Thursday, November 25, 2004


Animated Christmas story

Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks have collaborated before and have produced some really great movies (“Forrest Gump” for one) so you would expect something similar from this their latest joint effort. It comes close but no cigar.

Unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen, none of the cast has names; they are therefore identified below by their principle role in the film.
Tom Hanks: voice of the Train conductor
Daryl Sabara: voice of Hero boy
Nona Gaye: voice of Hero Girl
Jimmy Bennett: voice of Lonely Boy
Eddie Deezen: voice of Know-It-All Boy

The first half of the movie is terrific and evokes fond memories of Christmas’ past and deserves a 4* rating. But the second half needs serious editing. The story line is a simple one but the producers have padded it so the movie runs to more than an hour and a half. Instead of one exhilarating roller coaster ride we get to go on three. Once at the North Pole, twenty minutes is devoted to seeing a bleak cavernous empty workshop and another one of those roller coaster rides.
Another thing: the film is meant for children but several characters or situations are downright scary such as the hobo who rides on the train, the two children walking on the slippery rails over a deep chasm and the Ebenezer Scrooge puppet.


When Hero Boy approaches the bedroom window, just before he begins to rub away the frost with his elbow we hear the satisfying squeak of a polished window. The timing of the sound effects team was just a little off.

Throughout the movie the number of train coaches varies: most often there are five but at times (going over bridges etc) there are as many as nine.

Sony Imageworks uses the Motion-capture process to animate the film: this involves the performers dressing in skin-tight bodysuits with hundreds of infrared sensors covering their body and faces. These sensors relay the smallest nuance of movement back to a computer, where it's all translated into human motion.

However the technology is less than perfect and the results are not always completely realistic. Movement can be very stilted and because sensors are not placed inside the mouth or all along the lips, the formation of many words does not look right.

One other thing: even though this process tracks the movement of the eyes, it cannot provide them with the sense of life with the result they all seem to have that famous “thousand yard stare”.

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