The Polar Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A fairly early Blu-ray, the image could be erratic, but it was usually food.
At times, sharpness seemed somewhat tentative, as some shots appeared moderately soft. However, definition improved as the film progressed, and most of it offered pretty good clarity and accuracy. 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. The colors seemed acceptable but not especially robust. Blacks were a bit thin and inky, while shadows looked fine. This wasn’t a great image, but it seemed mostly satisfactory.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Polar Express was largely 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.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the original 2005 DVD? Audio remained identical. The Blu-ray lacked a lossless option, so it just reproduced the DVD’s lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Visuals got a better upgrade. Despite some inconsistencies, the picture seemed tighter and more vivid when compared with the DVD.
Don’t expect a lot of substance from this surprisingly fluffy collection of materials. We start with a four-minute and 11-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 two-minute and four-second introduction and then gets into the five sections that last 13 minutes and 32 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 28-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 33-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 disc, as it mostly just talks about what a great tune they think “Believe” is.
Another featurette appears via Meet the Snow Angels. This two-minute and 44-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.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a Game Demo for the Polar Express video game. This amounts to a quick promo for it.
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, four seconds. 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.
Flurry of Effects gives us five clips of motion capture sessions. We find “All Aboard” (1:00), “Hot Chocolate” (2:09), “Hobo on Top of Train” (2:51), “I Believe” (1:23) and “Goodbye” (1:23). All of these show rough footage on the top of the screen and the final film on the bottom. They give us a good way to compare the original material to the animated bits.
On most 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 Blu-ray provides fairly good picture and audio but lacks notable bonus materials. I don’t care for the movie but the Blu-ray represents it reasonably well.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of POLAR EXPRESS