The Polar Express 3D Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a Region free theatrically correct widescreen 2.4:1 1080p 2D and 3D transfer. Being shot for 3D I was expecting more from this film. It is quite well layered and the framing is set to occasionally give decent depth, but for the most part it is all rather short and every time a depth shot comes along it reminds you that it is 3D rather than being totally immersive and drawing you in. For example, each shot of the train exterior is fantastic looking, with fore, middle and distance, the ‘roller coaster’ ride and the herd of Caribou do stand out, plus there are the few obligatory ‘point at the screen’ moments, the iron guard on the front of the train, characters pointing at the screen, which are effective and very well realised. But the solidity of the characters themselves is very limited; considering the extent that the animation process goes to, to keep everything realistic, this aspect is sorely lacking. Distance between layers, at times, is great; looking through the windows, the falling snow, footprints in the snow, distance in the carriage as the refreshments are being given out, the drivers compartment, are all seen very well, but still suffer with the individual layers being rather flat. Compound this with some scenes appearing to have little distance separation at all and the picture becomes rather inconsistent. So the overall effect is one of “ooh, look 3D”, “ooh, look more 3D” and this has the effect of taking you out of the moment and thus the film, rather than keeping you absorbed in the picture. It’s not bad, it’s just ok, but I guess, was just a limit of the technology at the time it was filmed.
When it comes to the detail, however, the picture is in the hands of the animators, edges, distance, clothing, all are defined in the animation process and when transferred to the disc we interpret the result. And from what we are meant to see, it is near flawless, surfaces have reasonable texture and edges are strong and well defined. Of course, this is a slightly older film, so the animation is somewhat ... smoother than we’ve since become accustomed to (skin detail, Santa’s furry cuffs for example), so it is a little unfair to judge it against more modern fair, so in this way, I think the detail is fine. There is a slight sheen, a soft focus if you will, that is prevalent over the entire picture throughout the run time, this however is intentional and should not be seen as a defect. Colours are bright and bold, warm and inviting inside, and cold and sharp in the snow outside, without bleed or wash. Brightness and contrast are set to give some reasonable blacks adding to the depth to the picture, any shadow detail we are meant to see is also very good, though at the North Pole things tend to grey a little, but his may be intentional - this is over and above the caveat of 3D technology and the brightness issue.
Digitally there were no compression problems or edge enhancement, and the image was nicely clear of crosstalk except in one or two instances where is was very prevalent and rather distracting, thankfully these instances were brief. Also suffered, in one or two places with ‘floating black bars’ on either side of the picture, though this is not a issue, rather an artefact of the technology, I mention it for completeness. In all, a decent picture just slightly inconsistent on the 3D side.
The disc has five surround tracks, French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS-HD MA 5.1, I concentrate on the latter. For the most part this track is pretty solid, however, it is set rather quiet, especially in the beginning, until the train first turns up with its thundering bass; use of all the speakers and an increased volume level it can really, and I mean really, rattle the room. I guess this is deliberate to increase the significance of the train’s arrival, but it is out of sorts with the rest of the sound track. Once past this, the effects are quite lively, the various movements on screen being echoed nicely through all the speakers, of particular note is the train on ice and when the children are scooting through the chutes in the elf factory. Dialogue is natural sounding and given directionality when needed, the crowd representation and fireworks were spectacularly realised. In all, a solid, if slightly unremarkable, sound track.
- You Look Familiar – SD, 04.11
Tom Hanks going through the motion capture process, and talking to himself a lot, since he plays so many characters, one talented guy.
- True Inspirations: An Author's Adventure – SD, 05.28
Is a short interview with Chris Van Allsburg in which he discusses his life, inspirations and career.
- Behind the Scenes of "Believe" – SD, 04.24
A behind the scenes look at the recording of the theme song.
- A Genuine Ticket to Ride – SD, 13.32
Is a featurette split into five featurette-ettes, which can be played individually or all together, narrated by ‘in character’ actors and looks at the motion capture process, design and animation of the film. Extremely light on information and seems to be aimed at the kids.
- Deleted scene/song, Smokey and Steamer – SD, 07.04
Deleted scene that plays with animatics and goes someway into explaining the ‘ghost’ character on top of the train who is rather enigmatic in the final film.
- Josh Groban at the Greek Theatre – SD, 04.33
A live performance of the theme song, please avoid if you value your sanity.
- Meet the Snow Angels – SD, 02.44
The cast and crew reminisce about some Christmassy stories; it is rather sappy, but at least it is slightly different.
- A Flurry of Effects – SD, 08.48
Five brief before and after shots of the actors in their motion capture suits and in the finished film, a sort of moving storyboard comparison if you will.
- Theatrical trailer
- 2D Blu-ray Version
So what looks to be a plethora of extras actually turns out to be a series of short featurettes, each looking at a different aspect of the film. This is a combo disc with both 2D and 3D versions available, the disc defaults to 3D, when put in a 2D player you are greeted with a message informing you that 3D is not available and you need the correct equipment, then proceeds to load the 2D version. The 3D version also has a 3D menu.
The Polar Express is a very seasonal film that plays well to the younger audience for which it was intended. Older more cynical viewers may find the animation style and general story somewhat less than appealing, even though its heart is in the right place.
As a 3D Blu-ray package, Warner deliver a Region free disc presenting an excellent picture and above average sound that is slightly let down by the short amount of extras, but is once again a future proof buy containing, as it does, both 2D and 3D versions of the film.
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