The Polar Express (film)
|The Polar Express|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Produced by||Steve Starkey
|Screenplay by||Robert Zemeckis
William Broyles, Jr.
|Based on||The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg|
|Narrated by||Tom Hanks|
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Edited by||R. Orlando Duenas
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Running time||100 minutes|
The Polar Express is a 2004 American motion capture computer-animated musical Christmas 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 featured human characters animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the dancing waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. 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 the female protagonist. The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. Pictures. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The film was made at a budget of $165 million, a record breaking sum for an animated feature at the time. The studio first released the film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on November 10, 2004. It received mixed reviews from critics but still went on to gross $307 million worldwide, a very good gross for an animated film, but was still not a box office hit due to its huge $165 million budget. The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2006 as the first all-digital capture film. This is Castle Rock Entertainment's first animated film.
This was Michael Jeter's last acting role, and the film was dedicated to his memory.
On the night of Christmas Eve, a boy witnesses a train called the Polar Express, that is about to embark to the North Pole. The conductor lets the boy board the train. The boy meets other children, including a girl and a know-it-all kid. When the train goes to pick up Billy, the hero boy applies the emergency brakes to let Billy on, who at first declined to board but changed his mind.
Next, the conductor summons a waiter team, who give the children some hot chocolate, the girl stows away one cup under her seat to give to Billy, who is alone in the caboose. The girl and conductor deliver the hot chocolate cup to Billy until the hero boy discovers the girl’s ticket unpunched. He tries to return the ticket but loses it. After the ticket is abused by the wind and animals, it slips back in the train. The girl explains about her lost ticket and the conductor at first decides to eject her from the train but instead takes her for a walk on the rooftops of the train. The hero boy hauls the lost ticket back in and pursues the girl and conductor on the rooftops.
Losing the girl and conductor, the boy meets a hobo, who claims he’s the owner of the train and North Pole. Desperate to find the girl, the hobo helps the boy by skiing down the rooftops. Before reaching Flat Top Tunnel, the boy jumps into a coal storage car and finds the girl controlling the train. After the driver, Steamer and his aide, Smokey replace the light, Steamer orders to stop the train, witnessing something usual ahead. The hero boy applies the brakes and the conductor witnesses a caribou crossing. The conductor pulls Smokey’s beard, causing him to let out animal-like sound effects, which makes the caribou horde clear out. The train continues on, but the cotter pin of the throttle sheers off. Moving at extreme speed, the train becomes a roller coaster as it crosses Glacier Gulch, and enters a frozen lake. The lost cotter pin pierces the ice, causing it to crack. Smokey uses his hairpin to repair the throttle.
As the ice cracks, the conductor orders the driver to get to the other side of the tracks, and does successfully before the icy lake shatters completely. The hero boy returns the girl’s lost ticket for the conductor to punch. The conductor takes the two kids to a room with abandoned toys. The hero boy is scared off by one puppet portrayed by the hobo and retreats to the caboose where the girl and Billy are singing. The trio sees auroras and the train finally reaches the North Pole.
Upon arrival, kids form lines while the hero boy and girl see Billy depressed alone in the caboose. They try to convince Billy to go until the car disconnects and rolls downhill backwards then crashes on a turntable. The trio explore the city until falling on a pile of presents. The presents are transported in a giant bag carried by a blimp with the kids in them. The gargantuan bag is placed on Santa’s sleigh and the kids are removed by the elves.
With the reindeer being prepared, Santa arrives. One bell breaks loose from a harness and the hero boy retrieves it. He first hears nothing but when he believes, he hears a sound. Santa entrusts the boy the bell as “The first gift of Christmas”. Santa leaves with his reindeer and a band plays in celebration.
The elves re-attach the lost caboose back to the train and the kids prepare to head home. The kids request the hero boy to show the bell but he witnesses a hole in the pocket, therefore losing the bell. He is devastated for the loss, but regains his spirit after Billy is taken home. The hero boy is taken home and everyone else bids him farewell. The next morning, the boy’s sister wakes him up to open presents, including the bell he lost. The parents hear nothing from the bell and the boy leaves it on the table. The bell only rings for those 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
- 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
- Tinashe as the Hero Girl (motion capture only)
- 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)
- 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
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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 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 to positive 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 also has a "Rotten" rating of 56% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, 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 four stars, his highest rating, saying "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." And "It has a haunting, magical quality ..." Acknowledging comments by other reviewers, Ebert said, "It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen." Similarly, Ebert's At the Movies co-host Richard Roeper gave a glowing review to the film as well, 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 more than 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 its 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 drastically improve its gross in the weeks after its opening. It dropped by only 33% in its second weekend, grossing another $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 24% 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, which, though an impressive number for an animated feature, was nonetheless a disappointment against its huge 165 million budget. 25% of the world gross came from just 82 IMAX 3D theaters. 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 (including IMAX re-releases), and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $306,845,028.
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.
Awards and Nominations
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards:
- Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard)
- Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan)
- Best Original Song for "Believe."
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 4D film, distributed by SimEx-Iwerks, has been shown at other amusement parks around the world including Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Dollywood (during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event), Vancouver Aquarium (2009–2010), and Warner Bros. Movie World (during the White Christmas events in 2010 and 2011).
- Box Office Mojo: The Polar Express (Retrieved on October 28, 2009)
- BusinessWeek. Polar Express:Rating the cost. retrieved on October 28, 2009
- The 175m flop so bad it could end the 3D boom – The Independent
- "The Polar Express", Roger Ebert Reviews, November 9, 2004
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- "The 77th Academy Awards (2005) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- 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.
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- Official website
- The Polar Express at the Internet Movie Database
- The Polar Express at the TCM Movie Database
- The Polar Express at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Polar Express at Box Office Mojo