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The Polar Express

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I'll be seeing this on Saturday morning.

In the meantime, if you want to see something disturbing, check out the picture of Tom Hanks at the New York Times.

No, that's not an audition for Hellraiser's Pinhead.

I'm gonna have a hard time getting that image out of my head while I watch this film.

I'm a big fan of the book, but so far, the trailers (with the exception of that initial,e effective teaser-trailer) haven't done anything to increase my anticipation. The more I see of the film, the more it looks like a touchy-feely cheese-fest.

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Am I the only one watching the 'Polar Express' preview who has found the eyes of the characters in this film to be rather soulless and creepy?

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I'm a big fan of the book, but so far, the trailers (with the exception of that initial,e effective teaser-trailer) haven't done anything to increase my anticipation. The more I see of the film, the more it looks like a touchy-feely cheese-fest.

It's one of the few 4 star reviews I've written this year. I loved it. Does exactly what it sets out to do. I'm convinced it will become a holiday staple in many many households for years to come.

I saw Polar Express and Finding Neverland within 24 hours of each other and found much common ground. Though Neverland had a far more serious subtext, they both left me feeling elated and filled with an appreciation for the wonder and power of child-like imagination.

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This is a movie carefully crafted to capture the imaginations of LITTLE KIDS. And I don't think any other interpretation of it will work very well. I think if I'd just seen it on my own, I wouldn't have cared much for it. But watching it in an audience of small children was very revealing. The little kids around me, disregarding those with ADD, were in awe. One in particular was so transported that she kept walking slowly down the aisle in anticipation of reaching the North Pole and her mother had to keep chasing her down. The girl's face looked just like the boy's face when he sees the aliens in Close Encounters.

It really is a beautifully animated film, and the story contains only one in-joke or nod to the adults (and that one is painfully ill-advised).

It's very much in the spirit of the book, full of clever ideas, and bearing Zemeckis' stamp of whimsy.

My favorite line:

Santa: "This bell is a symbol of the spirit of Christmas ... just as I am."

My least favorite line:

"It doesn't matter which train you take. It only matters that you get on board." (or something like that)

It's a perfect film for parents to take small children to. And if older kids enjoy, I'll compliment them for their lack of cynicism.

Question: When you watch this film, do you notice a spooky similiarity between Black Rider signals and the call of a caribou?

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In the meantime, if you want to see something disturbing, check out the picture of Tom Hanks at the New York Times.

No, that's not an audition for Hellraiser's Pinhead.

Interesting how in spite of that dense network of sensors, the character's face is still nowhere near as animated as Hank's.

My morning screening was also CGI: The Incredibles. Pixar and Brad Bird: Perfect together!!!

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: It really is a beautifully animated film, and the story contains only one in-joke or

: nod to the adults (and that one is painfully ill-advised).

Let me guess: "And the grass is..."

Definitely beautifully animated, and I can only wonder how the roller-coaster-ride scenes will look in the 3-D IMAX versions of this film. And no, I didn't find the eyes "creepy" -- for the most part, they were quite believably animated. This film felt like a definite step up from the likes of Final Fantasy, I think.

Alas, I'm not too fond of films that go through the motions of supporting and encouraging children's belief in the existence of imaginary beings, such as Santa Claus, so if I WERE to review this film, I don't think I'd be giving it very high marks. I am intrigued by the fact that this film has received so much attention from the religious press, who seem to be playing along with the film's fideism in the hope that "faith in faith" will eventually lead to faith in something true.

: It's very much in the spirit of the book . . .

I've never read the book, and had never even heard of it until I saw the ads for this film -- how much of the film comes straight from the book, and how much of it is filler designed to pad the movie out to feature-length? Cuz it did feel like there was some filler here.

: . . . full of clever ideas, and bearing Zemeckis' stamp of whimsy.

The bit with the ticket floating in the breeze was especially reminiscent of the leaf floating through the credits of Forrest Gump, though I'm not sure how many people would want to be reminded of that particular film's cynical "whimsy" while watching this one.

