[Marxism] Unnerving effects derail 'Polar Express'

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Nov 10 11:32:43 MST 2004


Unnerving effects derail 'Polar Express'

Animation experiment doesn't live up to the spirit of modern children's
classic, leaving film a bit chilling

By Tom Long / The Detroit News

'The Polar Express'


Rated G

Running time: 93 minutes 



At long last, a Christmas movie with zombies. 

Well, that may not be what director Robert Zemeckis intended to make with
"The Polar Express." He likely set out to film a warm-hearted,
I-believe-in-miracles, visually astounding and emotionally heartening
adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's modern children's book classic. 

And he did precisely all that. With zombies as the central characters. 

In a clear case of artistically disastrous technical self-indulgence,
Zemeckis -- the man behind "Back to the Future," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit,"
"Forrest Gump" and countless other box office bonanzas -- decided to use a
newfangled brand of animation in "The Polar Express," a system that (in
simplistic terms) meticulously tracks human movements and translates them
into computer imagery. 

The result is near-human perfection. But the "near" in that description is
key. The characters in "The Polar Express" never look completely real. Their
eyes are just a bit crossed, the movements are noticeably stiff and jerky,
their pallor is oddly off. They consequently resemble zombies, near humans
that are just near-enough to be creepy. 

The kid at the center of "The Polar Express" is not supposed to come across
as creepy. Cute, confused, hopeful, bothered, but not creepy. 

Zemeckis would have been better off if he'd gone with either live-action
filming or obvious animation, letting the fantasy play out as clear fantasy
and relying on the suspension of disbelief. As it is, his characters'
twitching flaws become fatal distractions. 

Bummer. Because everything else about this adaptation is pretty top-notch.
The book's slight plot has been bombasted into classic Hollywood fare, and
it works for the most part. In the book, there's one central character, a
boy on Christmas Eve who's starting to question whether Santa exists. Then a
magical train appears outside his house and whisks him off to the North
Pole, where he becomes the recipient of the year's first Christmas gift.

Yeah, but we all know that's not enough to sell movie tickets. So the film
adds a conductor on the train (voiced/mimed by Tom Hanks, who plays about 20
different zombies in the film), brings in an African-American girl, a poor
boy and a nerd to give our youngster other kids to interact with. There's
also some sort of Tom Waits-like ghost on top of the train; and colorful
adventure on top of colorful adventure keeps things moving. 

Aside from the questionable ghost, it all works in a
too-many-Christmas-lights way. And, even as played out by quasi-humans, the
essential message of "The Polar Express" holds true. Heck, by the time Santa
takes to the sky with his reindeer, you may even find yourself ready to take
a zombie sleigh ride and forgive their twitchiness. Or not. 

For zombie lovers and those not thrown by visual miscues, "The Polar
Express" will likely prove a perfect holiday hit. For others, though, it
will simply prove the old adage that just because you can do something,
doesn't mean you should do it. Zombies have their place, but not in
Christmas movies. 

You can reach Tom Long at tlong at detnews.com. <mailto:tlong at detnews.com>  And
join him for Reel Talk, a movie preview and discussion, monthly at the Star
Southfield Theatre. To register call (313) 222-1457, (313) 222-1458, or go
online at www.detnews.com/entertainment.


Tom Hanks wears digital sensors on his head, hands and face as he performs a
scene from "Polar Express." 

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