Friday, December 08, 2006


On Kurt's last day in Iowa my grandpa took the family to see The Polar Express at the IMAX theater in Davenport. The whole movie is in 3D and just going to an IMAX is a fun experience if you've never been. But I have to say, I'm glad this movie was in 3D, because I don't think I would've been able to sit through it normally.

The basic concept is fairly clever...

The main character (a boy about 13 years old or so - I'm sorry I don't remember his name, I don't think they ever say it) goes to bed on Christmas Eve hopeful that Santa will come while he sleeps, but doubtful that it'll actually happen. His faith is so low that he even made his sister put out the milk and cookies. That night he's awoken by the Polar Express pulling up in front of his house and the conductor impatiently asking whether or not he's coming. And where are they going? "Why to the North Pole of course!" When he boards the train he sees that this isn't the only stop the Polar Express has made. The passengers are all children who are (I guess) doubtful of Santa's existence. Basically the rest of the movie is about the events that happen on the train to the north pole and then what occurs at the north pole. In the end our main character is singled out as the recipient of the first gift of Christmas from Santa. He's returned home and believes in Santa for the rest of his life, etc etc.

Sorry... I got bored just typing that plot summary. I do like the basic idea of this train coming to get kids right as they're starting to not believe. It's like this is the decision making year and they want to catch them before they're lost forever. Unfortunately it's a very "and then this happens" plot. It's very much one event happening after another. "Oh no the kid lost his friend's train ticket..." "Oh no the little shy kid won't get off the train to see Santa..." "Oh no we're stupid kids and got lost in the Elf Village..." etc.

I was a little confused as to whether or not all these kids were doubting Santa's existence. The co-star of the movie, a little girl on the train, seemed to have enough Christmas spirit and faith to go around... and then some.

Over all it was a good story of friendship and faith, it just didn't have much to say other than "friends and faith are good... and a bunch of stuff is happening to these kids... and it's in 3D!! Isn't that cool?"

Speaking of the 3D... the movie started out in a very promising way. It was like every shot was set up for us to be viewing it in 3D. We were looking through key holes, there was always stuff in our peripheral vision, all kinds of cool shots. But after about 5 minutes I guess the storyboard artists got bored of having to think that much and it was pretty much a normal movie. The only real "cool 3D effect" they did throughout the whole movie was roller coaster ride scenes. I think the train went out of control and down treacherous, icy paths about... oh... 572 times.

The main characters were pretty good with the motion capture technology that was used. But unlike Monster House, where the character design was still very cartoony even though it was all motion capture, this movie tried to make everyone and everything look as real as possible. Which meant that when something didn't look real in any way it was very accentuated. The secondary characters were horribly plastic and even the backgrounds were very flat. I guess the north pole was supposed to look amazingly breathtaking or something, but it looked like cardboard cut outs.

Perhaps the giant screen and 3D really brought forward the aesthetic problems, but the boring plot and lack of interesting characters (and abundance of annoying characters) can't really be excused. The only redeeming value was Tom Hanks, because he improves any movie he appears in, and fortunately he played something like four characters in this one.

I'd say it's not worth the IMAX price, but I'd also say that the 3D element is the only cool thing about this movie. But there was lots of snow and Christmas spirit so if that's all you're looking for, then this is a must-see this holiday season!


toast said...

Most movies based on kids books should not be made because they are about twenty pages long and cannot possibly be made into a feature length movie. As a result, basic quaint plots that would work really well in the book are draw way out with those 'and then this happens' circumstances. Cat in the Hat and the Grinch are perfect examples of this. Good review Katie.

coolshades said...

Yeah Cat in the Hat was pathetic...although I didn't think The Grinch was all that bad :S

I've never seen the Polar Express...but I'd probably like the roller coaster-ish scenes in 3D...

Anonymous said...

I took my Grand Children to see Polar Express 3D Imax two consecutive years in Atlanta. It is not playing this year but if it was, we'd go back. I have never spoken to a child that didn't love the movie. DUH! That's what it's all about!
Story line shallow, not enough "3D" effects, didn't like the way the characters were drawn!
Katie, "Give me a break!!"