Friday, December 25, 2009

The Polar Express

Day 359 - 12/25/09 - Movie #359

BEFORE: Merry Christmas to all! We hit two family celebrations today - my mother's family (formal, full turkey dinner), followed by my father's family (more casual, cold cut sandwiches) - then back to my parents' house for dessert and coffee, and now a late movie. I never got around to watching this Christmas film before, but I really should have...

THE PLOT: On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole.

AFTER: From a technical standpoint, simply amazing. I work in the animation industry, and I can't even imagine the computing firepower that it took to make this film. I know that motion-capture is something of a short-cut, but even so, this probably took YEARS to develop, animate and process.

The one thing I remember people in the animation community talking about was the "dead-eye" effect, caused by these blank stares that the CGI human characters seem to have, which some people also interpreted as a lack of soul. I think this effect could have been lessened a great deal just by making the characters blink a little more often.

And while I'm dazzled by the technical wizardry of it all, I'm left wondering if it was a little TOO dazzling - there were at least three sequences in the film based on a "roller-coaster"-like series of up-and-down train tracks, or slides in Santa's workshop. But, I guess if you're going to create a whiz-bang trip to and through the North Pole, you might as well go all out.

The film plays off the average's child's attempt to reconcile the story of Santa Claus and his method of delivering presents all around the world at midnight on Christmas Eve with an awareness of geography and basic physics, which suggests that Santa Claus cannot possibly live in the North Pole, and travel at faster-than-light speeds in a flying sleigh. The unnamed central boy character has begun to doubt the existence of Santa, and that's when he is visited by the Polar Express, and offered a ride to the North Pole to see for himself what takes place there.

Magic is a wonderful concept for children, and a handy one for screenwriters as well. All issues of unlikeliness, impossibilies and continuity mistakes are negated - "How does the train stay on the tracks at such a high speed?" "How do the tracks travel over an icy lake?" "How can kids spend hours on a magic train, and then return home 5 minutes after they left?" Because it's a MAGIC train, that's how... After watching this movie, kids won't be asking how a fat Santa comes down a skinny chimney, because it won't seem so outlandish by comparison.

Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, and oh yeah, Tom Hanks. He plays at least 6 different roles in the film, some of which facially resemble him and sound like him. Similar tech is used in the version of "A Christmas Carol" that was released this year, with Jim Carrey playing most of the characters. But the few characters here that are NOT played by Tom Hanks are acted or voiced by Peter Scolari (Hanks' ex-co-star from "Bosom Buddies"), Michael Jeter and the prolific nerdy character actor Eddie Deezen.

And now I know where this Josh Groban Christmas song "Believe" originated. It's really caught on in the last 2 years on those Lite radio stations that switch over to Christmas music in December.

It's very entertaining, and certainly a thrill-ride. But another gripe is the overly-fantastical nature of it all, and in attempting to explain the existence of Santa Claus, the story seems to raise many more questions than it answers. But again, Magic of Christmas and all that....this is the time of year where NORAD pretends to track Santa's sleigh, and the local weathermen and TV bimbos play along. So we grant an exemption on reality for one day - for the KIDS, man...

RATING: 7 out of 10 gift tags

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