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!
Welcome to the dog days of summer.
Last weekend's release of American Pie 2 represented the summer's last sure thing.
Hollywood traditionally treats mid- to late August as a dumping ground, littering theaters with garbage in the hopes of making a quick buck before and during the Labor Day weekend. Think Chill Factor. The Crow: City of Angels. Knock Off. Highlander: Endgame. Get the picture?
This trash mentality no doubt explains the arrival of two of this weekend's new films: American Outlaws and Rat Race.
A Western that enthusiastically mythologizes the exploits of bank robber Jesse James, American Outlaws stars the hottest actor you've never heard of: Colin Farrell.
The Irish unknown won raves last year for his performance as a hardened solider in the gritty Tigerland. So what if distributor 20th Century Fox ignored the goodwill that the Joel Schumacher-directed Vietnam saga generated among critics and released it in only a handful of theaters? Hollywood took notice of Farrell.
Farrell suddenly became the actor to turn to when a studio's A-list choice dropped out of a hot project. He replaced Matt Damon in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, Jim Carrey in Phone Booth and Edward Norton in Hart's War.
American Outlaws will provide American audiences with their first opportunity to acquaint themselves with Hollywood's hottest overnight sensation since Matthew McConaughey. Unfortunately, American Outlaws offers Farrell little to do except smile. And smile. Directed by Les Mayfield, American Outlaws plays like a third Young Guns. There are moments when you're waiting for Jon Bon Jovi to arrive and burst into "Wanted: Dead or Alive."
In recent years, Westerns have failed to make much of a bang at the box office. Even Wild Wild West, with its $113.8 million gross, was considered a major flop for Will Smith. If anything, with its unknown but rugged cast, American Outlaws should make more than Bad Girls' 15.1 million total but will probably fall short of the Brat Pack-driven Young Guns II's $40.1 million total.
Back in the late 1980s, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis tried in vain to create a Reagan-era It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Such was the disinterest in Million Dollar Mystery--headlined by, of all people, Eddie Deezen--ended up earning about the same amount of money that its greedy characters tried to get their grubby hands on.
Rat Race should fare better than Million Dollar Mystery, which ultimately contributed to the demise of De Laurentiis' mini-studio. For starters, Rat Race implicates Cuba Gooding Jr., John Cleese, Jon Lovitz, Rowan Atkinson and Whoopi Goldberg in a race to win $2 million stuffed in a locker in New Mexico. It also was directed by Jerry Zucker, who co-created the classic Airplane! before enjoying solo success with Ghost.
Still, the idea of a cross-country jaunt filled with supposedly hysterical repercussions seems creaky at best, especially given that Mad World director Stanley Kramer already mined a similar star-studded road trip for all it was worth. Also, theaters were only 60 percent filled for Rat Race previews held Saturday.
While the fate of American Outlaws and Rat Race seem dubious, Captain Corelli's Mandolin looks poised to capture many hearts this weekend.
That Universal delayed the World War II romance from spring to mid-summer seems fortuitous given the media hoopla surrounding Tom Cruise's new girlfriend, Penelope Cruz. Cruz is far from a box office certainty--Woman on Top made $5 million, All the Pretty Horses made $15.5 million--but the intense focus on her love life should ignite interest in the summer's second high-minded romance to employ war as its backdrop. Nicolas Cage--about to go to war for a second time in John Woo's upcoming Windtalkers--also should sell some tickets.
Cruz should deflect attention away from Captain Corelli's Mandolin's lukewarm reception this past spring in the United Kingdom. Audiences across the pond found the adaptation of Louis de Bernieres' much-loved novel lacking, resulting in a disappointing $10 million at the box office. Expectations also were high given that Captain Corelli's Mandolin marks director John Madden's first offering since his Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love.
Still, Captain Corelli's Mandolin doesn't have the potential to unseat American Pie 2 or Rush Hour 2 from, respectively, the No. 1 and 2 spots.
The second helping of American Pie laughed up $45.1 million in its opening weekend, the biggest haul yet for an R-rated comedy. That beat Scary Movie 2's opening by $2.8 million. Through Wednesday, American Pie 2 has rustled up $62 million, or more than half of its predecessor's $101.8 million total. If anything, this proves that, contrary to popular belief, the R-rated teen sex romp is alive, well and ready to score. With the significant lack of competition, American Pie 2 should retain the top spot this weekend, making it only the third film this summer to remain No. 1 for two consecutive weekends.
American Pie 2 also looks certain to join that exclusive club of films that rake in millions more than their predecessors. Rush Hour 2 earned its membership Tuesday, when the Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker action yarn hit $141.5 million. That's $400,000 more than Rush Hour made. Its total through Wednesday stands at $144.7 million.
Rush Hour 2 experienced a 51 percent drop in its second weekend--from $67.4 million to $33.1 million--continuing a trend that has plagued most of the summer's big guns. Still, that's $100,000 more than Rush Hour made in its opening weekend in September 1998. Rush Hour 2 also held up better in its second weekend than Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park III, and of the three, it's the likeliest to make $200 million.
The Princess Diaries looks set to challenge Legally Blonde as the summer's biggest non-action sleeper. Director Garry Marshall's fairy tale dropped a modest 38 percent in its second weekend-from $22.9 million to $14.2 million-and has $58.5 million in its royal coffers through Wednesday. Legally Blonde, now in its fifth week, is up to $80.2 million.
Conversely, Osmosis Jones will wind up alongside Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Original Sin as the summer's biggest flops. The prospect of taking a trip through Bill Murray's innards clearly seemed too nauseating for the audience, as the combination live action/animation family comedy opened with a disgusting $5.2 million. It's made $7.1 million through Wednesday.
Speaking of Original Sin, the Antonio Banderas-Angelina Jolie erotic thriller has managed to only scrape up $13.6 million in 12 days through Wednesday. That wasn't the only bad news for Banderas. His reissued Spy Kids made only $1.5 million last weekend, perhaps indicating that audiences only want to see a smash hit with new footage when it's issued on DVD.
If Captain Corelli's Mandolin is relying on the Cruz factor, then The Others is exploiting the Cruise factor to keep it scaring audiences. Starring Nicole Kidman and executive produced by ex-husband Tom Cruise, the summer's sole horror tale has scared up an impressive $19.5 million through Wednesday.
The moral of the story? Score an instant box office smash should you divorce a major Hollywood hotshot.
Hum, wonder whether that applies if you date a newly divorced major Hollywood hotshot?