Santa Claus, The Movie

Santa Claus, The Movie (1985)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Dudley Moore, David Huddleston, John Lithgow
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Theatrical Trailers, Biographies, THX Optimode

In the late 70’s, film financier Pierre Spengler and the Salkind Family of producers became internationally known with their big-screen versions of "Superman The Movie", it’s sequels, and after that of course, "Supergirl". In light of their post-Superman projects suffering a steady decline in prestige and audience support, the 1985 Cannes film festival saw Alexander Salkind mass-advertising his newest venture. "Santa Claus," having not seen the light of film since 1949 and firmly residing in the public domain would be their next grand venture.

Today, Anchor Bay Entertainment gives us "Santa Claus The Movie" in fine form. First, you have to understand, we love Anchor Bay. For those unfamiliar with their work, they have this nasty habit of licensing our favorite overlooked or cult films, cleaning them up, filling them with extras, working with the filmmakers, and then often going through the extra steps of <$THX,THX> certifying them for DVD. This version of "Santa Claus" is certainly no exception.

The Salkind’s vision of Santa Claus is really a homogenized overview of all Santa myths. Skipping over any religious connotations to the Christmas holiday, the film focuses on Santa’s relationship to his elves and one troublesome one in particular. We first meet the man who is to become Santa (David Huddleston), a craftsman and toy artist who with his wife has no children of his own. He is chosen by the king elf (a one-scene-and-out Burgess Meredith) to become Santa Claus, given a team of elves and enough magic dust to send him around the world in no time flat. Of course, everything falls into place, but as many centuries pass he decides to give the top job of "toymaker" to one eager elf named Patch (Dudley Moore).

As Patch goes on to invent the assembly line, the delivered toys break and become hazardous to the world’s youngsters. Soon, just as the letters from children around the world magically fly to Santa’s workshop, these broken toys also begin returning broken to Santa’s workshop. Dismayed, Santa has no choice to release the heartbroken Patch, as he now must go to the big city to try and make it there on his own. As it would just so happen, the evil mega-industrialist toymaker B.Z. (John Lithgow) has also had his toys recalled and has found a willing dupe in Patch, who uses his magic dust to put into lollipops that make the children fly. (I’m sure all you Freudians and underlying-theme analysts out there could have a field day with these plot points, but you know they’re not intentional at all… right?…) Now, with B.Z. having cornered the market on children’s hearts and minds, Santa is left to save the day as Patch and B.Z’s formula is discovered to blow up when exposed to heat.

So, is this movie any good? A special edition of "Santa Claus The Movie?" Why? Over the years, its reputation has taken a pretty rare beating. No thanks in part to the <$PS,pan and scan>ned Media videocassette that more or less resembled a very colorful screen of static. But thanks to the Anchor Bay <$16x9,anamorphic> 2.35:1 THX-approved transfer, the film can now be judged on its own merits, and guess what – it’s not half bad. There’s an inherent cheesiness to it, but if you’re willing to give in to the goodwill of the season and enjoy the quality of the presentation, there’s a good chance you’ll really enjoy yourself. If I hadn’t known anything about it ahead of time, I might have guessed that it was a live-action children’s Disney film from the early 70’s. The colors seem somewhat oversaturated, with reds, greens, and whites all bouncing off of each other. While not a technical flaw, the <$commentary,audio commentary> also alludes to this heaviness in the color scheme. It actually adds to the mood of the film, but at the same time dates the picture quite a bit. Still, the picture is usually beautiful. There’s no debate that this transfer is miles ahead of how it’s ever been seen before. One note however, the layer change that occurs at 1:16:11 is unfortunately placed in the middle of a scene. The music drops out for a second, making this switch fairly obvious. A placement on a cut or the end of a scene may have provided a subtler method.

Many shots have some grain evident, but given THX’s involvement in the project this would have to be considered perhaps intentional or a part of the original negative. Considering the high content of special effects work on the screen (mattes, bluescreen, etc. that often tend to push the grain), the grain never seems out of place from the material. Regardless, nothing distracts from the material and the <$PS,widescreen> framing is always very well framed. A true delight after all these years of a nasty, dirty VHS transfer.

The disc comes with a newly remixed <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 or <$DS,Dolby Surround> 2.0 mix by Chace Digital, and it sounds very good. The entire mix has an older feel to it. Not to say that there is a lack of fidelity, but it is in keeping with the tone of the piece – designed to be a non-threatening fairy tale. The surrounds aren’t too aggressive, but definitely show up in key places such as snowstorms and city scenes alike.

Anchor Bay’s "Santa Claus" comes with THX’s "Optimode," a feature we’re seeing more of, and it’s a welcome addition to any DVD. The Optimode system step-by-step guides you through a tune-up of your audio and video system. Full directions audio and video are given while you make the changes necessary to let your system be all that it was designed to be.

As with Anchor Bay’s recent "Supergirl" release, the disc features <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Jeannot Szwarc, director of both features, and is moderated again by project consultant Scott Michael Bosco. The comments never drag as both are very into the film and their efforts in making the movie work. You can’t help but like Szwarc. His outlook on the whole affair is so warm and optimistic, it’s infectious. Despite what you may think of his directorial track record, he remains one of the busiest television directors in town with multiple episodes of "The Practice" and "L.A. Law" under his belt and still going (bonus coolness points in my book for being one of the original creative forces behind "The Rockford Files"). It would have been refreshing to hear more thoughts on the unsuccessful elements of the production, but it’s just as well to hear of the technical and creative demands that were undertaken by the team.

The documentary, clocking in at 50 minutes is narrated by Dudley Moore and Santa himself – actor David Huddleston (whom you Coen Brothers fans will recognize as the Big Lebowski from "The Big Lebowski"). The documentary is far above average – we love the ones that aren’t afraid to cover strain or problems on the set as well as the "we’re having a wonderful time making this great movie here" territory. You have to laugh at the moment where an extra just isn’t getting it, and Szwarc says "ok, so, this guy here is deaf." We also get that just-right blend of special-effect (animatronic) set-up, story origin explanations, and actor opinions during the production at the enormous Pinewood Studios in London. A real sense of history is contained here, and it should vastly increase one’s interest in watching the finished product.

Anchor Bay does it again. I don’t think they can be praised enough for the work they’re doing on features that might not otherwise have been given a second shot by the public. It’s certain the production value and care that went into it warrants this excellent release of "Santa Claus The Movie." Younger kids would like it, and for us older kids it makes for an interesting watch with some certain chuckles along the way. Add the volume, quality, and entertainment value of the supplements and you have a package that is surely worth checking out.