TALKING PICTURES: BIG BANG

“I rarely go to movies, because I don’t like the whole. . . I don’t really care for the . . . I don’t actually like theaters,” admits actor-comedian Geoff Bolt, uttering this confession in his trademark stage-stammer style. “I don’t really mind being in movies,” he continues. “But I never go to movies—almost never, anyway—and if I do go I have to go through this whole thing of deciding who in the movie theater I’m going to, you know . . . hate. I remember the last time I went, it was ‘Lord of the Something,’ one, two or three, and a bunch of kids were drinking, and they were . . . they didn’t want to share, so that was brutal, and I was the one who bought the stuff for them so I’d have thought they’d have given me a swig or two. So I hated them, and that was pretty satisfying. Anyway, I don’t really go to movies all that often.”

That’s probably just as well.

Still, in spite of Bolt’s aversion to movie theaters, we have just taken in an afternoon matinee of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, at the Century Northgate 15 Theater in San Rafael, California. Now, having acquired large cups of strong coffee to chase the taste of artificially buttered popcorn, Bolt and I have located a quiet spot in which to discuss the movie. Based on the phenomenally popular books by the late Douglas Adams, “Hitchhiker” features ugly aliens, two-headed politicians, despondent robots, singing dolphins, and, right at the beginning, the complete and total destruction of the planet Earth. In anticipation of said demolition, I’ve brought along a laptop computer and a few DVDs— Star Wars: A New Hope, Superman, and “Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock” —all featuring other prominent planetary explosions. As I’m cueing up the destruction of planet Krypton in “Superman,” I ask Bolt—a noted comedian and actor (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Nine Months,” “Edtv”), the frequent sidekick of Steve Young in an award-winning series of Toyota commercials, and the big brain behind Bolt’s Unified Field Theory, a traveling improvisational variety/science/comedy show—to tell me what he thought of “Hitchhiker’s Guide.”

“I thought it was a great movie,” Bolt remarks. “I’m always impressed when the actors and actresses aren’t particularly good looking. I love to see actors with crooked teeth, and maybe a bit of natural yellow tinge to them. That’s usually a sure sign of a British movie, and I think it’s a sign that you may be in for a little bit better movie. I don’t want to insult anyone, but the actor who played the main character, Arthur Dent, he was not a particularly handsome guy. The minute I see that the moviemakers are not trying to sell me on some pretty boy, or pretty girl, I begin to think maybe they are more interested in being creative than selling posters of beautiful people.

“I never actually read the books, though,” Bolt goes on, “and I have to admit I was a little surprised by it because I thought it would have something to do with Stephen Hawking.”

“Stephen Hawking?” I verify. “The English physicist in the wheelchair with the robotic American voice. That guy?”

“That guy, yeah,” Bolt affirms. “I guess Stephen Hawking was on the cover of Newsweek or something right around the same time there was a lot of huh-hub—is that a word?—about the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” books, so I always assumed it would be too much for me. Intellectually. Emotionally. I thought it would be kind of a sad, serious piece with lots of math in it. It turned out to be rather funny, which at first I thought was a little bit insensitive of the filmmakers, but then I realized I’d been somehow duped and this was supposed to be funny. I might have to actually read the books, now. Now that I know they’re supposed to be amusing and not tragic.”

“Some of it is tragic,” I point out.

“Well I suppose the destruction of the Earth is a little on the unfortunate side,” Bolt allows.

“So then. What’s the best exploding planet you ever saw on film?” I ask.

“That would have to be ‘Star Wars’, wouldn’t it?” he replies. “Alderaan blowing up. That was so great. It was also so sad. ‘I’ve felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.’ It reminded me of my early days in elementary school, though it wasn’t a million voices, it was more like, 300 of us, K through six.”

With that, I push play on my laptop, and after two-minutes of black-lit Kryptoids dodging chunks of flaming Styrofoam, the planet Krypton suddenly explodes in a tremendous blast of combustible confetti-like special-effects, enhanced by the eerie, creepy sounds of metallic shards being twisted into unnatural shapes.

