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Admittedly, you care for her more than I care for THE POLAR EXPRESS, but my point is, I was touched by the film, charmed, enchanted. Why would I want to start messing with that, just yet?

Ron, I totally understand what you mean. I wish I was better able to hold on to the experience of films and music before appeasing my urge to dissect them in print. I have a feeling my reviews would sometimes be very different if I let them "work" on me for a while first.

For what it's worth, while I'm not as enthusiastic as you about the film, I resonate with much of the things you mention, and I really did have a wonderful time at the film, in spite of my nitpicks about a few lines and a few aspects. I would like to see it again, probably in an IMAX setting.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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'Express' Keeps Chugging

Warner Bros.' The Polar Express, which dubiously urges its audience to "Believe!", is making believers out of analysts who had predicted that the Christmas-themed movie would wither and die once the holiday ended. Instead, the film has seen its daily take rise from the week prior to Christmas by nearly 17 percent. It took in $2.4 million on Monday and another $2.3 million on Tuesday, to bring its gross to $144.9 million. Giant screen Imax theaters, which are showing the movie in 3-D, account for about 17 percent of ticket sales, or about $25 million to date. Earlier this week, Warner's distribution chief Dan Fellman observed that the Imax totals will make the animated film one of the few in history to cross $160 million in total domestic sales without ever having reached No. 1 at the box office.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Giant screen Imax theaters, which are showing the movie in 3-D, account for about 17 percent of ticket sales, or about $25 million to date. Earlier this week, Warner's distribution chief Dan Fellman observed that the Imax totals will make the animated film one of the few in history to cross $160 million in total domestic sales without ever having reached No. 1 at the box office.

No wonder, since the Imax tickets cost more than regular tickets and there are no matinee discounts.

On the other hand, having finally seen the thing at our area Imax (my first Imax and first 3D movie), that spectacular format definitely covers, or at least muffles, a multitude of sins. We went with our priest, who is a great rollercoaster fan, so as far as she's concerned, you can never have too many rollercoasters, even virtual 3D filmic ones.

We might have forgiven everything if the last thing the conductor said to the boy had not been

the same pointless thing that turned us off in the trailer: "The thing about trains is, it doesn't matter where they're going. It only matters whether you get on."

Much eye-rolling.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Another Polar Express story from our outing earlier this week:

Apparently one of our co-parisioners attended a Christmas Eve service at her (very young) grandchild's church, a mega-church which happens to be Baptist, and found that the theme was "the Polar Express." This is a true story. The ushers were dressed in very realistic railway conductors' uniforms and every child was given a "ticket." When screens descended for the PowerPoint portion of the service (or perhaps the first praise-song lyrics), the little girl whispered to her grandmother, "Is this the real Polar Express?"

Make of it what you will.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Had a chance to see this again, this time with my wife and 11-year-old daughter. They enjoyed the movie, though my wife had to close her eyes during the "rollercoaster" scenes. smile.gif I was impressed, again, by the artistry of some of the scenery; less impressed - again - with the animation of the childrens' faces.

I find I am still of two minds about the story. Is it only a secular story, designed to reinforce "faith" in the "true spirit" of Christmas that is "in your heart"? Does it want us to try to recapture the childhood belief in Santa as an end in itself, as something precious that has been lost? If so, it feels - as my wife said afterwards - hollow and empty. Like peeling away the layers of ribbons and colored wrapping, only to find that's all there is. There is no Gift at the center of it all. We are left only with a pile of crumpled - but pretty - paper and bows.

But I can also recieve this story as a parable, of sorts. As a believer who struggles with faith and trust in God, I resonate with the scenes early on where the boy hears his sister talking excitedly about Santa, then goes to his dresser and looks at the newspaper articles that tell him the "real" story. How many times have I been wondering about God, or the reality of his love and presence? Then, out of the corner of my eye I think I see him, only to be disappointed when the vision turns, and I see the mechanical workings of a storefront display.

In the days of terrorists and tsunamis, when the atheist cry of "where is your 'loving god' now?" stings my heart, I hold the bell up next to my ear and give it a shake. Does it still ring for me?

B

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As a believer who struggles with faith and trust in God, I resonate with the scenes early on where the boy hears his sister talking excitedly about Santa, then goes to his dresser and looks at the newspaper articles that tell him the "real" story.

Yeah, what's up with that? The reference sources in the Boy's world know as well as ours that the North Pole is uninhabited. The religious equivalent would be if it were well known that Jesus' bones were in the tomb and you could look it up in the encyclopedia. What does faith in Santa Claus mean in a world in which the North Pole is known to be uninhabited?
In the days of terrorists and tsunamis, when the atheist cry of "where is your 'loving god' now?" stings my heart, I hold the bell up next to my ear and give it a shake.  Does it still ring for me?

