Billed as modern interpretation of a classic shamanic journey, The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey combines film, music and lighting to try and create a surreal, out-of-body, perhaps even religious experience for its audience. In the case of the audience at the Boulder Theater Thursday night, this effect was achieved with mixed results. Many people at the event seemed to connect spiritually, dancing and clapping along with the live music. Others, myself included, left within the first hour and a half.
My reason for leaving was simple: fatigue. While a theatric story is the overall intent of The Portal’s musical and cinematic elements, a majority of its screen time is dominated by seemingly meaningless fractal animations. Though it's a clean and simple way of filling time while the band plays, these trippy doodles quickly become boring, and from there move on to outright headache-inducing.
In addition, the story itself is painfully simple. Writer/director/producer Luke Comer may be many things, but a master of subtlety he is not. Before the show begins, a collection of three looping slides repeat over and over on the screen. The slides tell us that the protagonist’s name is Dante, elaborating that he is “the archetype of the everyman,” and telling the audience that by participating in The Portal, we are all Dante. The slides also explain the acts of The Portal and what they mean in roughly the same fashion.
To illustrate Dante’s shamanistic journey, Comer spends nearly five minutes of screen time depicting Dante walking in a desert. To preach a doctrine of peace, love, beauty and freedom, he has Dante point a spear at a symbolic adversary and repeatedly scream, “peace, love, beauty, freedom.” When I left the theater, men with televisions for heads were chasing Dante, spouting corporate philosophies and screening commercials where their faces would be. One cannot help but taste the blood of irony here, if we are to consider The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey’s $30 admission fee.
Occasionally this blatant form of expression works in Comer’s favor. On stage, the singer mimics Dante’s lines and motions in passionate dedication to the story. The technique effectively connects the onstage presence of the band to what happens in the film, a tie that lasts for the length of the production (or at least what I saw of it).
However, this quality alone is not enough to keep The Portal afloat. The production fails to deliver the existential breakthrough that it promises. The aforementioned pre-show slideshow boasts that, “The Portal does not bid you to enter its house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind,” yet after more than an hour of watching men in priestly white robes play guitar, mash on djembes and moan, I found little of the insight that I figure was intended.
The Portal combines the fun of having to listen to your friend’s lame jam band with the excitement of an iTunes visualizer. Add to this mixture the discomfort of watching culturally sterile Boulderites dancing to djembe beats and pseudo-messianic vibes from the singer and you get a rough sense of what went down last night. Examining the varied and intricate work that went into The Portal, it’s clear that Comer had bold intentions. Unfortunately, these intentions don't quite make it through.
Here's a taste of the experience:
Correction: This review initially misidentified djembes as bongos. Also, the estimated time Dante spends walking on screen has been changed.