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!
December 14, 2003 12:37pm EST
The numbers are in and Something's Gotta Give gave the competition a run for its money this weekend as the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton romantic comedy claimed the No. 1 spot at the box office with $17 million.* The film's box office victory makes it the ninth No. 1 opening for Sony Pictures this year--the most of any distributor in 2003.
Something's Gotta Give also hacked last week's box office champ The Last Samurai, which dropped to second place with $14 million, and the new comedies Stuck on You, which debuted in third place with $10 million, and Love Don't Cost a Thing, which kicked off in fourth place with $6.5 million.
Eddie Murphy's holiday fright flick The Haunted Mansion rounded out the Top Five with $6.3 million in its third week of release.
Although Something's Gotta Give didn't rake in as much as Nicholson's comedy Anger Management, which opened in April to the tune of $42.2 million, it debuted slightly stronger than the actor's 1997 romantic comedy As Good As It Gets, which took in $12.6 million in its first weekend.
Sony Pictures' head of distribution Jeff Blake told The Associated Press Sunday that although Something's Gotta Give is targeted at older adults, it scored well among younger crowds, with viewers under 30 accounting for a third of the audience.
"For the holidays, this is the perfect piece of entertainment, especially in a market that for the most part has had either children's films or darker-themed adult films out there," Blake said. "This is funny, well-written, and we think [it] works for all audiences."
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give debuted at No. 1 with an ESTIMATED $17 million at 2,677 theaters. Its $6,350 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
In the film, an older man dating a pretty twenty-something falls in love with her dynamic mother.
Directed by Nancy Meyers, it stars Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand.
Warner Bros.' R rated period actioner The Last Samurai, last week's box office topper, dropped to second place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $14 million (-42%) in 2,908 theaters (unchanged; $4,831 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $46.8 million.
Directed by Edward Zwick, it stars Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Tony Goldwyn and Timothy Spall.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated comedy Stuck on You opened in third place with an ESTIMATED $10 million at 3,003 theaters with a $3,330 per theater average.
In the film, conjoined twins discover how difficult it is when one wants to pursue his dream as an actor in Hollywood. But once they become celebrities, they realize it's time for an operation to separate them.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, it stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes and Cher.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated teen comedy Love Don't Cost a Thing kicked off in fourth place with $6.5 million at 1,844 with a $3,544 per theater average.
In the film, a remake of the 1987 comedy Can't Buy Me Love, a geek pays the most popular girl in school to be his girlfriend so people will think he's popular.
Directed by Troy Beyer, it stars Nick Cannon, Christina Millian and Steve Harvey.
Buena Vista's PG rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion dropped two notches to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-33%) at 3,001 theaters (-121 theaters; $2,099 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.9 million.
Directed by Rob Minkoff, it stars Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason and Jennifer Tilly.
Miramax Films' R rated dark comedy Bad Santa held steady in sixth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-12%) at 2,540 theaters (+449 theaters; $3,385 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.9 million.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf fell three spots to seventh in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-23%) at 2,876 theaters (-243 theaters; $2,156 per theater). Its cume is approximately $147.6 million.
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated hip-hop drama Honey tumbled six rungs to eighth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-60%) in 1,972 theaters (+30 theaters; $2,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20 million.
Directed by Bille Woodruff, it stars Jessica Alba, Mekhi Phifer and Lil' Romeo.
Universal Pictures' PG rated live-action comedy Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, fell from its fifth place perch to ninth position in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-41%) at 2,955 theaters (-454 theaters, $1,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $90.7 million.
Directed by Bo Welch, it stars Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes.
Warner Bros.' R rated horror thriller Gothika fell three notches to round out the Top 10 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-48%) at 1,806 theaters (-399 theaters; $1,514 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.9 million.
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and Bernard Hill.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish debuted in six theaters with an ESTIMATED $215,000 with a $35,833 per theater average.
In the film, a son comes to understand his father through the older man's fantastic stories.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $83 million, down 7.08 percent from last weekend's $89.3 million take and also down 8.1 percent from last year's $90.4 million.
Last year, Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan debuted in first place with $18.7 million at 2,838 theaters ($6,593 per theater); Paramount's PG-13 rated sci-fi sequel Star Trek: Nemesis opened in second place with $18.5 million in 2,711 theaters ($6,829 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated teen musical Drumline kicked off in third place with $12.6 million in 1,836 theaters ($6,865 per theater).