I know some atheists who would probably be willing to give the bell another shake if God were to extend to them the privilege of a train ride to heaven.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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We might have forgiven everything if the last thing the conductor said to the boy had not been

the same pointless thing that turned us off in the trailer: "The thing about trains is, it doesn't matter where they're going. It only matters whether you get on."

Much eye-rolling.

I'm still trying to figure out why you guys have such strong negative issues about that line! For me, that's words to live by! If Hero Boy doesn't get on that train, he misses the adventure of a lifetime. I've been in the same boat many times in my life. There have been trains that I got on. There have been trains I missed. Some of those trains I should have taken the courage to ride. But, because I ignored my heart and listened to logic and reason, I missed out of some incredible journeys that I still regret to this day.

My own wife tells a similar story about her decision to date me. She didn't know where this train was headed 6 years ago. But she got on it and took the journey.

That's the emphasis of that final phrase: the journey.

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My own wife tells a similar story about her decision to date me.  She didn't know where this train was headed 6 years ago.  But she got on it and took the journey.

I know what you mean, Chris. but at the same time, even though your wife didn't KNOW where the train was headed, does that mean it didn't MATTER where the train was heading? Would you say that your wife's decision whether to date you or some other guy was a matter of indifference to her at the time, or that she didn't care what kind of guy you turned out to be?

Suppose I rephrased the film's advice: "It doesn't matter where the relationship is heading. All that matters is getting it on." laugh.gif I'm sure you'd disagree -- and so would your wife! Some trains are going to Auschwitz, and some guys are bad news. It MATTERS which -- matters where the train is going.

So, while your wife may not have KNOWN where things could go between you, I'm sure she didn't pick your name out of a hat. I bet intuition and instinct and whatever bits and pieces she knew about you gave her at least SOME reason for optimism about where your relationship could potentially go.

I understand your point about regretting the times you ignored your heart and listened to reason and logic. And I'm not saying never make a leap of faith! I'm just saying that where you leap, what you choose to put your faith in, does matter.

If you regret those times you didn't listen to your heart, isn't that because you feel that your heart told you something about where the train was headed that reason and logic didn't?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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utzworld wrote:

: If Hero Boy doesn't get on that train, he misses the adventure of a lifetime.

On THAT train, yes. But what about OTHER trains...?

: So the issue is rooted in the sentence structure of the phrase and not the

: meaning of the phrase.

Huh? How is "where the train is going" or whatever equivalent phrase the conductor uses a question of sentence STRUCTURE and not of MEANING?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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utzworld wrote:

:

Huh?  How is "where the train is going" or whatever equivalent phrase the conductor uses a question of sentence STRUCTURE and not of MEANING?

I think there's too much emphasis on the phrase "It doesn't matter where the train is going." That's not even the crux of what the conductor was saying. It's the second part of the phrase that carries the message of what he was saying...not to mention the whole film.

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utzworld wrote:

: I think there's too much emphasis on the phrase "It doesn't matter where the

: train is going." That's not even the crux of what the conductor was saying. It's the

: second part of the phrase that carries the message of what he was saying...not to

: mention the whole film.

All the more reason for the filmmakers not to muddy the point by linking it to such a highly dubious string of words.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Chris, I can appreciate the way that you interpret the statement. When you hear it, what strikes you is the conductor's implication that ACTION is necessary, without fear about the unknowns of the future. No problem there.

What worries me, and I think this is what worries Peter and SDG as well, is that by de-emphasizing the importance of THINKING about which path to take, we endanger ourselves by perhaps committing to a foolish journey rather than a wise one.

I would never say, "It doesn't matter which movie you go to. It just matters that you go."

I would never say, "It doesn't matter which candidate you vote for. It just matters that you vote."

Likewise, I would never say, "It doesn't matter which train you get on. It just matters that you climb aboard."

Perhaps we're misinterpreting the line, but in that case, the prevalent misinterpretation is largely the fault of the writer who could have been clearer.

Just last night I spoke to my church about the spiritual themes in the movies of 2004. When I read that line aloud to them, without making ANY comment about how I interpret it, the entire church burst out laughing. So clearly, it's not working the way it was intended ... if indeed the writer intended anything profound by it at all.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Chris, I can appreciate the way that you interpret the statement. When you hear it, what strikes you is the conductor's implication that ACTION is necessary, without fear about the unknowns of the future. No problem there.

