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Santa Claus: The Movie

When the father and son production team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind set out to create the definitive Santa Claus, they spared no expense. Working as hard as elves, they created the magic of the North Pole, the wonder of flying reindeer, and the merriment of Saint Nick by hiring the best set designers, employing the highest-tech animatronics craftsmen, and casting the most talented actors they could find. The resulting movie took audiences by storm during the Christmas season of 1985.

Santa Claus: The Movie


After this "discovery of powers" act, we're off to the middle chunk of the movie, which drops are now able-bodied hero into the big city populace so he can do his thing and perform his respective magic. The Earth person that Superman latches onto is of course Lois Lane, because Margot Kidder is smart and hot. Claus is married, so his Earthbound companion is a young homeless boy who gets to ride on Santa's sleigh in a scene in no way meant to remind audiences of Superman's night flight with Lois Lane (no, the kid doesn't ask Santa if he can read his mind). And of course, unbeknownst to Santa Claus, there is a villainous scheme afoot. John Lithgow's evil toy maker B.Z. is in no way supposed to remind anyone of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, even if his scheme to take over Christmas by selling magical candy canes that (unbeknownst to him) will explode when exposed to light will likely feel more at home with Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Santa Claus saves the day with the help of his favorite orphan and Dudley Moore as a disgraced elf in need of redemption, Christmas is saved, Santa Claus is again a believer in the power of giving, and B.Z.'s exploding candy canes accidentally free the three murderous super-powered elves who were exiled at the film's conclusion, setting up a grand cliffhanger for Santa Claus II. How I wish I weren't making that last part up. It's not an exact match anymore than Batman Begins is exactly like Spider-Man. But the using of the Superman: The Movie formula to try and craft an equally definitive Santa Claus movie (something the filmmakers are more than upfront about on the blu-ray bonus features) makes the film somewhat ahead-of-its time. This is both an amusing curiosity that I've wanted to write about for years and a strange example of a film distinctly ahead of its time.

Today we see formula appropriation all the time, from the obvious examples of comic book origin films (pour the Superman: The Movie formula into the Captain America universe and *poof*, Captain America: The First Avenger) to the current trend of darker or more action-packed fairy tale revamps such as Alice In Wonderland and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Santa Claus: The Movie is not a good film, but it is a fascinating exhibit of one of the first modern examples of what Corey Atad called "The Epic-ifcation of the Hollywood Blockbuster". The Salkinds didn't just want to make a Santa Claus movie. They wanted to make THE Santa Claus movie, turning our jolly old gift-giving elf into the equivalent of a superhero and his film into a would-be blockbuster adventure. Today this kind of thing is taken for granted, as we have seen in the likes of Snow White and the Huntsman or Oz: The Great and Powerful.

