Santa Claus: The Movie Review
Santa Claus: The Movie was one of the notable box-office flops of the eighties. Though not quite matching the lack of success which met Ishtar, Inchon and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, it nonetheless lost producer Alexander Salkind millions. There is the temptation, then, to go back to this work with a certain generosity of spirit. Did it really deserve its failure, you may ask, and is it perhaps heading towards some kind of cult recognition? Put simply, the answer to the first is ‘yes’, whilst the second meets with an undoubted ‘no’; Sant Claus: The Movie, in the most basic of terms, is unremittingly awful – a blend of the lachrymose, anthropomorphic reindeer and product placement for McDonald’s.
Much like Salkind’s earlier take on Superman, this is a film which attempts to capture the mythology behind the man. Thus we begin with his origins as Claus becomes the “chosen one” and is granted immortality by dated eighties special effects. Indeed, this would appear to be the filmmakers’ ploy for everything; their efforts are over-designed, over-emphatic and overly eager to display the budgetary wealth on screen. As an audience we’re expected to be in awe simply because those behind the camera have spent vast sums of money – and this is one of its fundamental problems. Salkind, director Jeannot Szwarc (also responsible for such monstrosities as Bug, Jaws 2 and Supergirl) and the rest have created an overwhelmingly empty experience; the sheer magnitude of the project merely being a mask with which to hide the fact that there’s nothing there.
The screenplay for the most part relies heavily on awful puns (“elf-control”, talk of “rocking the sleigh”) and the cast seem especially uncomfortable with it, though this could simply be the result of Szwarc going for the wrong tone. (The only actor to escape even partially unscathed is John Lithgow, who goes for a comic book performance whilst everyone else appears to be deadly serious.) Yet there are clearly problems at the script stage, most notably the fact that it feels as though it’s been designed by a committee. Rather than offer any kind of coherency, it instead shoehorns in various disparate elements in the most ungainly of fashions: how Santa came to be; a lovable street urchin who also happens to be an orphan; a big name star (in this case Dudley Moore as one of the elves flanked by a strange mixture of British performers: Don Estelle, Melvyn Hayes, even a post-The Young Ones Christopher Ryan); and an evil toymaker seemingly based, albeit loosely, on Lex Luthor.
Of course the latter is solely an excuse for some rather transparent digs at production line anonymity, cynicism in general and especially the twin evils of capitalism and commercialism – the last of which can’t help but prompt a certain savage irony given that Santa Claus: The Movie is now remembered solely as that over-hyped, over-publicised multi-million disaster.
Santa Claus arrives in the UK as a budget priced disc from Cinema Club backed up by an anamorphic transfer and contemporary documentary hosted by Dudley Moore. On the whole, the presentation is fairly middling. The original stereo soundtrack is present and sounds pretty impressive, but in terms of picture quality things aren’t always too great. Certainly, we get the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the print itself is lacking in clarity and definition and more often than not looks grainy and murky. It’s never less than watchable, but a film such as this – one which has put all of its efforts into the colour schemes and design – can’t help but disappoint when not seen at its best.
As for the extras, here the ‘making of’ doc is backed up by a pair of vintage theatrical trailers though, of course, they’re not the main event. Indeed, there’s a certain nostalgia in sitting through this 50-minute glimpse from the archive. In retrospect we would have perhaps have lapped up a newer piece to document to box-office failings and the reasons behind them, but in the meantime this is an intriguing addition. Using the conceit that Santa Claus is genuine and that he plays himself in the film, it is of course aimed squarely at the younger members of the audience, but then it also offers some intriguing revelations. The emphasis throughout is on the money; time and again we hear the words “multi-million dollar” as the doc flits between the production design and the special effects. In fact, there’s scant mention of the actors (though Moore does serve as host), the script or any other facets. Perhaps we don’t need a retrospective piece as well then, perhaps all the answers are already provided here…
As with the main feature, the extras are without optional subtitles, English or otherwise.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:10:51