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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2004: Day 4: The Polar Express

Starring: Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, Peter Scolari
Director: Robert Zemeckis

Oh, what joy "The Polar Express" is! Capturing the spirit of Christmas through the eyes of kids most of whom suspect Santa Claus is just make believe this technologically astonishing film from director Robert Zemeckis has its heart in the place. It's a simple, wistful tale full of childish delights and dreams that we as kids had (both real and imagined). Zemeckis, using a much-hyped new procedure dubbed 'performance capture' renders performances of Tom Hanks (playing five different roles) and others into digital computer creations. Listen not to the naysayers because this technique is part of the charm of "The Polar Express." Unusual in being new, it builds an ethereal companion to the magical, experience-focussed storytelling.

Based on Chris Van Allsburg's Caldecott-winning children's story, "The Polar Express" is about one boy who waits in bed for Christmas Day to arrive but is not sure if he'll get a present or even if a Mr. Claus exists. Lo and behold, he looks outside his bedroom window to see the polar express, a train with Tom Hanks as the frazzled but warm conductor. He and other kids have been invited (with Willy Wonka-esque golden tickets) to hop on the ride to meet the fat jolly man himself at the North Pole. What follows is their experiences and the magic (there's that word again!) of their journey is what this film is all about. Lessons are learnt (but naturally), friends are made and by the journey's end the boy, his friends, and I suspect, even you, will begin to believe again in the warmth, family-driven feel of this special time of the year.

Zemeckis has managed to create something real out of the unreal, even if it still looks unreal. He's taken a beloved children's Christmas book, that actually has a genuine integrity to it, and given it a life-like realism. There is a sequence concerning a lost ticket that's beyond spellbinding. We soar with eagles, run with wolves, blow with the wind and sweep and swirl up around palatial waterfalls. It is a stirring, almost life-affirming moment full of movie magic and surreal emotionalism. Though not quite up there with Miyazaki's work, this is breathtaking Hollywood cinema that I encourage you show to your kids because they will love you for it. - by Adnan Khan

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