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Snow Man

Comedian Michael Bossier believes in 'The Polar Express'

By David Templeton

ON A RAINY, windy night, I have somehow been persuaded to drive 41 miles to rewatch a movie I didn't much like the first time I saw it. But Michael Bossier—a longtime San Francisco comedian and improvisational master—is very persuasive. 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.

It turns out Bossier'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 to appear inside the theater. Afterward, 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," he sighs. "The only drug I'm on consistently is arthritis medication. 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. This is definitely the Citizen Kane of digitally enhanced movies."

That said, Bossier is somewhat disappointed.

"It's called the Polar Express, right?" he says. "I figured: polar bears. I thought it was going to be like that Coca-Cola commercial. I knew it was gonna be white, it was gonna be cold and, because Tom Hanks is in it, I figured it was gonna be schmaltzy. And I thought there'd be polar bears. But there were no bears, and it wasn't that schmaltzy. In fact, it's kind of creepy and edgy and scary. 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,' creeped me out.

"Did you notice," he continues, "that there were no Jewish elves, no black elves, no Asian elves? This was the Aryan Brotherhood of elves. And Santa was absolutely not human. He's more like a deity, a god.

"What I didn't get," he says, noticeably moving into full rant mode, "was that this kid doesn't believe in Santa Claus till the very end of the movie, when he finally hears that magic bell. For fuck'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."

Michael Bossier, for the record, does not believe in Santa Claus.

"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," he says. "I was crushed and confused. Of course, that was also the moment I found my parent's photographs of naked people, so, you know, wow, my whole life was turned upside down. It wasn't until I was 17 that I figured out why people have sex, of course."

Asked which was tougher, the truth that his parents were impersonating Santa or the thought that they might be having sex, Bossier is quite clear.

"Actually," he says, "I haven't completely recovered from either one yet."

The Polar Express is currently playing at the IMAX Theater at the Tech Museum, 201 S. Market St., San Jose. (408.294.TECH)

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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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