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!
October 06, 2003 11:55am EST
Top Story: Readers Angry Over L.A. Times' Schwarzenegger Coverage
About 1,000 readers have canceled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times to protest the paper's coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger 's alleged sexual harassment of women, Reuters reports. Readers have complained that the paper singled out Schwarzenegger for critical coverage because of a liberal bias or ran its stories too close to Tuesday's vote. The Times has detailed allegations by 15 women in three front-page stories against the actor since Thursday. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has both apologized and denied the sexual misconduct allegations while accusing The Times of working with incumbent Gov. Gray Davis in a campaign of "puke politics" aimed at derailing his candidacy.
Diana Ross's Trial Postponed
Diana Ross's drunk driving trial has been moved to January 14. According to The Associated Press, the trial had originally been set for Sept. 9 and then Dec. 9, but the later date was a court calendar mistake since the Tucson, Ariz., city court isn't holding trials that week. The 59-year-old singer was arrested last December in Tuscon after a woman reported seeing a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Police said Ross had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20 percent. Ross, who has pleaded innocent to three drunk driving related charges, could receive jail time and a fine if convicted.
Kilmer's Comments Anger N.M. Lawmaker
Wonderland star Val Kilmer, who has a ranch in the mountains south of Pecos, New Mexico, isn't making any friends in the state senate. In an interview published in a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine, Kilmer said he carries a gun in his car. "I live in the homicide capital of the Southwest," Kilmer told the magazine. "Eighty percent of the people in my county are drunk. So driving home on the highway, especially with kids, it's just a precaution." State Sen. Phil Griego, whose district includes San Miguel County where Kilmer's ranch is, said Friday if the actor doesn't like it he's welcome to leave. "I don't believe for a minute he meant any of it," said John Hendry of the state tourism department to the AP. "I know him and I have a feeling that you had to be there [to understand Kilmer's perhaps sardonic intent]."
Reese Witherspoon's Brother Placed on Probation
Reese Witherspoon's 30-year-old brother has been placed on two years' probation after pleading guilty to trespassing and attempted sexual battery, the AP reports. John Draper Witherspoon was arrested Oct. 5, 2002, after he entered an unlocked door at a neighbor's home and attempted to undress a woman while she slept. The woman said Witherspoon kissed her on the neck and face, but that he left after she woke up. Witherspoon's attorney, Ed Yarbrough, said his client doesn't dispute the woman's account, but was drunk at the time and doesn't recall what he did. Witherspoon attends weekly meetings at Nashville's Vanderbilt Institute for the Treatment of Addiction and will attend for at least two years as part of the plea bargain.
Last New 8 Simple Rules Airs Tuesday
ABC will air Tuesday the last of three new episodes of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter filmed by star John Ritter before his death. According to the AP, the show will then go into repeats for a few weeks, then return with Ritter's character having recently died. 8 Simple Rules... airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Rob Lowe Talks About West Wing Departure
Rob Lowe tells TV Guide in its Oct. 11 issue that he quit The West Wing because he felt slighted by show creator Aaron Sorkin over the size of his role and the money he was making. Lowe made $70,000 an episode while co-star Martin Sheen got a raise to $300,000 a show. "Why didn't (Sorkin) know how much I loved him, how much I loved that show?" Lowe said. Lowe, who now stars and is executive producer of NBC's new legal drama The Lyon's Den, also recalls a meeting at which producers reprimanded him for an attendance record that showed he'd been late a total of 17 hours. "I was spied on. No other cast member had a meeting like that," Lowe said.
Fox Searchlight To Hold Special Screenings
Fox Searchlight Pictures, the specialty arm of 20th Century Fox, will hold special theater screenings of In America as an answer to a recent ban placed on Oscars hopeful screeners, Reuters reports. Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America instituted a ban on sending DVDs of movies vying for the Oscars to Academy Award voters. In America, about an Irish immigrant family in New York, will begin playing in four theaters in Los Angeles starting Oct. 9. The theaters will be open to the public at regular ticket prices but free for Oscar voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fox Searchlight said in a statement the special screenings will continue until the film debuts nationally Nov. 26.
Rings Fans Line Up for World Premiere
The Lord of the Rings fans are lining up to buy a seat in a Wellington, New Zealand, movie theater where the world premiere of the trilogy's final installment, The Return of the King, will be screened in December. New Line Cinema said it would not return to the city's Embassy Theater for the final world premiere unless the 79-year-old theater was improved. According to BBC News, the Embassy Theater Trust decided to fund part of the refurbishment efforts by selling sponsored seats, giving sponsors the right to a name plaque on their seat. More than 80 percent of the 748 sponsored seats have already been snapped up, some for as much as $1,104. Sponsoring a seat, however, doesn't mean they get to sit in it for the premiere or even the first public screenings two weeks later. The Return of the King will be released worldwide release Dec. 17.