Robert Zemeckis

6.0 I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)
6.5 Used Cars (1980)
7.1 Romancing the Stone (1984)
7.2 Back to the Future (1985)
7.3 Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
5.8 Back to the Future Part II (1989)
5.5 Back to the Future Part III (1990)
6.2 Death Becomes Her (1992)
7.4 Forrest Gump (1994)
6.2 Contact (1997)
7.0 Cast Away (2000)
6.3 What Lies Beneath (2000)
5.2 The Polar Express (2004)
5.5 Beowulf (2007)
5.8 A Christmas Carol (2009)
6.0 Flight (2012)
6.5 The Walk (2015)
6.5 Allied (2016)
6.4 Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Robert Zemeckis (USA, 1952) debuted with the nostalgic comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), cowritten with Bob Gale (who would remain his frequent cowriter) and produced by Steven Spielberg, set during Beatlemania, in which a group of high-school fans of the Beatles desperately try to meet the stars and to attend their US debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (foreshadowing the fictional-historical mix of Forrest Gump), followed by the satirical and grotesque Used Cars (1980), produced by Steven Spielberg and John Milius, before finding fame and success with the romantic comedy and adventure thriller Romancing the Stone (1984), written by Diane Thomas, which superficially looks like a parody of Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, or of John Huston's Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948), but in reality is a screwball comedy combined with postmodern literature. Joan (Kathleen Turner), a famous writer of romance novels, has just finished her new novel. She receives an envelop mailed by her recently murdered brother-in-law, husband of her sister Elaine. While she is out, a man breaks into her apartment and tries to steal the envelop. Stopped by the apartment manager, the thief doesn't hesitate to shoot and kill. When Joan returns, she finds a mess in her apartment. Joan is single and she dreams of meeting the love of her life. Her sister is in Colombia, trying to recover the body of her dead husband, but she is kidnapped by a kid while a yankee, Ralph (Danny DeVito), watches. She is then dispatched to an unknown location on the battle owned by this gangster's cousin. She is then forced to call Joan and ask her to bring her an envelop. Joan flies immediately to Colombia but, when she arrives, a sinister stranger (the same man who broke into her apartment and killed her apartment manager) tricks her to the wrong bus so that she cannot meet Ralph who is there waiting for her. Joan tries to speak to the driver and causes an accident. The sinister stranger steals her bag but another yankee, Jack (Michael Douglas), saves her. The sinister stranger flees in the jungle and meets Ralph, who has been chasing the bus on his jeep: the stranger stops him pretending to be a government agent. Joan is stranded far away from her destination. The cynical Ralph offers to help her for money. They begin walking in the jungle while it starts raining. Suddenly the police shows up, led by the sinister stranger, trying to stop them and shooting at them. Jack is confused that the police are trying to kill her, not him: he is a smuggler. They escape and Jack discovers that Joan is carrying a treasure map to her sister's kidnappers but cannot figure out what the treasure might be. The cynical, greedy and irascible adventurer Jack is the exact opposite of the gentlemen of her romance novels. They find an airplane wreckage and sleep inside it. The police is mounting a massive hunt but they are saved by a drug trafficker who recognizes her as his favorite writer. By accident they end up precisely in the place indicated by the map and, by accident, Ralph is also there, making a call from the phone booth of the village. Joan wants to head back to the appointment with her sister while Jack wants to find the treasure. Jack finally convinces her after they make love. They steal a car without realizing that Ralph is sleeping in the back (it is his jeep). The police are still chasing them. They find the treasure: it's a giant diamond. Ralph pulls out the gun and takes it from them, but the cops arrive and, in the confusion, Jack retrieves the diamond and flees with Joan in the jungle. After a frantic escape that involves surviving a waterfall, they lose the police but get separated. Joan doesn't have the diamond but has the map and delivers it to Ralph's cousin Ira in return for her sister's freedom. However, the police have found and arrested both Jack and Ralph, and they also arrest Joan and her sister. The sinister stranger (who is the police chief) threatens to throw Joan to the crocodiles if she doesn't surrender the diamond. Jack then pulls it out and throws it over the crocodiles, so that a crocodile eats the hand of the police chief while he's trying to grab it. A massive shootout ensues between the cops and the kidnappers. Jack grabs the crocodile and tries to make it spit the diamond. The women run away but run into the police chief, who is now furious and wants to kill them. Jack drops the crocodile and helps the women. Joan outsmarts the police chief who falls in the waters infested by crocodiles. Ira escapes, leaving behind Ralph. Joan and Elaine can now return home. Back home, we learn that Joan has written a new novel which is exactly the film we have just watched. Joan is still dreaming of