I have to say I've also often found Zemeckis too contrived to be enjoyable, a fact that really hit me in the late '80s when he made Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the Back to the Future trilogy -- his are the sort of movies in which every tiny detail becomes an important plot point, and he telegraphs this through the prominent placing of certain objects in the foreground of certain shots, etc. His films just aren't allowed to "breathe" the way that the films of better filmmakers are, IMHO. And there were a few moments in this film that reminded me of that weakness of his.

: My least favorite line:

: "It doesn't matter which train you take. It only matters that you get on board."]

: (or something like that)

Yep. Actually, I think the character says something like, "It doesn't matter where the train is going..." And considering how many near-accidents this train had, skidding over the frozen lake etc., I would say it DOES matter very much where the train goes!

: Question: When you watch this film, do you notice a spooky similiarity between

: Black Rider signals and the call of a caribou?

Um ... no ... no, I don't think so ...

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spoilers1.gif

maybe unnecessary, but I'm being overly cautious...

: [Jeffrey Overstreet's] least favorite line:

: "It doesn't matter which train you take. It only matters that you get on board."]

: (or something like that)

Yep. Actually, I think the character says something like, "It doesn't matter where the train is going..." And considering how many near-accidents this train had, skidding over the frozen lake etc., I would say it DOES matter very much where the train goes!

Haven't seen the movie yet, but this bit is in the trailer, which was shown before The Incredibles, and DH's comment was, "What if the train is going to Auschwitz?" He can be very cynical. huh.gif

There was a similarly irksome "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe something" bit in Secondhand Lions, which in most other ways I loved.

Edited by BethR

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Saw it. Read the book. Not a fan of either, though I give them credit for capturing the spirit of the book much better than Jumanji. In fact, they captured the writer/artist's style so perfectly in this film that I didn't even know that the book it was based on was by the writer-artist of Jumanji and I still compared this film to Jumanji the book in describing it to someone else.

But Jumanji, though an equally plotless excursion into fantasy and imagination, at least had novel situations and striking imagery. The Polar Express struck me as a series of cliches and artificial emotion, and the North Pole I found to be somewhat creepy, with all its empty, abandoned streets and canned Xmas muzak -- all 100% secular BTW.

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Peter, you'll be glad to know my CT review makes a big deal about what you call the "faith in faith" issue.

But I'm still giving it three stars. My review will explain why...

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BethR wrote:

: Haven't seen the movie yet, but this bit is in the trailer, which was shown before

: The Incredibles, and DH's comment was, "What if the train is going to Auschwitz?"

[ LOL! ]

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Read this, and you'll see that the "faith in faith" view of the film doesn't seem to be a problem for the screenwriter. He doesn't want the film to seem connected to any specific faith journey.

Reading this interview makes me like the film even LESS.

To my mind, the more Christmasy a Christmas movie is, and the more it focuses on the "true spirit" or "real meaning" of Christmas, and ESPECIALLY the more it focuses on things like belief and faith, the more problematic and objectionable it is to me to leave out any Christian content whatsoever.

I'm getting really, really, really, really tired of the forced desacrilization of Christmas that the media and marketing sectors of our culture are foisting on us, but even so this film goes a lot further than some in a direction that doesn't merely focus on the secular aspects of Christmas as grind the Christian aspect into oblivion.

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To my mind, the more Christmasy a Christmas movie is, and the more it focuses on the "true spirit" or "real meaning" of Christmas, and ESPECIALLY the more it focuses on things like belief and faith, the more problematic and objectionable it is to me to leave out any Christian content whatsoever.

Yeah, but is it a realistic aim for Hollywood to produce Christmas movies about Christmas rather than, for want of a better term, 'the holiday season'? Personally I find it quite a laudable aim that there are Hollywood filmmakers who will make *anything* which envisions Christmas as being about more than consumerism and make the point that it should be a time to consider that there's more to life. And then the Church's role is to pick that up and explain what that search is really for.

