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POLAR EXPRESS, THE

SYNOPSIS:
One Christmas Eve, a young boy whose belief in Santa is a trifle shaky at best, waits with baited breath, hoping for the sound of Santa's sleigh bells, announcing the arrival of the presents. It's 5 minutes to Midnight, and instead of Santa, what arrives outside his window is the Polar Express, a mysterious train whose guard (Tom Hanks) invites the boy onboard, to join other children on the way to the North Pole. The ride of his life later, the boy arrives at the amazing town, where Santa and his elves live. He only has to believe, and he'll hear those bells....

Review by Louise Keller:
Nurturing the child in all of us, The Polar Express is a magical fantasy about the wonders of believing. In adapting Chris Van Allsburg's much loved children's book for the screen, director Robert Zemeckis has captured the essence of the charming story and illustrations telling of a young boy who begins to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. With cynicism discarded and innocence rekindled, the story encapsulates the spirit of Christmas, when families come together in love and friendship. This is a story about believing. Believing in Santa Claus, believing in yourself, believing in something, believing in anything.

Polar Express combines good storytelling with spectacular visuals. Ground-breaking motion capture technology results in cinematography that look like an oil painting. And the result is breathtaking. Technically brilliant, the actors' performances are captured digitally with a limitless scope of angles and perspectives. The extraordinary locations are fabrications from the designers' imaginations, all wondrously brought to life by computer technology. But best of all, the imagery enhances the story, without overwhelming it. I especially loved the sequences when the speeding train bound for the North Pole slips and slides on a never-ending horizon filled with ice. The roller-coaster descent down the almost vertical slopes will take your breath away. And just when you thought you had caught your breath, there's yet another slope to conquer.

Tom Hanks plays five key roles, all effectively, but our hearts rest with the nameless young boy, who begins his long journey to the Pole armed with skepticism and trepidation. He meets other children, who also learn what they are missing in order to become complete. There are juggling waiters serving hot chocolate on disappearing tables, a raggedy man with a swag and billy perched on the snow-lined roof of the train, a roly poly engineer, huskies and a herd of caribou crowding around the tracks. Thousands of elves with candy canes, parachuting and bungy jumping flock to the square where the big man in the red suit finally appears.

As the eight reindeer leap into the starry sky, with their precious load, I felt the magic of The Polar Express sprinkling over my shoulders. Seeing may often be believing, but believing in your heart is infinitely more powerful.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a wondrous production with old fashioned charm mixed with thrills and adventure, promoting the notion that if only we believe in Santa, he'll be real for us. It's the magical fairytale which props up fairies and other creatures of the imagination that fill the minds of children, until they grow into cynical adults.

The film's quiet opening as the young boy contemplates coming Christmas and Santa gives way to a wild adventure on board the Polar Express, which includes mysterious strangers on the roof, a disadvantaged kid from the other side of the tracks (literally) and a feisty young black girl. Oh, and of course, the kindly but stern conductor (Tom Hanks).

The early sequences are breathtaking for their technical wizardry and the freshness of the images comes from a unique combination of motion capture and digital animation that gives the film an illustrated book quality. The train speeds through amazing snowcovered landscapes, icy lakes that threaten to crack and maxi-size roller coaster mountain passes that (especially in the 3D IMAX version) provide major thrills.

It's a magic environment, a magical world and a major cinematic achievement, although by the time it gets syrupy and schmaltzy with Bing Crosby songs and Santa is portrayed as a rather characterless version of the department store variety, the filmmakers' best work is over. Santa and presents are not really the Christmas spirit at all, although for kids the reinforcement that it is probably makes the film cool.

For me, the film's lasting value is in its brilliant evocation of a fantasy train that manages to be both dangerous and benign; a place of adventure at the same time as a place for understanding. Terrific voice performances provide personalities for the nameless characters, and the zesty direction makes the film admirably entertaining on its own terms.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FEATURE

POLAR EXPRESS, THE (G)
(US)

VOICES: Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Peter Scolari, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen

PRODUCER: Gary Goetzman, Steve Starkey, William Teitler, Robert Zemeckis

DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis

SCRIPT: Robert Zemeckis (Novel, Chris Van Allsburg)(

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Burgess, Robert Presley

EDITOR: R. Orlando Duenas, Jeremiah O'Driscoll

MUSIC: Glen Ballard, Alan Silvestri

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter, Doug Chiang

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 18, 2004

UPCOMING EVENT
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, Sydney.

Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.







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