the love of her life and Jack appears, who tells her how he rescued the diamond from the crocodile and bought and used it to buy a sail boat. They leave together to sail around the world. An even bigger success met Back to the Future (1985), the fairy tale of a kid who travels back in time to meet his parents before he was born. Marty is a typical teenager who lives with a typical middle-class family in a typical middle-class neighborhood. He is a terrific at skateboarding and guitar playing, and hangs out at the lab of a mad inventor, Doc. His mother Lorraine is an alcoholic. His father George is a shy and coward man, who has been humiliated and bullied by his boss Biff, a former schoolmate, all his life. The town has a clock on the tallest building that stopped working on a stormy night before Marty was born. Marty has a girlfriend, Jennifer, his only consolation. One evening Doc unveils to Marty a car that can travel back in time, and announces that he wants to travel back to a specific day, 30 years earlier, when he was a young scientist and first discovered how to travel back in time. While he is explaining this to Marty, Arab gunmen appear on a van, shooting at him: he has stolen plutonium from them in order to propel his time-travel car. The Arabs kill Doc and Marty escapes by jumping into the car and speeding away. Doc's theory was right: the car transports Marty back in time, but Marty doesn't know how to travel back to his time. Stuck in this past, wearing funny clothes for those days and speaking a funny language, Marty sees his father and his mother as high-school kids: his father is the same coward, and is bullied by the same Biff; his mother is a pretty girl. Marty befriends George, who wants none of his advice to fight back against Biff, and is accidentally hit by a car driven by Lorraine's father. Lorraine takes care of him and falls in love with him. Marty tries in vain to make her notice the clumsy George. It sounds impossible that George and Lorraine would ever get married. Marty meets the young Doc, who is already a mad inventor. Marty tells him that he is coming from the future thanks to a machine invented by Doc himself 30 years later: Doc rejoices that his theory proved right and pledges to help Marty fly back to the future. To do that, Doc needs an amount of energy that only a lightning bolt can generate. Marty remembers the exact date when the clocktower was hit by lightning, coincidentally exactly that year, just a few days later. This becomes more urgent when Doc explains to Marty that Marty himself may not exist if his parents don't get married. Doc thinks he can fix the magic car in time for the storm. Marty defends George from Biff and then has to run away from Biff and the other bullies using his skateboarding skills. Marty proves to be smart, agile and corageous, and Lorraine falls even more in love with him. She is less and less interested in George. The night when he has to travel forward to the future, the night of the storm, he is invited to the school party by Lorraine. It is Marty's last chance to force George and Lorraine to fall in love so that the past will not be altered. Marty tries to warn Doc about the fact that 30 years later he will be killed by the Arabs, but Doc doesn't want to hear about the future because it is dangerous to change it. Marty comes up with a trick to make Lorraine fall in love with George: he pretends to try to rape her and tells George to play hero and save her. Unfortunately for Marty, Lorraine, madly in love, is the one who tries to rape him. It is Biff who stops her: drunk and helped by his gang, Biff gets Marty locked in the trunk of a car and proceeds to kiss Lorraine. Just then George arrives to rescue her from Marty and instead George finds her with Biff and this time he finds the guts to knock Biff unconscious. Lorraine finally falls in love with George and accepts to walk into the dancehall with him. The band of African-Americans hired to play at the dance rescues Marty, who is then invited to play guitar with them on stage. Marty indulges in a noisy guitar solo a` la Chuck Berry that shocks the crowd, but then the bandleader calls his relative Chuck (Chuck Berry) to tell him that he just heard someone play like him. Marty excuses himself and rushes to meet Doc as the storm approaches. Marty tries to give Doc a note warning him of of his future murder by the Arabs, but Doc tears it up, refusing again to change the future. Marty recalibrates the DeLorean to take him to just before Doc's death. Marty jumps into the car and starts driving at maximum speed while Doc makes sure that the lightning bolt will hit the car precisely at the right moment. It works and Marty finds himself back to the night when Doc got killed by the Arabs. But Doc is not dead: he was wearing a bulletproof vest, having read the note that Marty gave him 30 years earlier. Marty is puzzled that Doc has violated his own rule not to change the future, but Doc replies "What the heck!" Marty walks back home and finds a completely different family: his father is a successful and confident intellectual, his mother is a model housewife, and Biff is their humble helper. Marty goes out with his girlfriend, but Doc shows up in his magic car shouting that he found a way to travel to the future. Doc grabs Marty into the car and takes off shouting that they are going to a place where there are no roads.

