A Children's Classic Comes to Life - Zemeckis directs Hanks in 'The Polar Express'
September 9, 2004
For nearly 20 years, families around the world have made Chris Van Allsburg's enchanting story The Polar Express part of their own holiday traditions, like stockings by the fireplace, a brightly decorated Christmas tree and the sweet scent of candy canes served in steaming cups of hot chocolate.
In 2001, this beloved children's classic about a doubting boy who takes an extraordinary train ride to The North Pole on Christmas Eve caught the attention of acclaimed actor (and father of four) Tom Hanks. He brought the book to his friend and colleague, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. The Oscar-winning pair previously explored issues of the human spirit together in Forrest Gump and Cast Away. Both were excited by the important spiritual journey taken by the young hero in The Polar Express.
"It's a story everyone can relate to," says Zemeckis, who directs Hanks in multiple roles in the upcoming feature film adaptation of The Polar Express. "So many of us, as children or adults, have questioned our belief in something or gone through the process of having our faith tested and restored."
Zemeckis was equally captivated by the book's rich and sensitively rendered illustrations, which earned author and artist Chris Van Allsburg the coveted Caldecott Medal in 1986. The faces of Van Allsburg's characters are known for their range of subtle expression -- from excitement, curiosity and apprehension to joy and awe. Warmth emanates from his pictures of the cozy Polar Express train compartment while, outside, the ever-changing landscape appears simultaneously mysterious and inviting with its deep dark forests and snowy mountains.
"Chris's illustrations are honest and familiar and at the same time wonderfully transcendent," notes Zemeckis, who sought to recreate that quality on the screen, offering audiences a chance to experience what a midnight trip to The North Pole might look like through the eyes of a young boy. "It's easy to see yourself, your children, or the kids you grew up with in the faces and personalities of these characters, and the landscape that the train passes through is like the dreams we all had about distant places where magical and exciting things could happen."
Renowned for his innovation in landmark movies like Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, the maverick filmmaker ultimately utilized a groundbreaking filmmaking process seen for the first time in The Polar Express, "to offer the beauty and richness of Chris's illustrations from the book." Employing as many as 80 receptors simultaneously for 360 degree coverage, all the actors' performances are captured digitally for the computer and then rendered in three dimensions using a process called Performance Capture.
"I wanted to give the visuals an elegance as if it were a moving oil painting," he explains.
Complementing the big screen adventure is a soundtrack of original seasonal-themed songs, including "Rockin' Around the World," performed by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler -- who also has a role in the film as an elf.
The Polar Express opens nationwide on November 10th.
Castle Rock Entertainment Presents, in Association with Shangri-La Entertainment, a Playtone / ImageMovers / Golden Mean Production of a Robert Zemeckis Film: Tom Hanks in The Polar Express. Directed by Robert Zemeckis from a screenplay by Zemeckis & William Broyles, Jr., the film is produced by Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Gary Goetzman and William Teitler and is based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. Tom Hanks, Jack Rapke and Chris Van Allsburg are the executive producers. The production team includes directors of photography Don Burgess, A.S.C. and Robert Presley; production designers Rick Carter and Doug Chiang; and editors Jeremiah O'Driscoll & R. Orlando Duenas. Senior visual effects supervisors are Ken Ralston and Jerome Chen. Co-producer is Steven Boyd. Music is by Alan Silvestri. The Polar Express will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. This film is not yet rated.
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