Maybe I'm easily pleased (actually, I know I'm not but I'm just being nice) but the fact that we got The Polar Express this year rather than garbage like The Santa Clause and Jingle All the Way doesn't annoy me in the slightest. Although, of course, I am shooting myself in the foot by not having seen the film yet. But I agree with everything Jeffery says about bearing in mind the audience this film has been made for and thus am hopeful for it.

Alas, I'm not too fond of films that go through the motions of supporting and encouraging children's belief in the existence of imaginary beings, such as Santa Claus

You won't be going to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe then, Peter? wink.gif

Phil.

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Maybe I'm easily pleased (actually, I know I'm not but I'm just being nice) but the fact that we got The Polar Express this year rather than garbage like The Santa Clause and Jingle All the Way doesn't annoy me in the slightest.

Don't be too pleased yet. Apparently we're also getting Christmas with the Kranks...

Edited by BethR

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Shantih wrote:

: Yeah, but is it a realistic aim for Hollywood to produce Christmas movies about

: Christmas rather than, for want of a better term, 'the holiday season'?

I'm not focused on what aims are "realistic" and what are not -- I am focused on how I, as a Christian, respond to and deal with certain kinds of stories. And at a certain point, I think it behooves us not to just roll over and let the Hollywood industry steam by.

: Personally I find it quite a laudable aim that there are Hollywood filmmakers who

: will make *anything* which envisions Christmas as being about more than

: consumerism and make the point that it should be a time to consider that there's

: more to life.

And yet you implicitly defend the consumerist impulses that lead Hollywood to make films that fall safely within their "realistic aims"!

wink.gif

One of the longest-standing paradoxes (or hypocrisies, take your pick) of the movie industry is that it makes vast sums of money by celebrating poverty or by preaching anti-consumerist or anti-wealthy messages -- this goes back at least as far as Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp and extends into the present day with films like Titanic. So it's no big whoop that we have yet one more movie which tells us, after we have trudged past all the other stores at the shopping mall and bought our tickets and our popcorn and our drinks and our snacks and played our videogames in the lobby and pondered buying the film's tie-in books and soundtracks, that the "real spirit" of Christmas is not in material goods. There is nothing particularly unique about The Polar Express in this regard.

: But I agree with everything Jeffery says about bearing in mind the audience this

: film has been made for and thus am hopeful for it.

I, too, agree that we must bear the target audience in mind. And I think films like this may confuse them more than enlighten them, especially given how realistically the opening reel captures the Very Real Doubts that children who have been fed the Santa Claus lie will begin to have at a certain age -- "The Discovery", as that Norman Rockwell painting glimpsed in the film puts it.

: You won't be going to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe then, Peter?

Heh. Whole different ballgame, there. Children KNOW that everything we see in Narnia is make-believe (even if Aslan's statements in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader blur things a bit by hinting that he is not merely an allegory for Christ but IS Christ himself, within the framework of the stories). And I'm all for encouraging a child's imagination. But I am also all for earning a child's trust by telling that child the truth. Which is why I am very grateful that my parents made it very clear to me, from as far back as I can remember, that Santa Claus was just a make-believe thing that we did every year for fun. Otherwise you end up with those situations in which children, having discovered that Santa Claus doesn't really exist, begin to think that God and other benevolent figures of judgment don't exist, either.

Switching sub-topics entirely, I have to say I am fascinated by the way a very high-tech film such as this one can pine so romantically for the technologies of a generation or even a century ago (except for those video monitors that the elves have, I guess, though even THOSE look a little old). But I am also not sure what it says about this film's Santa that he doesn't seem to do anything but ride the sleigh -- all the actual WORK is done by those slightly creepy, multitudinous elves.

And hey, what's with the Steve Tyler cameo!?

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Heh.
Edited by Shantih

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I'm very unconvinced by that. Especially because the Narnia stories are rooted in 'our' universe and are about 'real' children in a fantasy world, not a completley constructed one. The framework Narnia takes is designed to make it *more* real, not less.

Everything in my experience with kids rejects this.

