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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Holiday > Santa Claus - The Movie: 20th Anniversary Edition

Santa Claus: The Movie - 20th Anniversary Edition


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: B



Most critics hammered this costly family film about the origins of Santa Claus when it opened.  Maybe it was the then-huge $50 million budget or the fact that it was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind (the producers of the Christopher Reeve Superman films) that caused critics to tear it apart.  But it's really not that bad.  In fact, if viewed without prejudice, Santa Claus: The Movie (1986) is quite entertaining, and you might be surprised to find a lump in your throat by the end.


The first portion of the film takes place on colorful, lavishly constructed sets, showing how Santa and Mrs. Claus (a well-cast David Huddleston and Judy Cornwell) came to live among the elves in the North Pole.  The second half takes place in the mid-1980s and follows Santa's top elf (Dudley Moore as Patch), who leaves the North Pole and unknowingly joins forces with an evil toy tycoon (an amusingly slimy John Lithgow).  The ending, in which Santa turns into a superhero forced to save the day, is totally unnecessary, but the overall film is much better than its reputation.  It also benefits from a wonderfully upbeat musical score by the late Henry Mancini, and a beautiful song at the end called "It's Christmas All Over the World" by Sheena Easton, which deserved to become a holiday mainstay -- somebody please re-release this terrific song.


The 20th Anniversary DVD edition of Santa Claus: The Movie from Anchor Bay is nothing more than the previous DVD version that Anchor Bay released in the fall of 2000.  It's the same transfer and the same extras in a different DVD case with a different production booklet inside.  So there's no use buying this if you already have the DVD from 2000.  I'm going to tell you the only really interesting tidbit from an interview with Ilya Salkind from the new booklet: Before The Salkinds hired Jeannot Szwarc (who was already directing the Salkind's Supergirl, which was released exactly one-year earlier in November, 1984), the script of Santa Claus: The Movie was first sent to John Carpenter and Walter Hill (two of the edgiest contemporary filmmakers) before the far-more sedate Robert Wise was considered.


Even though some of its special effects are now dated, Santa Claus: The Movie is an ultimately touching tale that deserves to be rediscovered by a younger generation.  The scenes of Santa and his reindeer flying are too obviously blue-screen effects, but it's tough not to feel a little heartache when Santa (a symbol of such kindness and goodness) flies his sleigh over the World Trade Center, which became a site of such notorious evil years later.  Anchor Bay's 20th Anniversary Edition presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround 5.1 sound.  The picture quality is decent for its age, but not as good as it could be, with some grain and blurriness visible especially during long shots.  The digitally mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and THX-certified sound, though, is much better.


However, this is the older Dolby mix from the 2000 DVD, so no upgrade or DTS alternative is offered.  In 70mm blow-up film presentations, the film had Dolby 4.1 magnetic stereo and would have sounded at least a little richer than this.  The extras include an enjoyable audio commentary with director Szwarc (Jaws 2, Somewhere in Time) and Anchor Bay special projects consultant Scott Michael Bosco, a making-of featurette, the U.S. and foreign theatrical trailers and talent bios.  In all, it's a must-have for fans of this unfairly maligned holiday film.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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