The Polar Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite my disdain for the movie itself, I can’t complain about this excellent transfer.
Sharpness always seemed immaculate. At no point did I discern any softness in this tight, well-defined image. It consistently appeared very crisp and detailed. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws were a non-factor, as I never detected spots, specks, or other concerns.
Christmas movies usually come with suitably warm, glowing colors, and that was certainly the case with Express. Actually, they seemed somewhat restrained during the train sequences, but once it reached the North Pole, the hues jumped to life a little more actively. They consistently appeared rich and full. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows came across as clear and appropriately opaque. No problems ever emerged in this gorgeous transfer.
While not quite so stunning, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Polar Express was quite satisfying. The soundfield got most of its zing from scenes onboard the train or at the North Pole. As I mentioned in the body of this review, the film resembled a theme park attraction. That was bad for the story but good for the soundscape, as it meant the more action-oriented scenes opened up the surrounds well. Those scenes allowed the material to zip and soar around us in a convincing manner.
Quieter sequences were fine. They exhibited a nice, natural sense of atmosphere and conveyed place in a workable way. Music also offered strong stereo delineation.
For the most part, audio quality succeeded. The only mild negative came from the sound of the movie’s occasional songs. Those tended to be a little thin and they lacked the range they needed.
Otherwise, the track was good. The score sounded bright and dynamic, while effects were distinctive and accurate. Both of those elements featured rich, deep bass. Speech was consistently natural and crisp, with no issues connected to intelligibility or distortion. I thought the mix wasn’t quite involving enough to reach “A” territory, but it was more than satisfactory.
For this two-DVD set, we get a mix of supplements. The sole component on DVD One comes from the film’s trailer; to my disappointment, no audio commentary appears.
That leaves DVD Two as the repository of most of the extras. Don’t expect a lot of substance from this surprisingly fluffy collection of materials. We start with a four-minute and 12-second featurette entitled You Look Familiar. This includes movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and comments from director/writer/producer Robert Zemeckis, actor/executive producer Tom Hanks and producer Steve Starkey. The piece discusses why Hanks ended up in so many parts and the challenges of doing so. We get a decent primer for Hanks’ work in the film but the program rushes through things so quickly that it doesn’t delve into anything with much substance.
Six bits make up A Genuine Ticket to Ride. This area opens with a one-minute and 58-second introduction and then gets into the five sections that last 11 minutes and 27 seconds all together. We hear from Zemeckis, Hanks, Starkey, senior visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, composer Alan Silvestri, songwriter Glen Ballard, vocalist Josh Groban, and author/executive producer Chris Van Allsburg.
The segments break down into “Performance Capture”, “Virtual Camera”, “Hair and Wardrobe”, “Creating the North Pole” and “Music”. As you can infer from those titles, “Ticket” concentrates on the technical aspects of making the movie along with music. Ala “You Look Familiar”, it zips through the appropriate topics quickly. These add up to an enjoyable glimpse of the film’s creation, but I continue to wish we got something more elaborate and detailed. This is a kid-oriented package, though, so I suppose we have to accept superficial extras.
In that vein, we head to the five-minute and 29-second True Inspiration: An Author’s Adventure. This features notes from Van Allsburg. He chats about his childhood, his aptitude for art, how he got into writing, how he works, and inspirations for Express. Another good but too brief featurette, this one gives us adequate background about the author and nothing more. Sorry to repeat myself, but this too-short programs are getting frustrating.
A performance clip comes via Josh Groban at the Greek. In this four-minute and 32-second piece, the vocalist performers the tune “Believe” from the movie. It’s a sappy song and Groban’s a cloying performer. I’ll never watch this again!
More from the singer comes in the four-minute and 24-second Behind the Scenes of ‘Believe’. In addition to Groban, we hear from Ballard. We learn a little about the song’s creation and recording. It’s one of the less interesting parts of this DVD, as it mostly just talks about what a great tune they think “Believe” is.
For a game, we head to the Polar Express Challenge. It offers two very simple elements that will challenge only the youngest kids. That means it’s not much fun for anyone else.
A final featurette appears via Meet the Snow Angels. This two-minute and 42-second piece offers notes from Hanks, Zemeckis, Starkey, Van Allsburg, Groban, and actor Nona Gaye. They discuss their favorite holiday memories. Gaye’s is the only really interesting one, at least if you know who her father was.
We get a Game Demo for the Polar Express video game. This amounts to a quick trailer. The DVD’s case claims it comes with two playable levels, but if so, I couldn’t figure out how to access them.
An Additional Song comes next. Executive producer Jack Rapke introduces this deleted number and lets us know a little about it. Including his notes, this piece lasts seven minutes. It includes a lot more than just the tune, by the way, and it turns into a true deleted scene. It’s not particularly interesting but it’s a nice addition as a curiosity.
Finally, the disc includes five Stocking Stuffers. (I guess “Easter Egg” tied these features too strongly into another holiday.) For the first one, click “up” from “You Look Familiar” on the first screen. Hit “enter” to watch a 60-second clip in which we compare Hanks’ body acting with a final shot from the film.
Next, highlight “More” on the first screen, hit “left” and then “enter”. This gives us another snippet in which the body actors do their thing; it lasts two minutes, eight seconds. On the second screen, go “left” from “True Inspirations” to find more of the same; this clip runs two minutes, 50 seconds.
On the “Subtitles” menu, click “right” from “Francais” and hit “enter” for yet another of these pieces; it goes for 82 seconds. Finally, go “left” from “Play All” on the “A Genuine Ticket to Ride” page and hit “enter” for an 82-second clip. If you guessed that it showed more performance-to-final-film comparisons, you win! These are somewhat fun to see, though one or two would be enough; they get rather repetitive.
On many levels, I must regard The Polar Express as a disappointment. The movie uses high-tech elements in the worst way and ends up as creepy and soulless. The DVD presents excellent visuals and audio but really skimps on the extras; this is one of the least substantial two-disc sets I’ve seen. Avoid this terrible movie.