I definitely disagree with you about the Narnian "parallel worlds" device being to "make it more real, not less." Narnia exists to be a world in which we can imagine that what is myth here is fact somewhere else. Whereas The Polar Express is about imagining that what is a myth here in this world is actually not a myth at all, but a fact in this world.

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Yeah, but is it a realistic aim for Hollywood to produce Christmas movies about Christmas rather than, for want of a better term, 'the holiday season'?

Then let them MAKE a movie about "the holiday season," and not pretend to do any "explaining" about "the real meaning of Christmas." Don't bring "faith" and "believing" into it, and then make out that "believing" is something you work yourself up to by trying really hard, like the Little Engine that Could.

Personally I find it quite a laudable aim that there are Hollywood filmmakers who will make *anything* which envisions Christmas as being about more than consumerism and make the point that it should be a time to consider that there's more to life.

Nothing in the climactic relevations at the end of this movie suggests anything about there being anything more to life.

And then the Church's role is to pick that up and explain what that search is really for.

And also to denounce false, misleading, sentimental attempts to gloss over the search.

Maybe I'm easily pleased (actually, I know I'm not but I'm just being nice) but the fact that we got The Polar Express this year rather than garbage like The Santa Clause and Jingle All the Way doesn't annoy me in the slightest. Although, of course, I am shooting myself in the foot by not having seen the film yet. But I agree with everything Jeffery says about bearing in mind the audience this film has been made for and thus am hopeful for it.

In a way, though, The Polar Express is actually MORE problematic than, well, The Santa Clause 2 anyway (not the original, which has a rather sour spirit), because it's entirely focused on Christmas and "belief" and so forth in a way that Santa Clause 2 wasn't. Santa Clause 2 had one line about "the real spirit of Christmas" (where it turned out to be basically nostalgia) in the midst of a silly plot about Tim Allen needing to get married in order to stay Santa Claus. The Polar Express is a whole film about the meaning of Christmas, so its failure to deliver anything substantial on that front is a more glaring and serious problem.

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I definitely disagree with you about the Narnian "parallel worlds" device being to "make it more real, not less." Narnia exists to be a world in which we can imagine that what is myth here is fact somewhere else. Whereas The Polar Express is about imagining that what is a myth here in this world is actually not a myth at all, but a fact in this world.

That is a very useful summation. Although much depends on the context in which Narnia is originally read. I wouldn't say it's an entirely obvious difference for someone to grasp on their own at an early age. The 'intellectualising' (or exploration of the world behind) of the story was something I had to do myself because I was reading the books by myself. Being able to explore Narnia, and all the other childhood worlds, with my own kids will be one of things I get most excited about when the time comes.

As for the rest I must await the coming of The Polar Express itself in a month's time!

Phil.

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My review, just over the line from Jeffrey's in the opposite direction

A converging opinion from my bud Larry Toppman of the Charlotte Observer:

Have you ever read the wonderfully simple picture book "The Polar Express" to your children? Did you think, "If only this peaceful story of hope and belief could be vastly inflated into a pretty but saccharine movie filled with near-death experiences and treacly songs?" If so, your Christmas wish has been granted.

Ebert's four-star RAVE

"The Polar Express" has the quality of a lot of lasting children's entertainment: It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen. There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie.

(Remind me, which "usual Christmas movies" have been characterized by "mindless jolliness" lately? Surviving Christmas? The Santa Clause flicks? The Family Man? How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Jack Frost? Jingle All the Way?)

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I guess my main argument for giving the film a thumbs-up is that, for me, visual beauty is a very big plus, in spite of the flimsy story and ridiculous "spirituality." I'm glad I saw what I saw, even if the story I was told made me wince.

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Jeff, I liked your review, and I do understand why you edged onto the other side of the line from me. Emphasis aside, I think our reviews are very close. I think your take is quite defensible, and, speaking for myself, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the film to like-minded film enthusiasts. For mainstream audiences, I prefer to leave this one in the "your call" range, but I wouldn't say your choice to go the other way was "wrong," or even that I really disagree with it. It's just not the way I went.

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