On a rainy, windy night in Northern California, I have been convinced to drive 41 miles to re-see a movie I didn’t much like the first time I saw it. But Michael Bossier—long-time San Francisco comedian and improvisational master—is very persuasive. See, when I saw The Polar Express back in November, I saw it in a normal theater. What Bossier recommends is the full-price 3-D IMAX version of the high-tech semi-animated Tom Hanks-voiced fantasy. It was, he says, the best cinematic experience of his life.
Wow. For that I’ll drive into San Francisco on a night when VW bugs are being blown in the Bay by gusts of angry wind. It turns out he’s right: “The Polar Express”—about a young fact-checking Santa-agnostic who takes a magical train-ride to the North Pole—is a different experience when seen on a six-story tall screen with 3-D effects that make falling snow and speeding trains seem appear inside the theater. Afterwards, Bossier—with occasional digressions into obscure topics—continues his rave review
“Seeing this movie again, it makes me wish I’d been watching it on psychedelics,” says Bossier, who, for the record, hasn’t done psychedelics since the 1960s. “I’m 50 now,” he explains, “and the only drug I’m on consistently is arthritis medication—which in many ways is the psychedelic drug for the fifty-something generation. That said, I don’t recommend seeing “The Polar Express” on arthritis medication. Arthritis medication is perhaps a little too relaxing. Anyway, this movie is psychedelic enough without the use of drugs.”
What Bossier liked about the film, more than anything else, was its use of perspective.
“The camera shots were just incredible,” he says, “Some of those shots were like nothing I’d ever seen before. The scene where they’re going on the roller coaster ride, and they’re way in the back of the car, but you can see what’s going on way in the front of the train. You can actually see realistic perspective. I really think this movie is as important as ‘Citizen Kane’, which was a movie that forced us to see perspective in a different way, and showed cinematographers how to make films differently. This is definitely the ‘Citizen Kane’ of digitally enhanced movies.”
“Wow, you really liked it,” I remark.
“Didn’t you?” Bossier replies.
“I liked the snowflakes,” I confess.
“What about the hands?” he asks. “You’ve heard that when you are looking at art, at the old portraits painted by the great masters of the Middle Ages, you can tell how good it is by looking at the hands? The hands in this movie are unbelievable! You see every vein: every little fold of the skin, all those tiny quivering hairs. It’s incredible.”
So, as a promotional demonstration for the project of Motion Capture—in which actors are filmed using newfangled computer sensors to digitally record realistic movements, over which the film is layered—”The Polar Express” is an effective example of a new technology.
“I can see them using motion-capture to make movies in the style of Picasso, movies in the style of Dali,” Bossier says. “The sky’s the limit now.”
“I agree,” I reply. “But what did you think of it as a movie?”
“Oh. Well. As a movie? With plot and characters and things like that?” I thought there were going to be polar bears in it,” Bossier says. “I thought it was going to be that Coca-Cola commercial with the humorous polar bears. It’s called ‘The Polar Express’, right? I figured, it’s gonna be white, it’s gonna be cold, and because Tom Hanks is in it, it’s gonna be schmaltzy. It wasn’t that schmaltzy. In fact, it’s kind of creepy and edgy and scary, don’t you think? That moment in the elf city at the North Pole when all those thousands of elves drop everything and sing, ‘You better watch out, you better not cry—Santa Claus is comin’ to town.’ And then the door opens and Santa’s shadow creeps out and across the hoard of little singing elves. Creeped me out.
“Did you notice,” he continues, “that there were no Jewish elves, no black elves, no Asian elves? This was the Arian brotherhood of elves. And Santa was absolutely not human. He’s more like a deity, a god, though I could have done without Tom Hanks playing Santa Claus. I think I’m tired of Tom Hanks in general. Did he have to play every other character in this film? I heard he’ll be starring in ‘The DaVinci Code’, and you just know he’ll be playing the hero, the virgin Mary and Jesus of Nazareth. Tom Hanks must be stopped!
“Uh, where were we?” he asks.
“Right,” he laughs. “I haven’t believed in Santa Claus since I was nine and I discovered the Santa Hat and everything in one of my parent’s drawers. I was crushed and confused. Of course, I also found my parents’ photographs of naked people, so that was also the moment I discovered that people have sex.”
“Which was worse, the truth about Santa or the truth about sex?” I ask.
“I haven’t fully recovered from either one yet,” Bossier admits. “But what I didn’t get in the movie was, this kid doesn’t believe in Santa Claus till the very end when he finally hears that magic bell. For f**k’s sake kid, you’ve been traveling on a magical train, you’ve arrived at the North pole where thousands of elves are singing Christmas carols, there are the freaking flying reindeer right in front of your nose! There’s the big guy standing right in front of you! You don’t believe in Santa Claus yet? Even I’d believe in Santa Claus if all that happened to me.
“Either that,” he laughs, “or you know, someone slipped something in my drink.”
Michael Bossier joins Will Durst, Debi Durst, Steven Kravitz, and others for their annual Big Fat Year End Kiss-Off Comedy Show, Wednesday December 29 at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma (23 Petaluma Blvd. N.) at 8:00 p.m. Call (707) 765-2121 for info.
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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