Zemeckis then showed his skills at visual effects with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman from Gary Wolf's novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" (1981), a noir thriller a` la Polansky's Chinatown that mixed animation and live acting, and also mixed the life of a cartoon character with the lives of real people. Cartoon characters are not only actors, but, just like actors, they behave differently in private life than they do in their animated movies. It is set in a dystopian 1940s Los Angeles as an urbanscape where the cartoon stars of Warner Brothers and Disney movies are actors. At times it feels like a post-modernist self-tribute to the world of cartoons (the film was produced by Walt Disney and even features 45 non-Disney characters). It may count as a postmodernist trick also the fact that this is the only film ever made that pits Donald Duck against Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse against Bugs Bunny, and so on. There is also a philosophical story: Toons, created to entertain humans, turn out to be not much better than humans, from femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (modeled after Rita Hayworth's "Gilda") to racist villain Doom (and one can see the whole Toontown as an allegory for segregated black neighborhoods of the USA, where so many black entertainers live).

The film opens as a child and a rabbit are playing an apocalyptic scene for an animated movie. The director interrupts them unhappy with their acting and the two assume the personalities of two normal people. The child, in fact, speaks with the voice of an adult and smokes a cigar. The rabbit, Roger, is sweet and shy. Cartoon characters hang out in the streets of Hollywood just like regular people. Eddie, an irascible and hard-drinking detective, is hired by Roger's boss (who has noticed Roger's depression) to take compromising photos of Roger Rabbit's wife, a sexy actress. Eddie is broke and a bar waitress, Dolores, loans him the camera. Eddie hates "toons" because his brother was killed by one. The bar is managed by a toon. The showgirl is Jessica Rabbit, an erotic vamp. Eddie takes pictures of her with her lover, a wealthy man who owns Toontown. When Eddie shows Roger the pictures, Roger gets desperate. Later a police detective informs Eddie that Roger killed Jessica's lover. The investigation is run by a racist judge, Doom, who too hates toons and is known for protecting gangsters who kill toons by soaking them in sulfuric acid. Baby Herman, the cigar-smoking child, tells Eddie that Roger is innocent and that the wealthy man was killed because of his will, which is in fact missing: the wealthy man had decided to bequeath Toontown to the toons themselves. Roger asks Eddie (of all people) for help to prove his innocence. Eddie asks Dolores to hide Roger in the basement of the bar. Jessica tells Eddie that she was forced by Roger's boss (and now also Eddie's employer) to pose for those pictures with the wealthy man: Roger's boss wanted to blackmail the wealthy man. Jessica swears that she loves Roger, but Eddie doesn't tell her where Roger is hiding. Roger, however, comes out of his hiding to perform (his duty as a toon) and Doom finds him. Roger and Eddie jump into Benny, a toon-car that can speak and see, and flee, chased by Doom and the police. They hide in a theater where Eddie learns that Roger's boss has sold his studio to a mysterious corporation. Eddie decides to confront Roger's boss, while Roger is being kidnapped by Jessica. Roger's boss admits to Eddie that he blackmailed the tycoon because he wanted to force him to a business deal but, before Roger's boss explains what's in the missing will, someone kills him. Eddie understands that someone wants to destroy Toontown and has framed Roger for the murder of the tycoon. He sees Jessica running away and assumes that she is the one who killed Roger's boss. Eddie follows her into Toontown, a chaotic city in which everything is a cartoon object. She saves him from an ambush and tells him that judge Doom is the one who killed both the tycoon and Roger's boss, and that the tycoon gave her his will... but the will is blank. Just then Doom and his gangsters appear, capture Eddie and Jessica and take them to the factory where the tycoon was murdered. Doom admits that he owns the mysterious corporation that acquired Roger's studio, and that he wants to destroy Toontown by using a machine loaded with sulfuric acid because he wants to build a road through it. Unless the will shows up, within a few minutes he will be declared the new owner of Toontown. Roger finally shows up but is quickly captured too. Doom orders that Roger and Jessica be killed with the acid, but Eddie improvises a cartoon skit that kills the gangsters of laughter. Eddie and Doom fight until Doom falls under a steamroller, revealing that... Doom himself is a cartoon character! As such, Doom emerges unscathed. Eddie recognizes him as the toon who killed his brother and kills him with the acid. Eddie discovers that the tycoon's will is not blank but was written in disappearing ink that reappears. Eddie and Dolores walk into Toontown alongside Roger, Jessica and the toons.

