December 11, 2008

DVD Review: The Polar Express - Presented in 3D

I really should have known better. I am old enough and experienced in film enough to know better. Oh no, I couldn't listen to the experienced side of my brain, instead I had to listen to the "Oh cool! I gotta have that!" Why couldn't my proper sense have kicked in sooner? I guess we'll never know. In my hands is the new release of The Polar Express, this time (just as the title proclaims) it is presented in glorious 3D. There it is, the gimmick that is intent on convincing you to double dip on a title that was originally released to DVD back in 2005. Let me tell you, get the original release, or if you must get this one, toss the 3D disk and stick to the original flat version.

So, there I was sitting in my room, lights turned down, ready to catch a bit of the Christmas spirit. I put in the the disk labeled "3D," placed the cardboard glasses over my eyes and pressed play. Before the Polar Express even arrived to pick up our boy my eyes ached and my brain pleaded for mercy. The fuzzy, ghostly images were too much to take and I had to claw the glasses from my eyes lest I become permanently fuzzed. There is no way I could watch it. I doubt anyone else can either. Wuite frankly, it does nothing but a disservice to the new 3D technologies being enjoyed in the cineplex.

When The Polar Express first arrived in theaters in November 20o4 it was joined by the first Hollywood feature to be presented in 3D on IMAX screens. It proved to be a popular draw and has been an annual tradition at select theaters each holiday season. However, there is a very big difference between that 3D and the 3D presented here. IMAX 3D is a polarizing process with two images presented on the screen that were passed through a polarizing filter paired with polarized glasses that only let through the appropriately polarized light creating the illusion of 3 dimensions. Yes, that is a weak explanation, but it gives you the general idea. The best thing about it is that it works, it looks good and does not rely on red and blue cellophane to do the job.

Now, the 3D here is the old school red/blue anaglyph style 3D. This is the style used before the dawn of polarized 3D. It was used most recently, theatrically, for Robert Rodriguez's The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl in 3D. It does not work well and generally results in headaches, at least in my experience. Unfortunately, it seems that Hollywood still thinks it is a viable gimmick for home use. They are wrong. Avoid this like the plague.

One thing to remember through all of this is that the movie is pretty darn good and a landmark in digital cinema. Robert Zemeckis directed this adaptation of the perennially popular Chris Van Allsburg story. What makes this version just a bit more interesting is the manner in which Zemeckis does the adaptation. Rather than making a live action film or a traditionally animated feature, Zemeckis positioned himself as something of a technical innovator by combining the two with new motion capture technology.

Motion capture is nothing new, it has been used for years to help animators with movements for movies and video games, but it has not been used to quite this extent before. Is it perfect? No, but like all new technology, someone has to be the first to use it to help push it forward. Zemeckis is that man with Polar Express and Beowulf both using this new tech. Watching Polar Express is a rewarding experience as we get this new look for a feature film combined with the sweet and hopeful story of a young boy's Christmas adventure. It is a little creepy at first, the faces just don't seem quite right, but you get used to it pretty quick. Anyway you want to slice it, you will be sucked in for the ride.

On the technical side, there is little to complain about once you turn the 3D disk into a coaster that is. The flat version looks very good in its 2.40: 1 widescreen format. The colors are sharp and the image is crisp with no digital artifacts. The audio is also good, if a little bit on the low side. It is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.

As for the extras? You start with four pairs of cardboard "3D" glasses and end with a trailer. It has nothing on the 2-disk release the film had back in 2005.

Bottomline. If you want the film and like extras, seek out the old two disk release. If you just want the film, you should be able to find this release relatively inexpensive. It is a good film and a potential Christmas classic (we need a few more years to see how it continues to hold up).

Movie: Recommended.


3D DVD: Not Recommended.

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