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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Santa Claus: The Movie

November 12th, 2010

Santa Claus: The Movie Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

TriStar started in 1982 and while the studio had a few hits during its short run (it was bought out in 1989) it mostly distributed films that failed to find audiences to one degree or another. This is true of Santa Claus: The Movie, which was seen before its release and as possible holiday blockbuster, but while it was a hit internationally, it bombed here at the box office and was savaged by critics. Now 25 years later, has time been kind to the movie?

The Movie

Beginning in the 14th century, we first meet Claus and his wife Anya while they deliver wooden toys to the local children, as they have no children of their own. The weather is terrible and soon it becomes clear that their reindeer will not make it and it appears they will be stranded and succumb to the cold themselves. However, the pair are rescued by a group of elves, including Patch, an inventive and creative elf, and Puffy, a more conservative and tradition elf. They take them to the world of the elves, which is hidden from regular people and after a couple of musical montages, he is told by the Eldest Elf that he is to become Santa Claus and deliver toys to all of the children throughout the world.

Flash-forward to the modern day and Santa's work schedule has him exhausted. He simply can't keep up, not with the population growing from 500 million to 5 billion over the past 600 years. He needs an assistant, and the competition is down to Patch and Puffy. Another musical montage later and Patch and his industrial approach to making toys beats out Puffy and his tried and true methods. However, as the viewers can see, his machine is not exactly foolproof and that Christmas many of his mass produced toys fall apart. Thinking he's failed Santa Claus, Patch leaves the North Pole and heads to New York City.

Meanwhile, toymaker B.Z. is having similar problems with unsafe toys being recalled, but he's less concerned with safety than he is with profits. Patch sees the toys being pulled off the shelf but mistakes the recall for a lot of sales and decides to work for B.Z. as a toymaker, in order to make Santa proud. But B.Z. decides to use Patch's Elf abilities to replace Santa.

(There's also a sub-plot with a street kid and a rich orphan, but that feels very superfluous.)

This film was made in 1985 by a lot of the same people that made Superman III and Supergirl. At the time, Supergirl was expected to be a sure hit and the studio handed out $50 million to make this movie, which was a huge amount of money back then. In comparison, Back to the Future cost $19 million to make. A View to a Kill cost $30 million to make. Rambo cost $44 million to make. So was it worth the money? No.

Problems start with the script, as they usually do. The movie is partially an origins story; in fact, we don't hear the name "Santa Claus" untill about 30 minutes in. This would be fine and would make a great movie, if that were the focus. If the film ran for 108 minutes and ended with Santa's first Christmas, that would have been great. But we then get a second story focusing on Patch and for a lot of the movie, Santa feels like a supporting character. B.Z. as a bad guy isn't exactly a major selling point either, because the character is a little too broadly written, even for a kids movie, and needed to be a little more nuanced. Also, it's hard to make a compelling argument that Christmas is too commercialized when you have such obvious product placements in the movie. And don't get me started on those two kids.

If you want to make a movie about the origins of Santa Claus, then make that the sole focus of the movie. If you want to make a movie about an elf that messes up and tries to find redemption, then make that the sole focus of the movie. If you want to make a movie about homeless boy and a rich orphan, just don't.

David Huddleston is good as Santa, when he's on the screen, while Dudley Moore has the energy needed to play an elf, even if the dialog seems too forced to be charming like it should. Plus, some of the sets look great and some of the special effects, while dated, are impressive given the age of the movie. The overall effect is just too mediocre to impress many people.

The Extras

The DVD has an audio commentary with Jeannot Szwarc, the director, and Scott Michael Bosco, who acts as moderator. There quite a bit of information presented, but not a lot of energy. There is also a 50-minute making of featurette, which was made in 1985 and originally shown on TV to promote the movie. It's quite in-depth and not promotion fluff as I thought it might be. There is also an Easter Egg and some text-based bios.

I do not have the Blu-ray to review, but since it costs 50% more than the DVD, it would have to have exclusive extras that actually did something with the format, not to mention amazing audio and video for a film this old.

The Verdict

Santa Claus: The Movie started out well enough and had it been an 100-minute movie about the origin of Santa Claus that ended with his first Christmas, it probably would have been a great movie. However, that's not what we get, and what we get is a bit of a mess. The DVD is essentially the same DVD that was released in 2000 and 2005, while it is hard to justify spending $17 on the Blu-ray when you can get the DVD so much cheaper.

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