What worries me, and I think this is what worries Peter and SDG as well, is that by de-emphasizing the importance of THINKING about which path to take, we endanger ourselves by perhaps committing to a foolish journey rather than a wise one.

I would never say, "It doesn't matter which movie you go to. It just matters that you go."

I would never say, "It doesn't matter which candidate you vote for. It just matters that you vote."

Likewise, I would never say, "It doesn't matter which train you get on. It just matters that you climb aboard."

Perhaps we're misinterpreting the line, but in that case, the prevalent misinterpretation is largely the fault of the writer who could have been clearer.

Just last night I spoke to my church about the spiritual themes in the movies of 2004. When I read that line aloud to them, without making ANY comment about how I interpret it, the entire church burst out laughing. So clearly, it's not working the way it was intended ... if indeed the writer intended anything profound by it at all.

That's the beauty of diversity...you see things your way. I see things my way. We don't have to agree. We do have to do the best we can to understand the other person's point of view. I understand your (and the others) point of view. Please understand mine. That final line speaks to me of the importance of taking the journeys that life offers. As I said before, words to live by!

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As a believer who struggles with faith and trust in God, I resonate with the scenes early on where the boy hears his sister talking excitedly about Santa, then goes to his dresser and looks at the newspaper articles that tell him the "real" story.

Yeah, what's up with that? The reference sources in the Boy's world know as well as ours that the North Pole is uninhabited. The religious equivalent would be if it were well known that Jesus' bones were in the tomb and you could look it up in the encyclopedia. What does faith in Santa Claus mean in a world in which the North Pole is known to be uninhabited?

Within the context of the story, this in itself works for me. The movie implies pretty strongly that this is all a dream - that comment is made several times, and it is confirmed when the boy rips his pocket "again" getting out of bed Christmas morning. So, in his "real" world, the Pole is barren, and Santa is "Dad in a suit". But in the "dream", the train can run through his street, ride the rails like a rollercoaster, and take him to a heavily populated North Pole.

This is why the ending doesn't quite work for me. The boy wakes up, the pocket rips and the marbles fall out. Then he gets the bell with a note saying "better get your pocket fixed." For me, the ending would have worked much better if the bell had been there, without the note. (I realize the note is also in the book version of the story.)

Think of it this way - in my life, there have been times when I have been touched by the miraculous. There has been a bell under the tree. One time on a trip, our car broke down in Erie, PA. We had to stay overnight, and while waiting for the car to be fixed we decided to take the kiddos to the Erie Zoo. As we were going into the zoo, we met one of my college friends, who I'd not seen in several years, coming out. We enjoyed the mini reunion, and I thanked God for the series of circumstances that had brought each of us to that same place, at that same time. The bell rang for me. But there was no signed note.

Isn't more often true that in matters of faith and miracle, we hear the ringing of the bell, but the "Big Man" rarely, rarely, leaves a note? We are left to wonder, ponder, worship, and - perhaps - doubt.

B

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That final line speaks to me of the importance of taking the journeys that life offers. As I said before, words to live by!

I agree that is probably the purpose of the line, in the context of the story. And it is how I chose to interpret it... decide to get on, decide to step out in faith, decide to risk it.

But I think it's also true that the wording of the line, and it's critical placement in a story about "faith", IS problematic, as the others have pointed out in this dicussion.

I wonder if the problem could have been avoided with the simple addition of the word "sometimes"? What if the conductor had said, "Remember, sometimes it does not matter where the train is going, what matters is deciding to get on."?

I think about another point in that story where the conductor says something similar: "Sometimes seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things are the things you cannot see."

That one modifier to the sentence makes a big difference....

B

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I wonder if the problem could have been avoided with the simple addition of the word "sometimes"? What if the conductor had said, "Remember, sometimes it does not matter where the train is going, what matters is deciding to get on."?

Hm. You may be on to something, Bill, but I don't think we're quite there yet. I don't think it's EVER true to say that where the train is going doesn't matter -- certainly not in an allegory of religious faith. Where the train is going ALWAYS matters.

How about something like this?

"Sometimes you don't need to know for sure where the train is going. You just need to get on."

That captures the sense of a leap of faith, without disregarding the destination as irrelevant.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Taken literally, as expressed in the movie, the statement is either laughably silly, or demonstrably dangerous. Or both.

We seem to be converging, I think. I would offer two further thoughts:
  1. I would say "Taken RIGOROUSLY" rather than "Taken LITERALLY." Taken LITERALLY, it's a statement about TRAINS, which is not how Jeff, Peter, and I were taking it. smile.gif We were taking it metaphorically, not literally, as a statement about faith, not trains. So we were being more rigorous about the whole "It doesn't matter where it's going" thing, but not more literal.