As far as movie titles go, you don't often see one as bold as Santa Claus: The Movie. Though the audacious subtitle doesn't grace the film, it's been used in publicity materials from the start all the way through this new 25th Anniversary Edition DVD and Blu-ray release. In spite of the title, few would argue that this 1985 movie is the definitive Santa Claus film. The original Miracle on 34th Street has the strongest claim to that. And in recent years Tim Allen's portrayal in the three The Santa Clause movies has made a much bigger and more lasting impression. They've also ensured some degree of confusion for those who fail to recognize the title pun of that Disney comedy series and/or believe "Clause" to be a valid alternate surname spelling. In such discussions, that subtitle "The Movie" proves to be invaluable for clarification purposes. But there's still a good chance that whoever you're talking to has neither heard of nor seen this underperforming international production.Whereas Allen's first film depicted an ordinary man becoming a Santa Claus, Santa Claus: The Movie shows us an ordinary man becoming the Santa Claus. In the distant past, elderly man Claus (David Huddleston) is renowned for the gifts he makes and gives to children each Christmas. One year, he, his wife (Judy Cornwell), and their two sleigh-pulling reindeer hit some bad weather on their way home. Destined to freeze to their deaths, they see a bright light and are saved and greeted by the fabled Vendegum of the North Pole who prefer the more common name "elves." The elves welcome Claus to his new home, a factory full of toys that he is to distribute to children every year. It's all a lot to process and Claus doesn't really have an opportunity to reject the proposal. But, like the elves, he gets immortality out of the arrangement. Plus, he was totally going to die out in that winter cold. Fulfilling a prophecy of a childless couple bringing joy to all the children of the world, Claus becomes Santa Claus and accepts annual gift-giving duties, utilizing time travel loopholes. Centuries pass and sometime around 1985, the work catches up with Santa, making him very fatigued. He'll need an assistant, it is decided. And the obvious choice is the plucky, visionary Patch (Dudley Moore). With his assembly line audition, Patch gets the job. And it's around this time that Santa Claus stops being chiefly about Santa Claus.We meet a homeless young nonbeliever named Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) who lurks outside of McDonald's and private homes alike with hunger in his eyes. The private home proves to be the better bet, as compassionate redhead Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) sneaks him a plate of food and a can of Coke. Santa meets both of these New York kids, befriending Joe and letting him fly over the city in his sleigh.Somehow, Santa's product is lacking in quality that Christmas and the blame obviously lies with Patch, who sheepishly turns in his red assistant's apron. Patch wanders off and somehow ends up in the office of corrupt toy executive B.Z. (John Lithgow), whose namesake company is dealing with a hazardous toy scandal worthy of a Senate subcommittee. In an effort to show Santa he's got the right stuff, Patch pitches B.Z. an elaborate plan that involves a minute of commercial airtime worldwide and freely distributing magic-dusted, puce-colored candy pops in every home. Liking it from a PR standpoint, B.Z. backs the secret plan and is so pleased by the results (kids who eat the pops enjoy a taste of low-altitude flight) that he quickly hatches a sequel idea: Christmas II, to occur March 25th, with no Santa involvement.Can Santa, Patch, Joe, and Cornelia stop megalomaniac B.Z. and save the sanctity of Christmas? You'll certainly have to watch this movie to find that out. Santa Claus is an interesting effort and one which I can only imagine having seen as a child, since this review marked my long-inevitable first viewing. The film is prominently billed as a production of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, names that might not mean much to modern viewers. Second and third generation filmmakers, the French father and Mexican son had been behind the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (then numbering three) and their coolly-received cousin Supergirl. The two bring high-minded and commercial sensibilities to Santa Claus, most noticeably in the contemporary second half that loses focus and traction. The script by David Newman, who had contributed to those first three Superman films (and Bonnie and Clyde long before them), seems to run from the timeless calm of North Pole magic for some routine family film conflict. With an over-the-top villain, overlooked fundamentally good children, and a punny Dudley Moore as comic relief, the movie never loses our support, but it definitely doesn't find a place in its densely-plotted second and third acts to finish the story it began telling.Still, it's far from a travesty, which I kind of anticipated on account of it being all too easy to go a quarter of a century without ever encountering this film on TV or hearing it praised or discussed. The film's average IMDb score is currently a lowly 5.0, much closer to laughingstock Supergirl (also directed by Jeannot Szwarc, in his brief feature filmmaking interlude between long TV runs) and the much-maligned Superman III than to the first two Superman movies. While you can't place too much stock on IMDb ratings of family films (for example: on the rise for years, The Santa Clause is just barely over 6 now and its two reasonably entertaining sequels are trailing it quite a bit), there has been ample opportunity elsewhere every year for Santa Claus fans to come forward and cite it as one of their holiday favorites. Yet I can't think of a single list or article that's given it favorable recognition (and as a Christmas movie fan, those are things I'm wont to encounter).I guess I can understand moderate estimation of the film. While there isn't a single one of my many favorite Christmas movies that I exalted as such after just one viewing, Santa Claus doesn't strike me as being destined to enter the ranks of the all-time greats I admire. But I absolutely enjoyed it, thanks in part to the high regard I hold for holiday movies and the 1980s.One thing that I think even the movie's detractors would be hard-pressed to criticize are the special effects. Perhaps that shouldn't be so surprising considering this is from the same producers who boldly claimed "You'll believe a man can fly." Here, you'll believe a sleigh can fly, as Santa and his reindeer very smoothly match their surroundings and move believably as the film's recurring central illusion. More earthly effects are also capably achieved, from reindeer puppetry to some dazzling split-screen work. This may not have raised any bars but it definitely maintained them, which is more than can be said for many a film made before or since. It wouldn't have been out of place accompanying or substituting for Cocoon, Return to Oz, and Young Sherlock Holmes in the Academy Awards' Visual Effects category that year.Besides not bowling over critics, Santa Claus also didn't connect with moviegoers, at least not stateside, where it grossed less than half of its substantial $50 million production budget. The film fared better in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, but not enough for the Salkinds to pursue a sequel.For not being among the best-loved of Christmas films, Santa Claus has sure gotten more than its fair share of chances to change that on DVD. Last week's quarter-centennial edition represented the film's first release by Lionsgate and first by anyone on Blu-ray. Before that, Anchor Bay distributed the movie, releasing it to DVD in separate widescreen and fullscreen editions in 2000, a 20th Anniversary Edition in 2005, and an unnamed repackaging in 2008. 041b061a72


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