He then directed two sequels to his blockbuster, Back to the Future Part II (1989), in which this time Marty and Doc fly into the future to, again, alter the future, possibly an even crazier story than Part I, and Back to the Future Part III (1990), in which Marty and Doc end up in the Far West, and therefore a western comedy in disguise.

After the black comedy Death Becomes Her (1992), possibly his most surrealistic film and a satirical parody of Hollywood-ian myths (an aging movie star takes a potion that would make her immortal and eternally young and beautiful), he crafted the historical melodrama Forrest Gump (1994) in which the protagonist meets real historical people. A concentrate of Hollywood schmaltz, and a modern fairy tale, the film is nonetheless a memorable portrait of a spectator who accidentally becomes a protagonist. The fictional character is thrown into historical footage, so that he can meet with president Nixon after being decorated by president Johnson, appear on a talk show with John Lennon and talk at a real peace rally that was held in Washington.

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The film is a moving portrait of a simpleton who asked almost nothing from life, only the affection of the only person he loved after his mother, his childhood friend, no matter what she did. It's a film of simple, minimal but very strong emotions. Meanwhile, the history of the USA flows under his eyes and he even becomes involuntary protagonist, but he cares zero about all the complications of history. They are insignificant. The only things that really matter are the ones that touch the most intimate chords of the heart.

