As I write this last blind spot post of the year on Christmas eve I thought I should go for a seasonal movie. I have seen most of the classic Christmas movies and have no desire to see Elf, that’s how I ended up with The Polar Express.
On Christmas Eve it is revealed that a young boy is beginning to doubt the existence of Father Christmas. Just before midnight he is woken by a noise that it transpires is a steam train parked outside his house. Onboard the train he is joined by other children for a trip of a lifetime to the north pole.
I remember the movie coming out but had no interest in seeing it and knew little more than what I had seen in the trailer. As I looked for a little background, I discovered it is based on a book by Jumanji author Chris Van Allsburg. Considered a classic “Christmas story” in America but largely unknown here in the UK. Particularly admired for its illustrations resulting in a perfect jumping off point for the film adaptation.
Notable as an early example of an motion capture computer-animated, it is actually listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the first all-digital capture film, a format director Robert Zemeckis would return to three years later for Beowulf. The animation is stunning in both detail and use. Combining the vast landscapes of John Ford with the camera trickery of Steven Spielberg. In its innovative style and production it is in some ways a cousin of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Casshern that came out the same year. Both the most expensive to make and also the most successful, it was a modest success at the cinema, it has found its real home on DVD and television where it appears to have become a Christmas staple.
The story is surprisingly short and simple concentrating mostly on the train journey with one set piece at the north pole. Despite a few scenes of action and adventure there is never any real sense of danger or peril making the final result a little bland. The ending lacks the ambiguity that could have turned it from a full frontal assault on Christmas spirit into a more interesting story. All this is said from the point of view of a cynical thirty-something and not its target audience. For any of my criticism, the film probably only has one fault, its target audience is very narrow having little appeal to older audiences.
It may come across that I am trashing the movie, far from it I did enjoy it and I appreciate the innovation involved in its production. However, for all its technical innovation it all a little hollow. While the film isn’t without its charms, I can’t help thinking I would rather be writing about the film that is on in the background as I write this article, the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
Check out what Ryan and the others have been watching HERE.