Elves
- Charles Fleischer as the Elf General
- Steven Tyler as the Elf Lieutenant and the Elf Singer
- Dante Pastula as the Little Boy
- Eric Newton, Aidan O'Shea, Aaron Hendry, Kevin C. Carr, Bee Jay Joyer, Jena Carpenter, Karine Mauffrey, Beth Carpenter, Bill Forchion, Devin Henderson, and Sagiv Ben-Binyamin as Acrobatic Elves
- Evan Sabara as a Young Boy
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2012)|
The buildings at the North Pole reference a number of buildings related to American railroading history. The buildings in the square at the city's center are loosely based on the Pullman Factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood, and the Control Center is based on the old Penn Station in New York City.
The IMAX 3D version
In addition to standard theatrical 35mm format, a 3-D version for IMAX was also released, generated from the same 3-D digital models used for the standard version. It was the first film not specially made for IMAX to be presented in this format, and the first to open in IMAX 3-D at the same time as main flat release. The 3-D version out-performed the 2-D version by about 14 to 1. The 3-D IMAX version was released again for the 2005 Holiday season in 66 IMAX theaters and made another $7.5 million prior to Christmas. Due to its financial success, the IMAX version was re-released in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has become an annual Christmas film. The anaglyph 3-D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 28, 2008. Both formats include both the film's 2-D and 3-D versions. It was then re-released on Blu-ray 3D (stereoscopic) on November 16, 2010 with new cover art.
The "Polar Express Experience"
In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a Motion Simulator ride based around the film. The attraction is a temporary replacement for the Wild Arctic attraction. The building housing the attraction was also temporarily re-themed to a railroad station and ride vehicles painted to resemble Polar Express passenger cars. The plot for the ride revolves around a trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Guests feel the motion of the locomotive as well as the swinging of the train on ice and feeling of ice crumbling beneath them. The attraction was available until January 1, 2008, and is now open annually during the Christmas season. The Polar Express Experience is also now available at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as a permanent attraction and at Dollywood during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event.
The film's score was composed by Alan Silvestri. This film marks Silvestri 11th time collaborating with Zemeckis. Other films Silvestri has scored are Cast Away, What Lies Beneath, Contact and Forrest Gump.
The film received mixed reviews on its release; The Independent reported that it "is now seen by many as a classic". It earned a rare grade of an "A+" from Cinemascore and a 61 out of 100 critic rating on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews." However, the film has a "Rotten" rating of 56% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, a lower rating of 54% when narrowed down to professional critics, also certifying it as "Rotten," with an average rating of 6.2/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. On the positive side, Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, saying "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." Similarly, Ebert's At the Movies co-host Richard Roeper also gave a positive review to the film, saying that it "remains true to the book, right down to the bittersweet final image." James Berardinelli gave it a good review as well (a 3.5/4), stating that it was "A delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages." He ranked it as the 10th best film of 2004.
However, many other critics said it was "a failed experiment," and some even said that it "gave them the creeps." The film was generally praised for its stunning visuals; however, it was largely criticized for its fake-looking and "mannequin-like" human characters, which some critics compared to zombies. Giving it 1 star out of 4, Peter Travers went so far as to say that the film was "A failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong," and Geoff Pevere stated that "If I were a child, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway." Paul Clinton from CNN.com said "Those human characters in the film come across as downright... well, creepy. So The Polar Express is at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying."
It opened at #2, being outgrossed 2-to-1 by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, and brought in $23,323,463 from approximately 7,000 screens at 3,650 theaters, for a per-theater average of $6,390 and a per-screen average of $3,332 in its opening weekend. It also brought in a total of $30,629,146 since its Wednesday launch. The weekend total also included $2,100,000 from 59 IMAX theaters, for an IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. Initially, the film seemed to be headed towards becoming a box office failure after its first week, due to it opening just five days after The Incredibles and 9 days before Disney's National Treasure and Paramount/Nickelodeon's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and facing even more competition in the coming weeks with Sony's Christmas with the Kranks and Paramount/DreamWorks/Nickelodeon's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, despite the crowded family audience marketplace, it was one of the few films to improve its gross in the weeks after its premiere. It dropped by only 32.82% in its second weekend, grossing $15,668,101, averaging $4,293 from 3,650 venues and boosting the 12-day cumulative to $51,463,282; and, due to the winter theme, saw its gross rise by 23.75% over Thanksgiving weekend, making another $19,389,927, averaging $5,312 from 3,650 venues and raising the 19-day cumulative to $81,479,861. By New Year's Day 2005, The Polar Express ended up grossing nearly $160 million in the United States alone. 25% of the world gross came from just 82 IMAX 3D theaters, shocking many nonbelievers and film critics. It has been widely noted, however, that much of this latent revenue was due to its status as the only major motion picture available in the IMAX 3D format. The film has made $182,704,446 domestically, and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $306,845,028. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan), Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song for "Believe."
The film had its network TV premiere on ABC on Friday December 1, 2006. The airing brought in 13.2 million viewers, winning its timeslot and ranking 20th in the Nielsen ratings that week, according to TVTango.com.
- Box Office Mojo: The Polar Express (Retrieved on October 28, 2009)
- BusinessWeek. Polar Express:Rating the cost. retrieved on October 28, 2009
- [http://entertainmentguide.local.com/weird-movie-polar-express-1607.html The Weird Movie Polar Express. Retrieved January 31, 2013
- Bevil, Dewayne (November 24, 2007). "SeaWorld visitors take inaugural ride aboard the Polar Express". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
- "Polar Express 4-D Experience". November 30, 2009.
- The 175m flop so bad it could end the 3D boom – The Independent
- "The 77th Academy Awards (2005) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
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- Official website
- The Polar Express at the Internet Movie Database
- The Polar Express at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Polar Express at Box Office Mojo