The story is told by Forrest to the people sitting next to him while he waiting or a bus at a bus stop.
Forrest grows up in the Alabama countryside with his friend Jenny. He lives alone with his mother, who rents rooms, and one of their tenants is Elvis Presley, who is attracted by Forrest's disabled movements and turns them as the dance of rock'n'roll. Forrest is scorned by the other kids because he is a bit dumb, but he is a heart of gold. His mother sends him to college where his IQ wouldn't take him far if it weren't for his extraordinary running speed. He became a football star and graduates after five years. He doesn't understand much about the complications of life, so he is happy that others decide for him how life should proceed. He is almost automatically enlisted in the Vietnam War. In Vietnam he befriends a black man who comes from a very poor family and dreams of setting up a shrimp business. During a battle Forrest is the first soldier to save himself, thanks to his speed, but then he goes back to look for his partner. He saves one by one the men of his battalion, including the lieutenant who would like to be left to die there, but fails to save his black friend. Wounded in the buttocks, he is admitted to the military hospital, where he enjoys his convalescence, despite the fact that his lieutenant, who had both legs amputated, blames him for not having let him die. Forrest is awarded a medal for his heroic act by president Johnson. To kill time, he starts playing ping pong and soon discovers that he is a natural talent. Having become a champion, he is even invited to China with president Nixon. (The film superimposes pictures of Forrest on real footage of the period to give the impression that he was there; and then he is superimposed on a character who is talking to the president and some words are put into the president's mouth to make it sound like he is chatting with Forrest). Forrest is decorated with the medal of honor by Nixon himself. Meanwhile, Jenny is following a life quite the opposite. restless and determined never to return to the misery of their Alabama town, she always dreamed of becoming a singer. Forrest finds her in a red-light night-club where she is performing naked behind a guitar. He saves her from a somewhat aggressive customer but she chases him away. The girl is unhappy, and borderline suicidal, but rejects the love of the simpleton and sets off on new adventures. She thus becomes a hippie, attached to a group of long-haired youngsters protesting against the Vietnam War. She meets Forrest again at an anti-war rally, where he is invited by a speaker to talk about the war in front of an oceanic crowd. Unfortunately the police unplug the microphone so that no one hears what he has to say. but Jenny recognizes him and runs to hug him him wading an artificial pond, an act that the crowd interprets as a political gesture. Forrest saves her again from an aggressor but again she prefers her nomadic life to the decent simpleton. His perceived pacifist sentiment gains him an interview alongside John Lennon on a television show. Forrest also accidentally causes president Nixon to be indicted for the Watergate scandal. Even more miserable is Forrest's old lieutenant, who is now an alcoholic cripple confined to a wheelchair, living on charity. He curses Forrest for saving him. Forrest has one duty to carry out: he promised his black comrade to to buy a boat. Forrest visits the black man's poor family and then becomes a shrimp-boat captain. He is failing miserably but one day the lieutenant shows up in his wheelchair offering to become his partner. When a hurricane comes, the cripple is hanging from the sail challenging God, and God seems to surrender: their boat is the only one not to be destroyed. This leaves them as the only ones to fish for shrimp and soon they become very rich, and Forrest donates half of his money to his black friend's family. Finally the lieutenant thanks Forrest for saving his life. Forrest has to leave the lucrative business to his friend and travel back to his home town because his mother is dying of cancer. After burying her he decides to settle there, and he keeps thinking of Jenny: he cannot see her sins but he remembers her soul when she was a child. Jenny actually has turned to prostitution and drugs to support herself. When he learns that Forrest has become a millionaire, she visits him. Perhaps she finally realizes what she has lost: Forrest would have been a model husband. But now she feels that it is too late to be redeemed, and she once again refused his marriage proposal: she realizes that Gump doesn't understand what kind of woman she has become, but she doesn't want to take advantage of it. She sets off on her adventure again, this time determined to live a better life. Before leaving, she gives Forrest a gift: she introduces him to sex. The trauma of losing Jenny again is so strong that Forrest starts running for no reason. He keeps running and running and running, crossing the whole nation. He ends up becoming a national celebrity. Behind him a crowd forms of runners who follow him as if he were some kind of messiah. After three years suddenly he gets bored: he stops running and returns home, leaving his followers puzzled. Jenny, who has followed his adventures from the restaurant where she works as a waitress, writes to invite him to visit her. The flashback ends and we are back to the bus stop of the beginning. Forrest now explains that he is waiting for the bus that will take him to Jenny. The lady who has been listening to him tells him that he can just walk there. As Forrest is finally reunited with Jenny, she introduces him to their son, named Forrest Jr. Jenny tells Forrest that she is sick of an incurable disease, and the three move back to their hometown. This time it is Jenny who asks him to marry her, and Jenny and Forrest finally marry, but she dies a year later. The film ends with Forrest living alone with his son; but but he always walks to Jenny's grave to cry and to tell her how the child is growing up.

The philosophical sci-fi movie Contact (1997), the adaptation of Carl Sagan's novel, is a sentimental melodrama with an implausible plot.

