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</script></div>{/googleAds}The story in Chris Van Allsburg's Caldecott Medal winning children's book, The Polar Express, is a very simple little tale that's short on words but big on heart. Although the book is truly a heartwarming experience, there's really not a whole lot of story to it. A young boy, whose belief in Santa Claus is being put to the test, awakens on Christmas Eve night to the loud hiss of a steam engine in front of his house. The boy is coaxed by the conductor to board the Polar Express bound for the North Pole. Upon his arrival at the North Pole, the boy's fading doubt is boosted by an encounter with the red-suited one himself and a specially granted Christmas wish.

That's actually all there is to the tale. But what makes the book so memorable and what gives the story its warmth and lift, are the beautifully rendered illustrations that accompany it. The pages are designed in such a way that the artwork reaches across both pages, filling the spread and allowing the reader's mind to fall into the setting. It's more imagination than literation that saturates the reader with Christmas cheer. It's a picture book in the truest sense of the word.

Therefore, it would naturally follow that the movie adaptation be as equally stunning from a visual standpoint. That's probably why Robert Zemeckis chose to employ a cutting-edge computer technology called "performance capture." Live actors in the studio act out the story with electronic markers stuck on their bodies and faces, giving a 3-D like representation of the characters. Lord of the Rings fans will know of this technology as it was used to create Gollum. Not that the means matter to lovers of the book, but the end results of the movie had better capture the heart of the book. And for the most part, it does. There are moments when the characters look a bit strange, especially the nightgown-clad hero girl. Her head and facial features seemed oddly adult-like, but the distraction eventually fades. The visual effects are at times absolutely breathtaking including a harrowing runaway train sequence where the camera's point-of-view zooms wildly all over the place. We truly got a sense of roller coaster-like weightlessness as the train crests a hill, slowly giving us a peek at the tracks disappearing below. I'm certain this feeling is enhanced in the IMAX version of the movie.

The movie's basic plot is pulled directly from the book. But at a mere 30 some-odd pages, Zemeckis and co-writer William Boyles, Jr. knew they had to introduce new characters, new settings, and new conflicts.

Unlike the book, our boy hero makes several close friends on the journey to the North Pole. Of course they all have their own uniqueness and shortcomings (what childhood story doesn't). Hanks shows his usual adroitness as he voices no fewer than five characters; the Conductor, a slightly disturbing hobo ghost, Santa, Hero Boy's father and Hero Boy himself.

For the most part, the story's original charm and heartfelt warmth are conveyed in the movie. But part of what made the book so amiable was the fact that it was a short, sweet and simple story. I'm sure Van Allsburg felt he didn't need to name the main character because it wasn't necessarily a story about one particular individual. It is a semi-biography of all of us. We've all felt a little doubt in our lives so we find an immediate connection to the story. But in all the film's beauty and stunning graphics, it connects more to the eyes than it does to the emotions. Which means that rather than being a wonderful movie that melts our hearts, the film is a beautifully tempting piece of sweet Christmas eye candy that melts before you hit the parking lot.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; songs; featurettes; interactive activities.

* Featurettes:
o You Look Familiar - Explores the electronic capture procedure used to animate the movements of Tom Hanks.
o Genuine Ticket to Ride
+ Performance Capture
+ Virtual Camera
+ Hair and Wardrobe
+ Creating the North Pole
+ Music
o Josh Groban at the Greek - Music video, includes a "making of" for the song.
o Meet the Snow Angels - Holiday memories from the members of the cast and crew.
o True Inspiration: An Author's Adventure - looks at Chris Van Allsberg's career.
* Games: Polar Express Challenge - interactive kids' game.
* Deleted Scenes: Stocking Stuffers - Hidden bonus clips

Number of discs: - 2 - Keepcase packaging.