DVD Guide

The Polar Express (G)

"The Polar Express," a special-effects wonder featuring the voice and animated face(s) of Tom Hanks, has its stocking stuffed with holiday cheer, demonstrating that movies can be technologically and emotionally compelling. A young boy is wavering in his belief in Santa Claus when a thundering locomotive bound for the North Pole stops at his house on Christmas Eve. His roller-coaster ride to see Saint Nick is harrowing - the train nearly meets its doom on a splintering lake of ice - but also enlightening, as he learns the true meaning of Christmas. Based on the children's story, the film may lack the religious reason for the season, but it has plenty of its spirit. Extras: A second disc includes the many "Polar Faces" of Hanks and a PC video game. Grade: A-

War of the Worlds (R)

Speaking of special effects: Hollywood is engaged in its own world war, and it appears the machines are winning. In Steven Spielberg's latest sci-fi blockbuster, the compelling narratives and three-dimensional characters that made up his earlier, better futuristic efforts ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Minority Report") have been vaporized by digital space monsters wielding lasers. In "War of the Worlds," adapted from H.G. Wells's novel, aliens return to earth to lay waste to humankind. Why? A question the movie never bothers to answer. Tom Cruise doesn't save the day as much as notice the enemy's natural weakness. Screenwriter David Koepp has said the movie is an analogy for the Iraq war. It's more like a metaphor for what ails Tinsel Town. Extras: The two-disc limited edition contains production diaries and interviews with Spielberg and Cruise. Grade: C-

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