Ellie (Jodie Foster) is a young astronomer and the daughter of a famous astronaut. She is spending her life trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life, mostly by listening to radio signals from space. She has a boyfriend, a Christian philosopher, Palmer, while she is an atheist. The politician who has to decide the funding for the project, David would like to terminate the project, but she gets funding from a billionaire to continue her work. Four years later Ellie finally discovers a signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers, sent from a star that is 26 light-years away. Ellie realizes that the signal contains a video of Adolf Hitler speaking at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. Ellie realizes that this was probably the first Earthly signal strong enough to travel across the universe, and someone simply sent it back to acknowledge receipt. The news spreads all over the world and now the same politician, David, wants to control it. Ellie continues to investigate the signal and the billionaire provides the machines that she needs: she finds out that the signal contains a manual to build a rocket. The entire world agrees to fund the construction of the rocket, and Ellie would like to be the astronaut but her ex-boyfriend Palmer destroys her chances when he testifies that she doesn't believe in God. David, the politician who wanted to kill her project, gets to be the astronaut. However, a group of religious fanatics blows up themselves and the rocket, killing David among others. The secretive billionaire communicates to Ellie that he is dying of cancer and is living in the space station. He reveals that his corporation has secretely built a second rocket and invites Ellie to be the astronaut. The rocket enters a wormhole in spacetime and Ellie reaches a place that looks like the beach that she dreamed of as a child. She then meets her dead father, or, better, an alien that has assumed her father's semblance in order to communicate with her. The alien tells her that there are many civilizations already able to travel across the universe and that Earthly people are the most recent addition. Ellie travels back in the wormhole and finds herself back at the launching pad, convinced of having traveled for 18 hours through the wormhole. But nobody around her believes in her trip: they only saw the rocket drop into a safety net. Worse: her tape only contains noise, no trace of her conversation with the alien. The politicians investigate the matter and conclude that the signal and the machine were a hoax designed by Ellie's father. However, we see that two politicians discuss the fact that the noise in Ellie's tape lasts 18 hours: how can it have recorded 18 hours of noise if she was in the rocket only a few seconds? But she is not told this. Ellie and Palmer get back together, and Ellie continues her research. She is asked to testify in front of the US Congress and she has to ask them to believe in her like they believe in God, but she's an atheist.

The thriller What Lies Beneath (2000), written by actor Clark Gregg, which is virtually a tribute to Hitchcock with scenes that seem to mock Vertigo (sometimes Pfeiffer looks or behaves like Kim Novak) and Psycho (the bathtub scene) and a plot reminiscent of Rear Window (with a woman as the voyeur) and Thorold Dickinson's Gaslight (1940), and Cast Away (2000), written by William Broyles, about a modern Robinson Crusoe, the sole survivor of a plane crash on a desert island, were minor but classy films, especially the latter, Zemeckis' most philosophical and personal film.

The Polar Express (2004), an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's children's book, is a Christmas animated movie for little children with a simple message to believe in magic, but it has sinister undertones. Santa Claus runs a high-tech operation that is a mix of assembly chain and Orwellian society: an army of midgets controls what children are doing all over the world via security cameras and gifts are packed and shipped by complex machinery. Santa Claus appears in front of an ecstatic fanatical crowd in a Mussolini-like pose, and the scene turns into a Las Vegas-style show, and his compound looks like Fritz Lang's "Metropolis". There are elements of science fiction (a rocket) and of horror (a ghost). The characters look and move stunningly like real people but the real show is the frantic sequence of (mis)adventures. Unfortunately that frantic plot feels like a random assortment of visually impressive scenes. It was the first animated film entirely made with motion-capture technology, and an influential step in the progress of digital and 3D filmmaking, five years before Avatar, although the story is certainly not as original and as entertaining as the pioneer of computer-generated films, Toy Story (1995).

