4-D brings 'Polar Express' to life

November 27, 2008|By Raven Smith | Raven Smith,raven.smith@baltsun.com

Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack, hiiiiiiiissssssss ... the train's wheels sputter and squeak as it rolls to a stop, causing rows of theater seats to rattle and shake.

"Ready to go?" a kindly conductor asks. "Go ... where?" asks a puzzled young boy as he tugs on his blue robe.

"Why, to the North Pole!" exclaims the conductor. They ride into the night, bound for holiday adventure.

Click, clack, click, clack, click ...

Like the conductor, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which is not traditionally thought of as a holiday-time destination, is hoping that its The Polar Express 4-D Experience will stir up some holiday magic this year for visitors. If the number of sold-out shows on The Polar Express' opening day, Nov. 15, is any indication, Baltimore is up for the ride.

"We're coming back!" Catina Johnson said after viewing the show with her children. She called it "action-packed."

The show, in its second year, condenses the 2004 film into a 20-minute tale about a boy who has lost his ability to believe in Santa Claus and his magical journey aboard the Polar Express to rediscover his Christmas spirit.

Unlike the film, however, the mini-movie is shown in dazzling 4-D, which combines traditional 3-D film techniques with sensory-centric special effects that leave the audience feeling as though it is aboard the magical train as well.

There is a lot to feel - like blasts of icy air as the train flies down the tracks and gently falling indoor snow as the train pulls closer to the North Pole - and even smell. The scent of fresh hot chocolate is a crowd favorite, aquarium officials say.

Furthermore, in an effort to help visitors get more out of their trip and their holiday, the aquarium is running a series of tips before each show on how to celebrate in a more energy-efficient way, with suggestions including using cloth bows on presents instead of disposable ones and setting timers on outdoor and indoor decorative lighting.

Additionally, to lure in more visitors, it is giving visitors a chance to win a walk-on role and tickets to see the Rockettes perform in next month's Radio City Christmas Spectacular at 1st Mariner Arena.

But The Polar Express is the main attraction, and the positive response to the show already has officials projecting the number of aquarium visitors to increase 40 percent.

That's something spokeswoman Jen Bloomer considers to be a great achievement.

The book is "a holiday classic, and with the show, we hope that visitors will come to the National Aquarium and see what we have to offer in terms of attractions besides the more traditional displays," Bloomer said. "Events like this, I feel, are very good for the community, because it gives them the sense that they have something all their own to enjoy ."

if you go

Shows (appropriate for all ages) begin at 10 a.m. daily and run throughout the day, ending about 3 p.m., through Jan. 4. Cost is $2 for members and $4 for nonmembers when purchased with regular aquarium tickets, which cost $21.95 for adults, $20.95 for seniors and $12.95 for children ages 3-11. Call 410-576-3800 or go to aqua.org.

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