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The Polar Express (****)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Robert Zemeckis & William Broyles Jr. (screenplay), Chris Van Allsburg (book)
The Polar Express
Principal Cast
Tom Hanks -- Hero Boy / Father / Conductor / Hobo / Scrooge / Santa Claus
Leslie Zemeckis -- Sister Sarah/Mother
Eddie Deezen -- Know-It-All
Nona Gaye -- Hero Girl
Peter Scolari -- Lonely Boy
Brendan King -- Pastry Chef
Andy Pellick -- Pastry Chef
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Five stories of Christmas.

My earliest Christmas memory, the only memory I have from the time when I still believed in Santa Claus, is of a conversation between myself and my mother, in the kitchen of my grandparents' house. I ask, "Why is it that Christmas is always better here, but Easter is always better at home?" Because, explains my mother, your grandparents have more money than we do. I didn't understand at the time; now I understand all too well.

I remember the Christmas when I first discovered that there is no Santa Claus. I overheard my parents talking. My father said that my younger brother still believed in Santa Claus but of course I was too old to believe. I had believed, though, up until that very moment. I felt deeply ashamed of my gullibility.

I remember the Christmas when I was twelve, and I got the Gilbert Chemistry Set I had begged and begged for. My mother said, "Give your father a kiss and tell him thank you." But I knew that I was too old to kiss my father. So, I told him thank you, and then I kissed him on the forehead. It was embarrassing.

I remember the first Christmas with my second wife. We each had a child from our first marriage. We got into a competition, to see who could buy the kids the most presents. On Christmas day, there were more than a hundred presents under the tree. The kids got tired of opening presents, and begged to be allowed to stop, but my wife -- now my ex -- insisted they open every one, and express gratitude commensurate with the gifts they had received.

I remember the tears in my eyes one good Christmas, when the kids actually enjoyed opening their presents, and when for just a little while, just a day really, we all felt as if we loved and were loved.

I cried at the end of The Polar Express, of course.

I give The Polar Express four stars because it succeeds in showing you things you've never seen before, some of them exciting, some beautiful. It admirably does what it sets out to do. But there is a sick worm at the heart of the rose.

Kids don't like being lied to. Kids don't like being made fools of. In the film, belief in something that isn't true is made out to be a virtue. It isn't. And it cuts too close to more serious questions. If the fat, jolly man in the red suit is a lie, does that mean the story about the baby in a manger is also a lie? Does it mean that love, kindness, generosity, and charity are lies?

"Hero Boy" is the only child in the book (the author, by the way, wrote Jumanji). The movie adds to the book's message, which is that belief is good, several more dubious layers. One character in the film is a poor child, a child from the wrong side of the tracks. He is told to believe, to trust, to have faith. In all probability, that is bad advice. The chances are that his schooling will be boredom shot through with moments of terror, and that his adult life will be spent toiling at a dead-end job, with a pointy-haired boss who believes that God, like Santa Claus, loves him best.

The most unattractive kid in The Polar Express is the kid who knows a lot of facts. The moral is that belief is more important than facts. That is a moral that will hurt you, at least five times out of ten.

Back to the technical aspects of the film -- it is a beautiful film, especially the sound effects. Someone deeply loves trains. I was bothered that the number of train cars kept changing, but now I think that was deliberate, part of the dream setting, just like the passage of time.

I'm glad I saw the film. I can't wait to get to an IMAX and see it in 3-D.

An end of the film is a dedication, but no credit cookies.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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