It is Christmas Eve and a boy goes to sleep having found out that Santa Claus does not exist. As he falls asleep, he dreams that an old steam train docks in front of his house, causing an earthquake. He walks outside in his pajama and is told by the conductor that the train is the Polar Express, headed for the North Pole, Santa Claus' home. The boy stands in the snow speecheless while the train departs but then starts running after it and jumps on board. He finds a car full of noisy children and meets a sweet girl. At the next station the conductor repeats the same actions to a new boy, Billy, who is shy just like the protagonist. When the train departs, Billy cannot jump on board in time. The protagonist then pulls the emergency brake so that Billy can climb into the train. A team of dancing waiters serves hot chocolate and the sweet girl saves one steaming cup for Billy, who is sitting alone in another car. When she walks out to deliver the hot chocolate, the protagonist notices that she forgot her ticket. The protagonist grabs it to bring it to her but the wind blows it away. When she returns to her seat, the conductor comes to punch her ticket. Since she doesn't have one, he escorts her out of the car. The protagonist tells in vain the truth. Then he sees that the ticket has flown back into the car and tries to catch it but this takes him into an adventure on the train's roof where he meets the ghost of a hobo. They have to jump into the engine car because the train is about to enter a low tunnel. The ghost disappears and the protagonist finds the girl who is now piloting the train because the engineers are trying to replace the headlight in an acrobatic manner. The engineers get in a dangerous situation and the boy again pulls the brake. The engineers soon lose control of the engine when a piece falls off the train. The train plunges into and skids around a lake of ice. The engineers regain control of the train just when the ice starts breaking and the conductor guides them to regain the railway tracks. Finally the two children return to the passenger car and the train train arrives at the North Pole. Billy accidentally causes one car to detach from the train and to plunge down the streets of the North Pole, which looks like an Alpine village. They end up in the secret laboratory of Santa Claus, where an army of elves watch over the children of the world via security cameras. The elves board a high-speed train and the children follow them in a futuristic setting. Finally, they join a huge crowd of elves in a giant square where Santa Claus appear, at first just a shadow spreading on the square. He is welcome by the jubiland crowd while a giant sack full of gifts is being prepared. The protagonist finds a bell lost by Santa's sleight and returns it. Santa lets him keep it but, as the children return to the train, he loses it. The train takes the children back to their snowy town. The protagonist goes to sleep and wakes up in the morning to find Christmas gifts, including a box containing the bell with a card signed by the conductor (so it wasn't just a dream). He and his little sister can hear the bell ring but his parents can't and think it is broken. The protagonist's voiceover, as an adult, remarks that only the people who believe can hear the bell ring and he still does.

The swashbuckling 3D-animated epic Beowulf (2007) is a loose (almost parodistic) adaptation of the medieval poem "Beowulf", mostly notable for its digital visual effects.

A Christmas Carol (2009) is a motion-capture adaptation of Dickens' novel, mainly notable for the reconstruction of 19th-century London, and suffers less from the narrative problems of The Polar Express because it sticks to Dickens' original story.

Zemeckis's return to live-action cinema, Flight (2012), written by John Gatins, a psychological drama about an alcoholic pilot who almost causes his airplane full of passengers to crash but then heroically lands it, is, like many of his films, more about visual wizardry than substance.

Ditto about The Walk (2015), a 3D biopic of Philippe Petit, an acrobat who illegally walked on a tight rope strung between New York's Twin Towers in 1974. The film also mixes home videos and historical footage. Just like The Polar Express and Beowulf these films are mostly showcases of new computer technology.

Allied (2016) is both an espionage thriller a` la Hitchcock and a romantic melodrama a` la Borzage.

