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Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Welcome to Blog's Top Four Xmas Movies - Number 4: Santa Claus: The Movie

I'm not saying that this countdown contains the best holiday movies of all time, just the ones I wind up watching every year. While none of these are worthy of "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Miracle on 34th Street" or "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," I wind up sitting through each of these for reasons I can't even begin to explain. Maybe my '80s upbringing is to blame but my favorite Christmas flicks are fraught with violence, product placement, unneccessary boob shots and puppets.

Number four on the list is "Santa Claus: The Movie," a mostly-forgotten box office dud from 1985 staring Dudley Moore, John Lithgow and the guy that played the Big Lewbowski in "Barton Fink," er, some other movie by the Cohen Brothres. That's right, once upon a time the actor that coined the phrase "the bums lost" once played the title role in a "film biography" of the beloved holiday icon.

"SC: TM" probably deserves it's place in the $3 bin at Target but I'm still surprised it didn't make it's $50 million budget back. The film isn't outright terrible, the poster (below) was neat and the set designs and special effects were great for the era. Also: at one point Burgess Meredith shows up in a cameo as the overlord of Santa's legion of elf slaves. Unfortunately, at no point does he start screaming "'YER A BUM, CHRIS KRINGLE!"

Here's a synopsis and feel free to tell me if this isn't worth a Netflix rental.

The movie opens with a pre-Santa Claus and his wife returning home after delivering toys to a few tykes in northern Scandinavian neighborhood. Along the way they get caught in a storm and their two reindeer collapse from exhaustion. On the brink of death, a gang of elves mysteriously arrives on the scene and hauls them to safety.

Once inside their homestead, which looks like a gigantic cuckoo clock, the elves immediately start prattling on about how Claus is part of a centuries-old prophecy, is destined to force them into slave labor, blah, blah, blah. Maybe it's the hypothermia but Claus agrees.

From there the movie uses "Superman"-style bluescreen effects to follow Santa through the centuries and, in probably the movie's best scene, he gets pissed after hearing himself portrayed as a jolly fat man in "The Night Before Christmas." After his favorite elf, played by Moore, ruins his reputation after a failed attempt to industrialize their North Pole workshop, Santa takes on a greedy capitalist bent on driving him out of business and creating an all-new holiday devoted to rampant consumerism in March.

The movie's second half is chock full of moments that will yield unintentional laughs and features probably the two worst child actors and most obnoxious examples of product placement in the history of Hollywood. In one scene, a not-at-all lovable starving orphan stares longingly at patrons in a McDonald's before having his life saved by a sandwich can of New Coke. And Lithgow is even more annoying than usual as Santa's Wall Street nemesis. "We'll call it CHRISTMAS 2!" indeed.

Also: the film attempts to explain the whys and hows regarding the reindeers' ability to fly. "SC: TM"'s theory? Ground up stardust. The elves open a hatch in their workshop every year on night they call "Seasons Greetings." The stardust falls from the sky, they grind it up and then stick it in the reindeers' oats on Christmas Eve. In a truly terrifying sequence, the reindeer begin shaking and glowing as if they're being electrocuted before they take off into the night sky. While the film goes with stardust, everybody knows how Santa really gets his reindeer to fly:

Meth. Lots and lots of meth. Sprinkled with just a pinch of crack cocaine and a wee bit of Kentucky bourbon.

I first saw "Santa Claus: The Movie" as a child and it probably led to me realizing the truth about Santa Claus. In the movie, which was sold as the "true story," Santa only delivers wooden toys, which didn't explain the Millennium Falcon I received on Christmas Day '85. I remember wondering if an elf up in the North Pole laboriously built each and every plastic piece of the playset and the box. My parents probably had a ball trying to explain that one. While the evidence was sitting right in front of me it would be another year before I figured it all out. I also had several tie-in "SC: TM" Happy Meal containers stting on my bookshelf for a month after the movie was released. I blame all the glue I was eating at the time. I was hooked on the stuff. Even now, years later, walking through the office department at Fred Meyer's can conjure up cravings.

Despite destroying part of my childhood, and the grating "It's Christmas All Over the World" theme song, I'll stand by the movie for it's excellent first half and two scenes later on: the "super-duper looper" sequence where the Big Lewbo...er, Santa rescues Dudley Moore by performing an inexplicably stupid and unnecessary maneuver in his sleigh and the sight of John Lithgow dying a slow and painful death in the vacuum of space.

Watching John Lithgow dying a slow and painful death in the vacuum of space- it's what timeless Christmas memories are made of.

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