Christmas movies have never been part of my household’s tradition. You know how some people say that Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without It’s A Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz? I never felt that way, even though I must admit that I like re-running Home Alone and Home Alone 2 during the holiday season, as I love to watch The Grinch, whose cartoons were a fixture of my childhood. Then The Polar Express was released in 2004 and I too, like millions of others, found my Christmas movie.
When I first heard of the IMAX Experience concept, back in 2001, I remember thinking that, what’s the point in watching a movie on a screen as tall as an eight-storey building, with the sound of 1000 stereos? I thought, who needs to be so up close? Who can be so hard of hearing? Normal cinema screens seemed perfectly adequate to me. Oh no my friends, the IMAX has changed the cinematic experience forever; there is no going back.
The Polar Express is an entirely computer-generated movie and one that takes full advantage of IMAX technology. While it’s true that the images are incredibly sharp, the most exciting development is that this movie plays in 3D and there is (at the time of writing) nothing quite like 3D computer generated imagery on an IMAX screen. And I really mean nothing like it.
All the clichés are true: images so real you will want to reach out and touch them. There are so many incredible scenes in The Polar Express that it’s difficult to single one out, but I must admit that the snowflakes falling down on the entire movie theatre and Santa’s flight on his sleigh are magnificent examples of creative vision combined with state-of-the-art technology. I saw The Polar Express multiple times since it came out three years ago but when news reached me that it was back at the IMAX I just couldn’t resist it.
The movie is taken from Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book which narrates the fantastical journey of the boy protagonist to the North Pole. The action takes place on Christmas Eve and resolves itself on Christmas morning. The moral of the story is one of belief against all odds, even though the premise is that, for some, only seeing is believing. I am partial to this tale, for I am one of those people who don’t need to see in order to believe, mainly because I think that if you only believe when you see, then that’s not really believing, for its essence is trust and faith and neither of these hinge upon a necessity to see first-hand.
Luckily for me, my parents believed in the fantastical nature of Santa and so I was not robbed of the only magic to be had in life. Being almost unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, getting up at the crack of dawn (or before) on Christmas morning, my heart skipping a full set of beats at the sight of Santa’s glass and plate cleared of their contents... I can assure you that nothing else in my life ever comes (or ever came) close to those memories by any stretch of the imagination (mine or anyone’s). Blimey, even typing it all up makes my eyes fill with tears, in a queer mix of great joy and deep nostalgia.
And so watching The Polar Express is like being faced with a blast from the past, even though it wasn’t around when I was a child. But I am the black girl in the movie you see, the one who looks forward to Christmas every year because it is the time when family and friends are together and decorations are hung up around the house; the girl that believes she knows the way and, in fact, she really does. But you know something else? It’s easy for me to say all of these things, easy for me to feel the butterflies in my stomach as Santa disappears in a streak of light in order to start his round. It’s easy because I’ve always really understood Roald Dahl’s adage: those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it. And good luck to them.