Based on Chris Van Allsburg's enchanting award winning children's book the story begins on a snowy Christmas Eve where a doubting young boy lies in his bed waiting to hear the sound he doesn't know if he believes in anymore: the tinkle of Santa's sleigh bells. What he hears instead however is the thunderous roar of an approaching train where no train should be: it's the Polar Express. Rushing outside in only a robe and slippers the incredulous boy meets the train's conductor who urges him to come onboard. Suddenly the boy finds himself embarking on an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with a number of other children--including a girl who has the tools to be a good leader but lacks confidence; a know-it-all boy who lacks humility; and a lonely boy who just needs to have a little faith in other people to make his dreams come true. Together the children discover that the wonder of Christmas never fades for those who believe. As the conductor wisely advises "It doesn't matter where the train is going. What matters is deciding to get on." Gives ya goose bumps doesn't it?
Talk about a vanity project for Tom Hanks. He portrays several of the characters in the film--the conductor the hobo who mysteriously appears and disappears on the Polar Express the boy's father. Wait isn't that Hanks playing Santa Claus as well? But if anyone can pull off some cheesy dialogue about the spirit of Christmas this Oscar-winning actor can. Interestingly the film also incorporates adults to play the children (none of the characters have names actually) with Hanks as the Hero Boy; Hanks' Bosom Buddies pal Peter Scolari as the Lonely Boy; The Matrix Revolutions Nona Gaye as the Hero Girl; and veteran voice actor Eddie Deezen as the Know-It-All Boy. Everyone does a good job but trying to make CGI-created people seem real is a difficult undertaking. With
The Polar Express director Robert Zemeckis has created an entirely new way to do computer animation called "performance capture." "[It's a process that] offers a vivid rendering of the Van Allsburg world while infusing a sense of heightened realism into the performances. It's like putting the soul of a live person into a virtual character " visual effects wizard and longtime Zemeckis collaborator Ken Ralston explains. Oh is that all? Problem is no matter how hard they try it doesn't work--not completely. Similar to flaws in the 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within virtual characters just can't convey human emotion as well as real-life actors plain and simple. And with a touching story like Polar Express that real-life connection is missed at times.
Of course like the images in the book it's still an exceptionally beautiful film to watch. Zemeckis enjoys being a filmmaking innovator. He charmed audiences with a lively blend of live action and manic animation in the 1988 classic action comedy Who Framed
Roger Rabbit? and then wowed them with the 1994 Oscar-winning Forrest Gump blending authentic archival footage of historic figures with the actors. Now with The Polar Express it's this performance capture which gives Zemeckis unlimited freedom in creating the world he wants. And boy does he make use of it. True the story is a classic but the director knows he has to make The Polar Express exciting for the tykes-- simply riding around in a train to North Pole without any thrills certainly wouldn't be enough for the ADD world we live in. To accomplish this the film is padded with exhilarating scenes such as the train going on a giant roller coaster ride through the mountains and across frozen lakes (too bad Warner Bros. doesn't have a theme park) and the boy's race across the top of the snowy Polar Express. Even the North Pole is a booming magical Mecca filled with some pretty boisterous (and weird looking) elves who like to send Santa off in style Christmas Eve--watch out for Aerosmith's Steven Tyler making a cameo as a jammin' elf. Ho-ho-ho!
September 23, 2003 10:19am EST
Actor Gordon Jump, who played dimwitted radio station manager Mr. Carlson on the '70's sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, died Monday at the age of 71.
Jump had been under hospice care at his home southeast of Los Angeles. His cousin, Katherine Jump Wagner, told The Associated Press that Jump suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring of the air sacs of the lungs that leads to heart and respiratory failure.
Jump, a native of Dayton, Ohio, began his career working at radio and TV stations in the Midwest. In 1963, he moved to Los Angeles and launched his acting career, appearing in the television series Daniel Boone, Get Smart and The Partridge Family.
His most popular role, however, was that of Arthur Carlson on the CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. The series, which ran from 1978 through 1982, focused on the antics of the staff and management of WKRP, a rock 'n' roll format AM radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio.
One of WKRP's most famous and still talked-about shows is a Thanksgiving episode where Mr. Carlson arranges to have live turkeys dropped from a helicopter as an advertising stunt for the station. The turkeys, of course, plunge to their death to reporter Les Nessman's (played by Richard Sanders) blow-by-blow account of the event:
"It's a helicopter, and it's coming this way. It's flying something behind it, I can't quite make it out, it's a large banner and it says, uh - Happy... Thaaanksss... giving! ... From ... W ... K ... R... P! ... I can't tell just yet what they are, but - Oh my God, Johnny, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this? Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenberg tragedy has there been anything like this!"
The miscalculation is hysterically summed up at the end of the episode by Jump's immortalized line: "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"
In the late '80s, Jump became a well-recognized talisman for Maytag as "Ol' Lonely," the repairman.
"Gordon was an incredibly talented actor and a remarkable human being," Maytag Corp chairman and chief executive officer Ralph Hake said.
Jump is survived by his wife, Anna, four daughters and a son.