Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Polar Express 3D Blu-ray Review

Disc Size: 44.5 GB
Release Date: November 16th, 2010
Film Rating: G
Region: ABC

The Video
'The Polar Express' comes to Blu-ray for the third time, this time in 3D! The 3D version of the film features a 1080p MVC encode, the 2D version of the film is also included on disc for those without a 3D setup quite yet via a 1080p VC-1 video presentation.

Please note, to view the 3D version of the film you need the following: A 3DTV, 3D Blu-ray player and 3D glasses. As mentioned, those without a 3DTV can still enjoy the 2D version included on the same disc.

Watching the film entirely on a Panasonic 3D plasma television, I have to say I was very impressed by the 3D presentation of the film. The film definitely gets an added sense of depth to the image that is very appealing.

Colors are vivid and alive; blacks are deep and generally very inky. The level of detail can be fantastic at times, but like previous releases, I do think the image looks a tad bit soft at times. The level of detail appears to be from the material itself and not a bad transfer.

I was happy to see a minimal level of crosstalk present throughout. There are certainly some light moments, but I didn’t find it very much of an issue at all. The crosstalk is certainly more present on a Samsung LED I additionally previewed scenes on, but it really is not bad at all, nowhere near the mess that is ‘My Bloody Valentine’ on Blu-ray 3D.

The presentation features some great moments of 3D pop throughout in which we do feel like items are flying outside of the screen (such as the golden ticket flying through the air). Mostly, the film looks more like looking through a window filled with dimension rather than constant items flying through the window at us.

The video presentation looks quite great overall. The 2D presentation features no noticeable improvements or faults over the previous Blu-ray releases. The 3D Blu-ray release has added pop which makes it easier to forgive the look of the film when it looks weaker.

I have always thought ‘The Polar Express’ looked cheap at times, despite using the enjoyable motion-capture technology. As stated, detail levels can be very good (demo level at times), but other times I was left wanting more. While I do think the 2D video presentation is a bit disappointing as always, I do think the 3D mode is an extremely impressive experience. 9/10.

The Audio
An English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is included for both versions of the film. Also included are French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean Dolby Digital mixes. Optional subtitles include English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean.

On the original Blu-ray release we had a lossy Dolby Digital track, the second release we saw the addition of a Dolby TrueHD track, and now we have an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that sounds absolutely fantastic.

Dialogue is presented front and center, crisp and clear as expected. The film’s sound effects while front heavy at times make sure to give plenty of love to the surround speakers. The surround use is definitely immersive throughout.

The film’s beautiful music sounds crystal clear and can be light and pleasant or loud and aggressive, whatever a scene calls for it brings with great detail. I think everything sounds terrific and a drastic improvement from the Dolby Digital track we once had to put up with. 9/10.

The Extras

You Look Familiar (SD)
Tom Hanks reveals the motion-capture technique and his feelings about this kind of acting experience. (4:12)

A Genuine Ticket to Ride
  • Intro (2:06)
  • Performance Capture: A technical look at the performance-capture technique. (2:15)
  • Virtual Camera: Learn how the shots were controlled using camera and boom-like tools in the animation software. (1:56)
  • Hair and Wardrobe: A look at how hair and wardrobe were created using computer-generated images (CGI). (2:22)
  • Creating the North Pole: Why the filmmakers decided to make the North Pole a more industrial site for producing millions of gifts. (1:43)
  • Music: Introduces us to computer Alan Silvestri and Songwriter Glen Ballard. (3:00)
  • True Inspirations – An Author’s Adventure: Artist and Author Christ Van Allsburg reveals his background artistic ideas and how Polar Express came to be written. (5:30)
  • Behind the Scenes of “Believe”: Takes us into the studio while the song was recorded. (4:25)
Flurry of Effects (SD)
  • All Aboard: Motion-capture session of the boy boarding the train. (1:01)
  • Hot Chocolate: Motion-capture session of the train crew singing and service hot chocolate to the kids. (2:10)
  • Hobo On Top Of the Train: Motion-capture session of the boy and the hobo on top of the train. (2:52)
  • I Believe: Motion-capture session of the boy meeting Santa Claus. (1:24)
  • Goodbye: Motion-capture session of the boy getting off the train and saying goodbye. (1:24)
Trailers (SD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:03)
Additional Footage (SD)
  • Additional Song: The deleted song “Smokey and Steamer” presented in rough animation. (7:05)
  • Josh Groban at the Greek: A live performance by the singer of the end title song. (4:34)
  • Meet the Snow Angels: The filmmakers’ sentimental childhood recollections of Christmas. (2:45)
The extras included on this release are enjoyable, but they are included in standard-definition. Considering they were produced in 2004, I am not surprised, it isn’t realistic to expect high-def extras. I wish the theatrical trailer was included in high-def, but thankfully nothing is missing.

I was hoping Warner Home Video would have included some 3D extras, but unfortunately nothing new was produced for this release. Perhaps we will see a re-release in 2014 to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Until then, this is a solid package with informative features. 7/10.

The Movie
Warner Home Video didn’t take long to bring ‘The Polar Express’ to Blu-ray 3D, which has already received two different Blu-ray releases in the past. I never saw the film in theaters, but I did watch the film on DVD and both of the previous Blu-ray releases.

To be honest, ‘The Polar Express’ has never been one of my favorite holiday films. I thought the film was okay on DVD and I did pick up the original Blu-ray release simply for hopeful demo material (which it ultimately isn’t). The anaglyph 3D included on the second release made for another purchase, but ultimately it failed to deliver like the presentation included on this 3D disc does.

The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who most recently directed Disney’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’ His love for motion-capture technology is clear with his productions and while I do think the technology has improved since this release, I wasn’t always impressed at the time.

I love motion-capture because it does provide great movement and facial details; however I just find the look odd at times. Perhaps I am a little too used to the high quality of Pixar productions that it makes the motion-capture films harder to enjoy.

The film stars Tom Hanks who plays various main roles throughout the film, each performance different from the other. I do think the performances are good, but the characters tend to be forgettable, definitely keeping this one from ever becoming a holiday classic.

The film definitely has an audience, but I still don’t love the film. I think the story is touching and a good time overall, but something feels missing. I think the story is charming overall, but I think the characters themselves are the biggest upset about the film.

I can understand why the film has its fans; it makes for a harmless and fun viewing that can be enjoyed by the entire family. If you are looking for an entertaining holiday film in the weeks to come, I would certainly recommend ‘The Polar Express,’ but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t better. The 3D experience definitely makes things a bit more fun however. 7.5/10.

The Blu-news Summary
The Polar Express’ is an entertaining holiday film, but far from the best. The 3D Blu-ray release is great, featuring a strong video and audio presentation. The extras included are entirely in standard-definition, but thankfully everything is ported from previous releases. Overall the Blu-ray 3D release is easily ‘Recommended’ to those looking for some great 3D content.

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