Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Film Review: Santa Claus: The Movie

"Santa Claus: The Movie"  ** (out of ****)

You better watch out, you better not cry, because if you do, I'll make you watch "Santa Claus: The Movie" (1985) then you'll really have something to cry about!

As I sat down watching "Santa Claus: The Movie" I simply couldn't believe how mis-guided and ill-conceived this movie is. The movie lacks joy and wonderment. There is no sense we are watching something magical and there is no significant plot.

"Santa Claus:The Movie" initially present itself as the story of Santa Claus. It explains the origins of how the man the world has come to know as Santa Claus came to be.

The movie takes place centuries ago as a heavy set man, with a white beard named Claus (David Huddleston), along with his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) and their two reindeer, Donner and Blizten, deliver toys to children from a small village. We learn from one set of children, who call him Uncle Claus, though we are not sure if they are actual relations, that Claus and Anya have been doing this for years. Their gift giving has come to be expected on Christmas.

We hear a story the townsfolk have passed along involving a land at the top of the world that can only be seen at special moments, when the stars fill the sky and a giant bright star burst an elves or as they are called in this movie, vendegums, appear.

One Christmas Eve there is a terrible blizzard. It is not advised for Claus and Anya to travel around the village, but Claus insist. As they travel on, the snow and freezing weather take their effect on the reindeer, who simply can't go on. Stranded in the wilderness, alone, Claus and Anya huddle together for warmth in their sleigh, while Donner and Blizten, lay in the snow, freezing to death. And soon, it seems, so will Claus and Anya. Just when the weather turns for the worst, a giant star appears and burst and elves appear and approach Claus.

We slowly learn Claus is part of a prophecy, which gives the movie a religious feel. It is as if the filmmakers are turning Santa Claus into a Jesus like figure. The elves have been waiting for him. They have created a workshop and have made hundreds of toys. They have flying reindeer too to help Claus deliver toys, not just to children in the small village but to children all over the world, in a single night, Christmas Eve.

Claus and Anya are a bit perplexed at first and do not understand. And to be honest, neither does the viewer. Very little is explained. The viewer sense where all of this is going. We see the elves create a red suit for Claus, he is renamed Santa Claus. Their is discussion that naughty children will not receive toys and the elves, the keeper of a list separating children into naughty or nice categories, better watch out, because Santa Claus will be checking the list twice.

In the moments when the workshop is revealed to us and we see all the elves, it looks like more than a hundred of them exist, all I could think of was, these elves remind me of the seven dwarfs and I kept thinking of Babes in Toyland.

What I also thought during these moments is the movie is lifeless and lacks a spectacular feeling. I mean, we are seeing the North Pole and Santa's Workshop, and it all seems so ho-hum. The music, the cinematography, the effects, none of it puts us in the mood and fills our hearts with joy. We aren't excited seeing any of this.

And though I mentioned the seven dwarfs, those guys at least had personalities and their names defined their character traits. The elves in this movie aren't so lucky. None of the characters have distinct personalities. The only elf that is suppose to be any sort of developed character is Patch (Dudley Moore) the progressive inventor of the group. He has conceived such things as the alarm clock, the kettle and plumbing.

The centuries past until we reach the 20th century, as the movie mainly takes place in New York. We learn of a homeless boy, Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) and a wealthy young girl, Corneila (Carrie Kei Heim) and her uncle, a mean (we can tell this because he smokes a cigar) toymaker, B.Z. (John Lithgow). These characters appear in the movie after an hour. The total running time of the movie is one hour and forty-eight minutes, and that includes credits. That is too long to introduce these characters.

Santa and Patch have a misunderstanding when Patch's latest invention, the assembly lines, creates unsafe toys, which fall apart, as an unknowing Santa delivers them, causing children to denounce Santa's toymanship abilities (the horror!). As a result of these actions, Patch leaves the North Pole and heads to New York and meets with B.Z. as the two will use Santa's methods of toymaking to compete with him for the affection of children and as far as B.Z. is concerned, he will make a lot of money.

The scenes with Joe, as far as I can tell, serve no other function than product placement. In one scene a hungry Joe walks around the street on Christmas Eve only to stare hungrily inside a McDonald's window, as he sees happy families eating big macs. This kind of scene is usually done as the homeless person walks pass an expensive restaurant while the wealthy people inside sip Chardonnay and laugh adoringly at each other, not noticing the hungry person standing outside staring at them through the giant glass window. But never have I seen a scene like this done with big macs. Exactly how much money did McDonald's pay to get to advertise in this movie?

In another scene with Joe, he stands outside the home of Corneila, who notices the hungry Joe. She prepares a plate of food for him but don't worry, in order to wash down all that food, she has given him a lovely, refreshing can of coca-cola, which is displayed prominently in both of their hands. In fact if you pay attention closely, you can see they use different cans. When the can is shot by itself, not being held, you see the letters 'coke' in bold white letters written on the red can. However, when Joe holds the can in his hand, as he drinks it, you see in smaller white letters 'coca-cola' is written. This is because consumers identify a red can with white lettering to be coca-cola, it is subliminal messaging. so there is no need to get a close up of the words written on the can when Joe is drinking it. But, when the can is by itself and you want to place emphasis on the brand, the larger, white bolder letters just saying 'coke' is used.

All of the dialogue in this movie is poorly written. It doesn't sound natural. The acting is over the top. The characters aren't fully dimensional people. There is little conflict and the point of the movie takes too long to establish itself.

Want to see a better movie on the origins of Santa Claus? Watch the classic animated movie "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (1970) with the voices of Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus or watch the more modern "The Santa Claus" (1994) with Tim Allen.

One terrible, twisted thought, that came in my head as I watched this movie, is what if this is all a dream sequence. Claus and Anya were about to die in the blizzard before the elves came. What if all the events that follow were part of Claus's dream and represent the things we would have liked to accomplish?

"Santa Claus: The Movie" doesn't strike me as a popular movie. I never hear anyone talk about it. I remember once seeing it on TV when I was a child. My nieces and nephews never heard of it. I hope it is something of a cult classic that the mainstream has forgotten about. Little children shouldn't have to sit through this movie. Childhood is bad enough.