Bad Santa Review
Misanthropy can be a seductive philosophy. A complete belief in the unutterable shit bath that existence is can be an almost religious sensation. If you only believe in how things won't turn out and how there's an evil man in the sky trying to mess you up, then you are no longer hostage to hope, chained to romance or living for tolerance, universal betterment and all that crap. Every thing that happens to you is just further proof that following the rules and being good is the biggest waste of effort since Sarah Palin invested in an atlas that showed what laid beyond her own front door. Embracing miserabilism releases you from being nice, following the rules and being happy with third or fourth best. Who hasn't felt warm in the embrace of cynicism when considering why they never get that promotion, that inheritance they deserve or a lifetime pass to great sex with multiple partners?
The great thing about being lost in unhappiness is that it frees you from taking part in the pantomimes of civility and social ritual. Many a TV show or film has given us a hero who does just this, a Victor Meldrew who won't go meekly into old age, and we have just cheered the belligerent bugger along. In this curmudgeonly spirit, I must say that nothing makes me feel less like good will to all men than the Christmas season, and nothing is a better summary of it than a sweaty unemployable man dressed in a suit that Glam Rockers would reject for its bad taste, who sits other people's children in his grimy stinky lap whilst perpetuating the fraud that merit decides what presents you get rather than the snakes and ladders of global capitalism.
Bad Santa is a cast off idea of the Coen brothers which somehow got made in the very heart of the materialist movie machine. It is a stench drenched puke of a film which presents a complete bastard as its hero, and enjoys 90 minutes of bad behaviour, the very sort that many of us secretly admire. Billy Bob Thornton is a seasonal employee and supposed bringer of good cheer to the brats of a different large department store every yuletide. Along with Tony Cox, his elf, he will struggle to stay upright, shag the mums and barely tolerate the kids who come to tell him what toy he should bring them this year. Come Christmas Eve, Santa's little helper will hide himself in the store, and Santa's drill and explosives will empty the safe.
Santa will spend the rest of his time drowning in a bottle, whoring around titty bars and committing numerous acts of larceny to leech off others and take their stuff. Then a bullied, dumb kid will make the scumbag realise his woeful character, and a slutty barmaid will make him feel cared for, and from then on in everything will go wrong. Sure we do get 5 minutes of redemption, but for the rest of the time Evil Saint Nick will wet himself, bugger loudly in the changing rooms and treat children with unfeeling contempt.
You may not find my description a charming one, yet Bad Santa is rather bewitching for its committed nastiness, wanton depravity, and sheer celebration of being bad. From an opening tableaux much like a Christmas Card but with a drunken Mr Claus peeing in the snow, to a conclusion which features a gangster like end for Santa as he tries to deliver his final gift, Terry Zwigoff delivers a superb and offbeat tale which is a brutal and modern Christmas Carol. In Thornton he has a rare actor who can make malevolence attractive and find humanity where it's all bar extinguished, and the superb cast around him portray spiky and recognisable human beings who contribute to the project's counterpointed normalcy.
Depending on your perspective, the ending may disappoint as good is saved and evil vanquished . Still I'd like to believe that the rogue won't start collecting for his local church just yet, and that events may still reward the charming monster unfairly. The movie proves a real antidote to the sickly sweet movies you get when retailers are greasing us up to go in their seasonal oven, and it is ageing well. Bad Santa is funny, cruel and immoral as hell. God Bless it, everyone.
Transfer and Sound
One of the wonderful things about Blu-ray is watching a film like this one, a rather one-off character study led by a terrific economical actor, and being able to see every pock mark, zit, and wrinkle of a very subtle performance. In terms of detail, this is a terrific presentation with very good contrast levels and little in the ways of edge jiggery pokery to complain about. The saturation is well judged and I was unable to find any digital distractions like artefacts, aliasing or the like. This is a terrific transfer, encoded in AVC MPEG4.
The film comes with several TrueHD 5.1 mixes and the English track is a strong rich and detailed option. The rare slapstick moments are handled well in the directionality of the mix with effects spread well across the whole range of speakers, and the atmosphere of the various settings is created well with the use of the LFE channel. Voices are occasionally found outside the centre channel but rarely, and that is as it should be for this kind of flick. It does carry English subs, so well done Sony for that.
Discs and Special Features
This comes on an all region BD 50 which is about 65% used with the main film taking up 30.2 GB. The menu is a framed Christmas card like loop of scenes from the film accompanied by ironic seasonal music and, for some reason, it was difficult to navigate on my computer using the mouse. Most of the extras are presented in a 4-3 frame using stereo for sound and in MPEG-2, with the trailers using 5.1 mixes. Some of the video quality is a little shaky with presumedd NTSC sources not converted properly. The deleted scenes include sarah silverman as a santa teacher preaching insufferable cheeriness and best behaviour and there are numerous takes of the opening security guard sequence which are evidence that a lot of improvising went on on set. The bloopers reel is not too exciting and the short featurette explains the film's origins as a Coen Brother's idea that got Zwigoff then Thornton on board. There are trailers for 21, Men in Black and Hancock, and a BD-Live option that I am unable to report upon as it failed to work on my player or computer.
Not a generous haul of extras but forgivable enough for a fine transfer. Bad Santa is far better than I remember it, now that either means I misjudged it first time around or that age has made me a better curmudgeon. If you're looking for something that enjoys the hateful season of good will, this is just the ticket.