It's almost been twenty years since the creepy Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis motion capture film The Polar Express was released. Now, Warner Bros. has given the film the 4K treatment and it's the best the film has looked thus far, even if those haunting dead-eyed memories of Tom Hanks still rattle the bones. This Christmas story about a boy who visits Santa on a magical train evokes some nostalgic feelings, but in the end, The Polar Express doesn't stand in the same room as other holiday staples. All the bonus features are imported over here, but no new extras are included and DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix sounds wonderful. Recommended For Fans.
Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis sealed their ever-lasting friendship with Forrest Gump and ever since then, the dynamic duo has tried to re-create that magic. It hasn't always been easy though or as good as the first outing in Alabama. At some point, Zemeckis wanted to hop on the CGI wagon with Hanks and make a Christmas movie, which actually happened in 2004 with The Polar Express. The film was based on the 1985 children's book of the same name that was written by Chris Van Allsburg and was set for an epic adventure on the big screen with every actor's motion captured for that weird CGI look.
The trouble though was that the source material was less than thirty pages long and Zemeckis and company made a 100-minute film with pacing problems, bad acting, and no thrills. Even the lifeless eyes of every CGI'd actor was creepy throughout the whole movie and created an unsettling atmosphere. This feature film adaptation about a young boy who was called upon to hop aboard a magical train on Christmas Eve to visit Santa at the North Pole with Aerosmith as the singing elf sounds great on paper, but with this misfire of a movie, it doesn't do anybody any favors. At least not back in 2004 when it was released. The Polar Express still has some recent nostalgic charm and evokes the spirit of the holidays well enough, but it doesn't hold a candle to any of the other Christmas classics.
High-Def Digest previously reviewed The Polar Express a few times over the years. Check out our past coverage:
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Polar Express chugs its way to 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Code via Warner Bros. The two discs are housed inside a hard, black plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. The discs themselves are black and blue respectively, giving that haunting effect. The artwork features the train in the film traveling to the north Pole. Luckily, there are no creepy characters on it. There is an insert for a digital code.
The Polar Express comes with a fantastic-looking 2160p UHD 4K transfer with HDR10 capability. This is not the most colorful holiday film out there and it has a haunting color palette, along with a fully CGI image. But Warner Bros. stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park, giving this movie the best video presentation thus far.
The colors resemble a darker story, even though the story itself isn't scary. Tons of dark blues greys and silvers take up the screen here with some good contrasting sparks of amber, gold, yellow, and red. Outside in the bitter cold gives way to all those snowy and metalic dark blues of the train cars and wilderness. Even at the North Pole, those darker, haunting colors are seen everywhere. The train sparks on the track provide a beautiful yellow and gold color that lights up the screen. Inside the train car allows for the very warm color spectrum of reds, oranges, and even more holiday-like colors of green, purple, and other bright primary colors. Santa's red suit and big gift sack are wonderful deep red that looks exquisite against the darker background at night.
Black levels are inky and rich, but most have a darker blue hue to them. The HDR delivers those nuanced and well-balanced colors of blues and reds perfectly that distinguish exterior shots of the bitter cold, as well as the different golden sparks and brightness in people's CGI faces. The skin tones are always on the warm yellowish side. There are no instances of any banding, aliasing, or heavy video noise here, which is surprising given the number of visual effects and CGI motion capture. This is probably the best the film has ever looked.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that sounds fantastic. The previous release had a Dolby Digital 5.1 option. This DTS-HD track still bumps when it needs to and brings in that low end of bass quite often. The sound effects are never overtly loud, but make it count when the train engine revs, wheel sparks fly up, and much more. Reindeer feet, train car noises, and elves working at the North Pole all sound wonderful here with a well-balanced and dynamic tone. Natural-sounding reverb in big spaces gives off a nice echo as well. The bass has a good rumble to it and never crosses over into rocky territory. The ambient sounds of kids laughing, and talking, along with the inner workings of Santa's workshop all sound great. The music swells and crescendos nicely which always add to the magic and wonder of the film itself. The dialogue is clean, clear, and easy to follow. There are no instances of any audio problems of note.
There are about 56 minutes of bonus features included here, all of which have been imported over from a previous release. There are no new extras
The Polar Express tried to take a 30-page book and turn it into a 100-minute feature film and it just didn't stack up to the other Christmas classics. It still doesn't despite Zemeckis and Hanks being the stars of the film. But some years later, there is a haunting nostalgic factor that works well, delivering the spirit of the holidays and a shot of early CGI motion capture before it was perfected in later features and video games. This new 4K with HDR image looks amazing and the new DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix sounds great. The imported extras are fun to watch as well, even if it doesn't shed a light too much on the film itself. Recommended for Fans.