The film opens in French Morocco during World War II after the Germans have invaded France and the French are divided between those who obey the Germans and those who fight against them. A secret Canadian agent, Max, is parachuted into a field controlled by the French Resistance. His contact is a beautiful French woman, Marianne, a member of the Resistance, who will help him carry out a deadly dangerous: assassinate a German politician. Marianne introduces him as her Parisian husband and they make sure to be credible although in private Marianne keeps him out of her bedroom. Their act is convincing but Max has to kill one German officer who recognizes him. Marianne is a woman of the jet society and is invited to the reception for the German politician. She asks the German commander to invite also her husband. The German commander tests Max, who is supposed to be a poker player and a phosphate magnate: first he asks him to shuffle a poker deck and then to write down the formula of phosphates. The day of the ball, Marianne and Max finally have sex (a campy scene inside a car while a sandstorm rages outside). At the ball they easily kill the politician, his escorts and the German commander himself. They also escape easily. Max begs Marianne to join him in London. Back in London, Max gets a desk job at the secret services and has to wait weeks before Marianne is finally cleared to join him. They get married and have a baby, Anna, in a rather melodramatic scene (in the middle of a German bombing raid). He keeps working for the secret services and Marianne takes care of the baby. They live a happy life. When they need someone to take care of the baby, they drop her with a kind nanny. Out of the blue, one day Max is summoned to a secret meeting where he is coldly informed that his wife Marianne is... a German spy! They have evidence that someone broadcasts to the Germans all of Max's secret assignments. Furthermore, the man they assassinated in Morocco turns out was not a German politician but a French dissident. Last but not least, the real Marianne, a leader of the Resistance, was killed by the German. Max is outrage by the suspicion but his superiors coldly tell him that there is only one way to proceed. He will receive a new secret information, and this time it will be a bogus one that only him will receive. Within three days they will know whether that piece of information reaches Germany. If so, Max's duty will be to kill Marianne, or he will be executed for helping a foreign spy. He is ordered not to investigate but to simply carry out normally. That night someone calls and Max writes down the message. Then Max and Marianne have sex. The following day Max, determined to prove Marianne's innocence, disobeys the orders, takes a picture of his wife and tracks down a former intelligence officer who worked with Marianne in France. This officer is bitter about how he has been treated after returning as a cripple from the war, but Max only wants him to identify Marianne in the photo. Unfortunately the man's injuries include that he's also mostly blind. The officer, however, tells Max of a man who knew Marianne well in France, but this man, Dalamare, is in Morocco. Max does not give up. He talks to a rookie who is about to fly to Morocco for the first time and asks him to take the picture of his wife and ask Dalamare whether that's Marianne. Unfortunately, the rookie dies because he spends too much time on the ground, and that's because of Max's mission. His bosses therefore find out that Max is disobeying orders and remind him to stay out of it. Meanwhile, Max sees Marianne talk to a suspicious man who pretends to be a jeweler. Max is now on a mission to find the truth not because he wants to clear Marianne's of the accusations but because he himself is beginning to have doubts. Max promises to spend a full day with Marianne and the baby but then disappoints her by leaving for another top-secret mission: it's actually a personal mission to Morocco. Max risks his life only to find out that Dalamare is in prison for drinking too much as usual. French partisans help Max enter the jail and talk to Dalamare. The man is drunk and it's hard to believe anything he says but one thing he says very clearly is that Marianne played the French national anthem on the piano. Max narrowly escapes being captured and flies back in the morning. This time he doesn't pretend and doesn't smile but instead confronts Marianne like an investigator. He takes her to a cafe and asks her to play the tune on the piano. Marianne confesses: she is indeed a spy. She was hoping to leave her old profession behind her, but the Germans found her, and used the nanny to blackmail her (threatening to kill the baby), and the jeweler is indeed the contact. Nonetheless, Max and Marianne love each other for real, and Max decides that their only chance is to escape after killing the Germans. He kills the nanny and the jeweler and then drives Marianne and the baby to the airfield. While Max is preparing the airplane, a number of cars approach. His boss drives his car in front of the airplane to block it from moving. Max tries in vain to explain that Marianne was forced to do what she did, but it is obvious that spies must be killed. Marianne grabs a gun from the car and kills herself. Max's boss orders the witnesses to testify that Max killed Marianne as ordered by the secret services. The film ends with Anna already a little girl. We see a flashback to Marianne's last day, when, before heading out, she wrote a farewell letter to Anna.

Welcome to Marwen (2018)