The Film: Santa Claus (1985) Buy it from CHUD!
The Principles: Jeannot Szwarc (Director). The Salkinds (Producers, Writers, Tyrants, etc.). Dudley Moore, David Huddleston, John Lithgow, Judy Cornwell, Jeffrey Kramer, Christian Fitzpatrick, Carrie Kei Heim, John Barrad, Anthony O’Donnell, Melvyn Hayes, Don Estelle, and Burgess Meredith.
The Premise: A 14th century woodcutter is transported to the magical North Pole and becomes a beacon of selflessness and hope to the children of the world for ages to come.
Is It Good?: Yes, actually. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a holiday classic, Santa Claus is just as good…if not better…than most live action holiday fare. Plus, it’s really weird and more than a little twisted. Example? The film opens with Claus (pronounced the Kinski way) delivering presents to all of the children in his village. Despite busting his ass at his 14th century day job, the man just loves children and we are told that he always makes time to craft toys for them every year. Why? Outside of just being a jovial dude in general, he and his wife Anya cannot have children of their own, so they spread joy to everyone else’s kids. Depressed yet? Well just wait until the punchline!
After dishing out the goodies to the baby childs, they head home during a blizzard, despite being urged by the townspeople to crash their for the night. Big mistake. Claus, Anya, and their sled-pulling reindeer end up freezing to death in the blizzard. Yes, you read that right. Santa Claus: The Movie, a children’s flick, begins with Santa and Mrs. Claus (along with all 8 reindeer) dying. Fear not, however! They magically awaken at the North Pole outside of elf territory, which looks like a rainbow’d-out Fortress of Solitude. Given that the Salkinds also crafted the first three Superman films (as well as a spin-off), that’s no shocker. Anyway,
Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery)… I mean Gandolf (Ian McKellen)…err, The Ancient One (Burgess Meredith) strolls up with his band of elves and tells Claus that his arrival has long been prophesied. In addition to his resurrection, he has been blessed with the gift of immortality and the Elves will give him the ability of flight on Christmas every year so that he can dish out joy on a worldwide scale.
Cut ahead a few hundred years and Santa is getting a little worn out by his job. While passing out the toys still cheers him up on that one night of the year, the rest of his time is exhaustively spent getting everything in order beforehand and keeping track of who’s naughty and who’s nice. He decides he needs an assistant and basically makes the top two elves audition for the position by competing their new ideas against one another at Christmas. Dudley Moore is one of them and needless to say, the results aren’t so great. He ends up leaving the North Pole Elf-style and heads off to the big city to find his niche. Instead of ending up with the Caan-with-the-heart-of-gold though, he instead ultimately partners with a very lecherous John Lithgow. How awful a man is he? Well, he runs a toy company that put out teddy bears that were stuffed with sawdust, nails, and screws! Things go really bad when Moore shares the magical secret of flight with Lithgow, which leads to some fun hijinks when his company makes candy that allows children to float about the air. Naturally, it’s up to Moore to realize his mistakes and help Santa save the day!
Also, Santa has a little hobo kid for a friend. What does Santa give him for the two Christmases on display during modern day (the film is set in 1990)? A family willing to love and cherish him? No. For the first Christmas we are shown, Santa flies the kid around and then just leaves his ass inside of a rich family’s home alongside the little girl that lives there. Good one, Santa. I’m sure the adults won’t call the cops when they wake up the next morning and find a random dirty little boy playing downstairs with their daughter. How about the next year though? Surely Santa helps provide the boy with some sort of food and shelter? Nope. He just gives him a woodcarving of Dudley Moore sitting at a desk. Because I’m sure that will give him sustenance throughout the coming year. At least give him something that he could pawn off to FEED AND CLOTHE HIMSELF WITH!!! What makes matters worse is that Santa even muses at one point about how he wishes he could have a son like Joe (said 10 yr. old homeless boy). Gee Santa, you think maybe you could just adopt him and take him back to the North Pole where he will want for nothing? Or do you think you should continue to let the lonely little boy wander the cold shitty streets, occasionally staring into McDonalds and the homes of the rich, dreaming of the day where he had a home of his own? Santa Claus? More like Santa Clueless. What a douche.
Is It Worth A Look?: Absolutely. Again, it’s no classic filled with greatness, but it’s certainly worth a look…especially at this time of year. If you are looking for a slightly warped alternative…particularly one with Chief Brody’s deputy in it…look no further. Outside of some bad child acting (a staple of this subgenre), everyone involved comes off well and the look of the film is interesting for a Christmas movie (a bit dark & gritty, to be honest). It’s really a shame that it didn’t do well enough for the Salkinds to produce an even crazier sequel or two. I really could have gone for The Dark Santa and The Dark Santa Rises to go alongside this film’s Santa Begins. Just think of it! Krampus as our agent of chaos! Pitch as our Bane! Oh well…
Random Anecdotes: John Carpenter was one of the first directors approached for the project. He was fully willing to do it, but demanded full creative control…something the Salkinds were not willing to give. Out of the countless big studio properties that Carpenter was offered in the 1980s, this is one of the select few that he still regrets turning down. Had he done it, he would have cast Brian Dennehy as Santa.
Robert Wise, Guy Hamilton, and Lewis Gilbert were all sought for the chair before the Salkinds ultimately went with their Supergirl director.
The role of villain B.Z. was offered to the likes of Johnny Carson, Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, and Harrison Ford before going to Lithgow.
Cinematic Soulmates: Elf (2003), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Santa Clause (1994), Scrooged (1988), and Supergirl (1984).