Sunday, December 22, 2013

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on Santa Claus: The Movie (1985; directed by Jeannot Szwarc).

Though my mom broke the bad news to me at the age of 11, in December of 1991, I've always thought that either the centuries-old raw matter of the mythology of Santa Claus had been lost to the superficiality of modern culture, or that the mythology had considerable untapped potential ... or both. So, I've always been curious about Santa Claus: The Movie (which, at the age of four, I was oblivious to the release of), but never gotten around to watching ... until this afternoon.

My verdict? The Rankin-Bass version of Santa Claus' autobiography, the stop-motion television special Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970), remains the superior version of Santa's origin, based on those that I'm familiar with.

The real deal.

The 1985 movie starts out with him Mr. Claus as a benevolent, big-hearted, jovial, er, rounded, beared a in what seems to be medieval northern Europe who just loves to bring toys to kids on Christmas eve. So far, great. Fitting tone-wise and in consideration of the myth's historical roots. But then, he gets caught in a blizzard ... and is rescued by a gaggle of elves (who look and sound like New Yorkers and are dressed in what seem to be costumes for a children's play), who have, as they state, been "waiting for" him, so as to "fulfill the prophecy". And so, suddenly, unexpectedly bestowed upon him are his North Pole home, and adjacent toy factory, sleigh, flying reindeer (who, you know, in wide are live animals but who, jarringly, are weird-proportioned, lazy-eyed puppets), and a plan to fly all across the world on Christmas Eve delivering presents to children. Everything's squarely in place, ready and waiting for him, ready to go. Makes him seem like a doddering old man who stumbled his way into the elusive entity that is blind luck. It's lazy writing, glossing over all the why's and how's. "We're gonna tell you the story of how Santa Claus became Santa Claus ... mehhhhhh, we don't wanna bother to figure out how all that stuff came to be, so it was just already there, okay?"

But at least once the movie gets past its initial "Here, Santa, this is your new home! Here Santa, this is your toy factory! Here, Santa, these are your reindeer!" stage and an actual story (about a rogue elf, a crooked toy industry monopolist who wants to run Santa out of business, a homeless little boy, and the crooked toy industry monopolist's kind-hearted child niece, who befriends the homeless little boy) gets underway, it's not bad. 

And at least one aspect of the movie has brought out the kid in me: despite the obvious green screening/blue screening/whatever it is, to behold Santa guiding his reindeer-driven flying sleigh approach, soar over, zip around, and land on the rooftops of Manhattan is to be mesmerized, thrilled at a base level. After all, I still wish that's what really happened each Christmas.

-- Ryan


  1. Jeannot Szwarc is a director with an incredibly extensive list of credits in film and notable TV series from ‘70s favorites IRONSIDE and ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY, where I first heard of him, to modern day sci-fi fantasy series like HEROES and FRINGE, where he’s STILL producing great stuff!

  2. Joe: Wow! Usually, when a writer, director, or any other member of the production team of a show from Night Gallery's era (the early `70's) shows up in DVD episode commentary or in interviews incorporated into the "bonus material", they're now retired. Looking at Szwarc's IMDB filmography, it doesn't look like Abrams, as a fan, called him out of retirement to direct an episode or two, as a lark; Szwarc's career is still in full-swing. He directed multiple episodes of a Rod Serling series AND two J.J. Abrams' series?! The guy's name should probably be more well-known than either of theirs!

    -- Ryan