“Wow! That’s a pretty good one!” Bolt admits. “It’s always a little bonus when a planet explodes in a movie, isn’t it? I think all movies should have exploding planets. I have to say, though—and I don’t know about you, on this—but compared to ‘Superman’ and what I remember of ‘Star Wars,’ I was kind of disappointed with the way Earth blew up in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ because it was kind of . . . the Earth didn’t really explode so much as implode, don’t you think? And that was . . . well, it just felt wrong. I didn’t think it was the best. I think they chintzed out on us.”

“Want to see another one?” I ask, and with a nod from Bolt, I pop “Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock,” into the computer and cue up the destruction of the planet Genesis. Much to our chagrin, and contrary to my memory of the film, the climactic explosion of Genesis occurs almost entirely off-camera. A few bursts of flame. Some loud noises, But no kaboom and no exploding planet.

“So that was a real dud,” Bolt remarks.

“A huge dud,” I agree.

“Maybe you were only projecting when you remembered seeing the planet exploding,” he says. “Maybe you just wanted it so much you imagined it. I think this says more about you, than it does about the moviemakers. You obviously have a need to lay waste to things of the past. Actually, I think you might be seriously disturbed.“

“I always get a thrill whenever a planet explodes on screen,” I confess, as I remove the “Star Trek” DVD and return it to its case. “But I think there must be something in our collective human unconscious that finds exploding planets to be emotionally satisfying, on some level, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many. What do you think?”

In response, Bolt scrunches in his seat, transforming himself into one of his more popular stand-up characters, the confused Swiss professor Dr. Leiderhosen.

“Well . . .” he says, Swissly, “Deep down inside us everybody wants to, uh, start a new day, change, say goodbye to the past and everything, leave it behind and start anew, you know. So, symbolically, uh, the planet exploding is saying goodbye to problems from, you know . . . maybe your father didn’t use to play baseball with you, or maybe your mother, she used to drink before the big school play. That kind of thing. Exploding planets are a way of saying goodbye and good riddance to all that. You know, uh, see you later, bad stuff! Bite this. Boom!’”

Finally, we are ready to watch the granddaddy of all exploding planets, the aforementioned demise of Alderaan in “Star Wars.”

“Punch it,” Bolt says. I hit play. Surprisingly, though, for all its dramatic build-up and digitally after-added impact rings when the planet blows up, the destruction of Alderaan is much shorter in duration than either of us remembered.

“I still think that’s the best explosion,” Bolt says, “but I think they didn’t linger as long on it as in ‘Superman’. It’s like they cut away too fast out of respect for the dead or something, and that diminished the impact a little. And the sound effects in ‘Superman’ were better, I think. Let’s watch that ‘Superman’ explosion again.”

We do. No doubt about it, the death of Krypton is bigger, louder, and longer than the death of Alderaan.

“There’s that metal breaking sound,” Bolt says, for some reason pointing at the screen. “That’s so cool. Okay. I change my mind. I’d have to officially say that ‘Superman’ has the better exploding planet. But ‘Hitchhiker,’ sorry to say, still has least impressive exploding planet. But, hey, maybe that’s the point. Here you go, stuck-up humans, you think that the death of your planet should be really big and impressive and dramatic, well look at this, all you get is a little poof, and it’s gone. Isn’t that ironic?”

“I think that was the point,” I reply.

“I think it probably was,’ Jeff Bolt agrees. “And that’s so depressing. Great, now I’m really depressed.”

He sighs, a great big, loud, existential Nietzche-level sigh, followed by a short yawn and another sip of strong coffee.

“Okay, I know what would cheer us up!” Bolt says. “Let’s watch ‘em blow up Krypton again. I feel better just thinking about it.”

David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.




Posted on May 10, 2005 in Features by
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