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. Pictures|
|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 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 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. Pictures. 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.
This was Michael Jeter's last acting role, and the film was dedicated to his memory.
On Christmas Eve of the late 1950s, a young boy living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, questions his belief in Santa Claus. While sleeping, he magically discovers a steam-powered passenger train named "The Polar Express". The conductor (Tom Hanks) tells him that the train is headed to the North Pole. At first the boy refuses, he boards the train while it leaves.
Once aboard, the boy encounters other children, including a young girl (Nona Gaye) and a know-it-all (Eddie Deezen). The train stops again at another house for a young boy named Billy (Peter Scolari), who at first refuses to get on, but as the train starts to leave he attempts to board, but is unsuccessful. The boy applies the emergency brake so Billy can board the train. When the children are given hot chocolate the girl hides and saves a cup for Billy who is riding in the observation car. The conductor helps her deliver it. The boy discovers that she left her ticket on the seat. He attempts to bring it to her but loses it in the wind while passing between carriages. The girl returns to find her ticket missing and the boy tells the conductor that he lost it.
The conductor takes the girl up to the train's roof. The protagonist finds that the ticket has 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 crosses along the train's roof until he meets a hobo, who claims to be the owner of The Polar Express and king of the North Pole. The hobo gives the boy some coffee, who expresses doubt that Santa exists. With that, the hobo replies that if he is seen, the boy actually believes in Santa. He then helps him follow the conductor and girl. They ski down the train roof as it approaches Flat Top Tunnel. The hobo claims that the tunnel's clearance is low. The boy hops in the engine as the hobo magically vanishes in the air.
The boy finds that the girl is driving the train while Steamer, the engineer and Smokey, the fireman, try to fix the train's headlight. They are forced to stop when a herd of caribou block the tracks. The conductor gets the caribou to move by pulling Smokey's beard, making him yell. The train continues with the conductor, the boy, and the girl stuck in the front of the engine. The cotter pin of the throttle slips off during an attempt to slow down the train due to the train accelerating dangerously as it approaches and rides along Glacier Gulch. The train soon reaches a lake freezing over the tracks. However, the lost cotter pin pierces the ice and begins to crack, putting everybody in danger. Smokey immediately repairs the throttle, and the conductor orders the train to full-speed to get the train to the other side of the lake. They do so and the train runs back to normal just before the ice is completely broken up. During which, the boy hands back the girl's ticket for the conductor to punch.
Having arrived at the North Pole, the boy and the girl find Billy alone in the observation car, but the boy accidentally uncouples it, causing it to speed backwards. The three make their way back to the city square and travel from section to section in the North Pole and make it back to the center of the city in time for Santa's appearance and sleigh preparation as well. While the sleigh is being readied, a bell falls off a harness. The boy picks it up and shakes it after remembering that the girl and Billy could hear a bell earlier when he could not. The boy then says he believes in the spirit of Christmas and finally hears the bell. Santa selects the boy to receive "The First Gift of Christmas", allowing the boy to choose the bell.
As the children prepare to head home, the conductor takes their tickets and punches an individual message for each of them (including "Learn", "Depend, Rely, and Count on", "Lead", and "Believe" for the Know-it-All, Billy, the girl, and the boy respectively). Once aboard, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. Although he is at first saddened by the loss, he is soon cheered up when is Billy dropped off home. He gets word from Billy that Santa had already visited his house. The boy arrives home and the conductor wishes him a Merry Christmas as well as the others onboard waving goodbye.
On Christmas morning, the boy's sister Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the Christmas tree. The boy opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa found. When the boy rings the bell, both he and Sarah marvel at its beautiful sound. However, their parents neither believe in Santa Claus nor the spirit of Christmas and do not hear it and remark it to be broken. In the film's last line, the boy, narrating decades later, recites the book's final line:
"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
- 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
|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 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 also has a "Rotten" rating of 56% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, and 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 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 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 (film) 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. 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 was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan), Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard), 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.
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 Weird Movie Polar Express. Retrieved January 31, 2013
- The 175m flop so bad it could end the 3D boom – The Independent
- "The Polar Express", Roger Ebert Reviews, November 9, 2004
- "The 77th Academy Awards (2005) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- 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