Overlooked Scores: The Polar Express

As it is finally December, I thought I’d take a long-overdue look at perhaps the most underrated and unknown holiday movie score of all time. We know Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, among others, as our main go-to guys for successful holiday movie scores, but Alan Silvestri deserves to be mentioned too.

In 2004, The Polar Express released in theaters under the direction of Robert Zemekis. Using what was at the time innovative motion-capture technology (pre-Andy Serkis), he brought a children’s story to life and created a heartwarming tale with a simple message everyone could understand. Silvestri was brought on to score and his resulting compositions are a thing of beauty.

The main theme is a sweeping, choral piece that will almost certainly give you goosebumps. If it doesn’t manage to, don’t worry, that’s what the rest of the score is for. Along with the songs, the score does what its supposed to do: help tell the story. Perhaps its greatest strength is not relying on classic holiday tunes, instead carving its own themes. There’s a theme for at least two or three of the main characters and a couple themes of general wonder.

Silvestri also knows when to build the tension as well as any accomplished composer. The resulting tracks are energy-packed and pulsing with tension. Furthermore, a genuine sense of holiday spirit and fun are packed into every track. Even when the score gets tense it still manages to be a little fun.

You might be wondering: if the score’s so good, why hasn’t it become a holiday staple? Well, remember when I said it was underrated and unknown? This score hasn’t been released since 2004 and even then only receiving a limited release. Polar Express does have a  soundtrack with the main songs, but Silvestri’s score makes up just two or three tracks. That’s only around nine minutes of music for a score that’s around forty minutes long.

Alas, there are no plans in the works to re-release the score in full, so we’ll have to get by with the officially released tracks and bootlegs. What’s even worse is Silvestri didn’t get any score nominations for this music, only a Best Original Song nomination.

If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air for your holiday music collection or just want to listen to an underrated score, I highly recommend the score to The Polar Express.


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