  2. As my quotation from Dogma perhaps suggests, I think that the meaning we have rigorously ascribed to the Conductor's words, i.e., "It doesn't matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith," represents a notion that, while we here on this board would all agree is "laughably silly" and/or "demonstrably dangerous," would not be so regarded by many in our culture, and is therefore worth taking seriously, and being seriously concerned about, as something that people will take away from the film.

    Our culture BELIEVES this silly and dangerous thing, and when we see a line like this in a film like this, it seems to me that we should recognize it both as a symptom of and as an aggravating factor in our culture of religious indifference and relativism. The notion that "It doesn't matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith" may be silly and dangerous, but it's not some far-fetched or extremist point of view that Jeff and Peter and I are needlessly wringing our hands about but would easily be recognized as silly and dangerous by any sensible moviegoer. It IS "dangerous" precisely because it seems plausible or sensible, even self-evident, to many people today.

    So it seems to us worth sounding the alarm on this point precisely because this poison is so readily available in our society, and it seems likely that the Conductor's words WILL resonate with viewers on precisely this level.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ward, and some of the commentors in his blog, really nail down some of the design issues that caused the main characters in TPE to seem so puppet-like and unreal.

There is a link somewhere in the blog to an article about "The Uncanny Valley", which is also good to read. The "Valley" is a reference to that point in character design where the unreal - a robot, talking animal, fairy creature - becomes so close to being "human" that people respond negatively. There is a "wrongness" about such creatures that disturb us. Ward contends that the characters in TPE are in that valley, and that's what makes them creepy.

A comparison is made between the motion-capture characters, who seem wooden or plastic, and the two train characters (The Engineer and the Fireman) who are stylized cartoon characters. They are less "real" - but also then not as creepy or unsettling.

Good stuff. Perhaps TPE can serve as a primer in animation schools on the subtle effects of character design and the suspension of disbelief.

B

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The Ward-o-Matic blog takes on the quality of the animation in TPE.

This really is a fascinating blog, and the writer goes into detail on several frames of TPE, and compares techniques from LOTR and The Incredibles. Must read material.

Thanks, Alan. I have to say, even before seeing the film, as soon as Jeffrey posted the link to that NYTimes page with that pair of Hanks / Conductor images, I immediately noticed the same before-and-after disparity of energy and effort in Hanks's face that, as Ward documents in detail, just isn't captured in the Conductor's face. Methinks they were relying too heavily on motion capture and not enough on digital artistry.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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  • 1 year later...

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.

Tis the season to pull up this thread.

Finally watched this on DVD, and it's one of the few family films I wish I'd seen on the big screen. 3-D doesn't work with me (vision problems), but I'd pay good money to see this film in the IMAX format.

Kent had been telling me for a year or two how much he enjoyed this film, and now I can see why. It's dazzling. My 4-year-old daughter sat rapt throughout. I think we'll have to make a tradition of watching this one each year around Christmastime.

I cringed a bit at the line about the train, but the film had earned so much good will by then that it didn't strongly affect my opinion.

One more thing: I was surprised to discover that this DVD didn't have any extras on it, beyond a theatrical preview. I'm guessing a "special edition," with a "making of" documentary, is available. This is one of the few films that made me want to watch such a supplement.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Finally watched this on DVD, and it's one of the few family films I wish I'd seen on the big screen. 3-D doesn't work with me (vision problems), but I'd pay good money to see this film in the IMAX format.
Saw it for the first time at the tail end of last year... on IMAX 3-D. Magical. Worth every bit of aggravation of getting to see it in a super-mall with no parking, on the days after Christmas. I don't think I would ever want to see this film outside of the IMAX 3-D format, which is why I would not want to own it until technology makes that available (the 2-D previews looked atrocious...)

It's still mind-boggling to me that the 3-D version was a last minute decision made a few weeks before its official release.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Hmmm, here's one more reason why it might be a good thing if they never make a third Toy Story movie -- it seems Tom Hanks movies always underperform when he teams up with a director for the third time.

...

Suffice to say Tom Hanks should probably NOT team up a third time with Ron Howard (who directed him in Splash and Apollo 13).

Heh. You've got a real gift of foresight there, Peter.

Kent Brockman: Now, here are the results from our phone-in poll. 95% of the people think Homer Simpson is guilty. Of course, this is just a television poll, which is not legally binding. Unless Proposition 304 passes, and we all pray it will.

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