Release Date(s)1985 (November 13, 2023)
Studio(s)Santa Claus Productions/Calash Corporation (StudioCanal)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
[Editor's Note: This is a UK import, which contains a Region B-locked Blu-ray.]
One of the more unusual films of the 1980s was Santa Claus: The Movie, a product of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler, who were responsible for the first three Superman films, as well as Supergirl. Having received negative press for Superman III and Supergirl bombing at the box office, the team opted for a different kind of fantasy film based upon the folklore of Santa Claus. Directors Robert Wise and John Carpenter were purportedly approached for the project, which ultimately ended up with Jeannot Szwarc, director of Bug, Jaws 2, and Somewhere in Time (as well as Supergirl one year prior). Afforded a considerable budget with large sets and impressive special effects for its time, the resulting film didn’t connect with US audiences, landing with a thud in November of 1985. It was, however, much more popular in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, where it’s considered a classic of sorts.
During a brutal winter in the Dark Ages, woodcutter and toy maker Claus (David Huddleston) and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) nearly freeze to death after attempting to make their way to a nearby village to deliver toys to the local children. Appearing before them are a group of elves, who take them in and declare Claus to be the chosen one; the one who will deliver the toys made by the elves to children around the world on Christmas Eve, giving him the title of “Santa Claus.” As time goes on, one of the more eager and creative elves, Patch (Dudley Moore), becomes his assistant in the twentieth century, but after he fails to help produce enough toys for Christmas, he leaves for the real world and finds work at the B.Z. Toy Company to prove himself worthy to Santa Claus. However, Patch unknowingly helps sleazy business tycoon B.Z. (John Lithgow), who hopes to secretly topple the popularity of Santa Claus and invent his own personal form of Christmas.
During the winter of 1985, it was difficult to avoid the merchandising campaign that came with Santa Claus: The Movie. Multiple promotional tie-ins with McDonald’s, Grosset & Dunlap, and even Marvel Comics were in place when the film was released, but it didn’t help it theatrically. As for the film itself, there’s something unique and fascinating about it. The opening half hour or so, which details how Santa Claus came into being and how his legend grows over the centuries, is the most interesting part of the film, but things take a nosedive once the modern real world elements are in play. David Huddleston is warm and charming as dear old St. Nick, and Judy Cornwell is lovely as Anya. Dudley Moore feels slightly out of place, and John Lithgow manages to chew the scenery with little abandon. It’s hard to imagine that any filmmaker would take seriously a plot involving magic powder, a deranged businessman, and a pair of wayward orphans, and that it would fit alongside a rather pleasant origin story about Santa Claus. In truth, I’m not sure what could have been concocted to improve the film past the half hour mark, but those elements certainly aren’t it.
Then again, the presence of Dudley Moore definitely didn’t hurt the film’s chances in the UK, where Santa Claus: The Movie is considered a more beloved film than it is in the US. That being said, there are definitely a fair share of fans in the US who saw it when they were young (myself included) and find a certain bit of nostalgia for it. Santa Claus: The Movie is not a great film, but you have to admire the attempt made at doing something that, in a lot ways, comes off as sweet-natured without feeling overly cloying. When it works, it works, and when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t, but it’s not a wasted effort by any stretch of the imagination.
Santa Claus: The Movie was shot by cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 BL cameras in the J-D-C Scope anamorphic format, finished photochemically, and presented primarily in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (2.20:1 for 70 mm engagements). StudioCanal brings the film to Ultra HD with a new 4K 16-Bit restoration of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included) on a BD-100 disc, with supervision by StudioCanal technical manager Jahanzeb Hayet. Santa Claus: The Movie is perhaps one of the most distinctive-looking films of its time with a heavy field of grain and highly-saturated color palette. That look is certainly retained in this presentation, which itself is grain-heavy with bold colors. It appears to be mostly hands off when it comes to Digital Noise Removal (DNR) as this is one of the more dense presentations on 4K-UHD as of late. That said, it’s still very organic to its source and looks like film, even if grain is slightly uneven in spots. Nothing is at fault with the bit rate though, which is consistently high, frequently jumping over 100Mbps. It’s also a clean picture with no leftover damage to speak of. The HDR grades certainly help with the vast swatches of color seen in the elves’ workshop, getting the most detail out of them. Blacks are healthy with very good contrast and everything appears crisp and natural, even helping to blend the special effects a little more than in previous presentations.
Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It offers a fine stereo experience with clear separation and nice movement from channel to channel. Dialogue is prioritized well and Henry Mancini’s score is quite boastful. There’s a minor bit of crackle at the 1:39:04 mark, but it’s an otherwise flawless track. As this is a dual-territory release with an option when the disc starts up between “United Kingdom” or “Deutschland,” additional audio is included in German 2.0 LPCM with optional German subtitles.
Only a check disc of the UHD disc was provided for this review, but the final 2-Disc release of Santa Claus: The Movie from StudioCanal is packaged in a black amaray case with a Region B-locked Blu-ray in 1080p, with everything housed in a slipcover. The following extras are included on both discs:
- Mrs. Claus: Judy Cornwell (HD – 8:38)
- Santa Claus: The Making of the Movie (HD – 50:16)
- Shooting the Press Conference Scene (HD – 28:12)
- Deleted Scenes (Upscaled SD – 25 in all – 7:13)
Mrs. Claus: Judy Cornwell is a new interview with the actress in which she details how she got the part after Dolly Parton had been considered, working with David Huddleston and Dudley Moore, having previously worked with most of the actors who played the elves in the theatre, the difficulties in working in “snow,” becoming close friends with and receiving popcorn as a gift from David Huddleston, being present for the film’s opening in the UK, and remaining very proud of the film. Santa Claus: The Making of the Movie is a documentary made concurrently with the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Shooting the Press Conference Scene is nearly 30 minutes of raw takes from various angles of the scene in which B.Z. and Patch hold a press conference. The Deleted Scenes are mostly brief trims of various scenes, most of which could probably have been left in without spoiling anything. Unfortunately missing from the Anchor Bay and Lionsgate DVD releases is an audio commentary with Jeannot Szwarc, moderated by Scott Bosco, as well the film’s US, German, and international trailers.
Having revisited Santa Claus: The Movie decades after seeing it only once, it’s fascinating seeing how strong a film can open and hook you completely, even if the rest of it isn’t nearly of the same caliber. Nevertheless, longtime fans will certainly appreciate this UHD upgrade. For them especially, this release comes recommended.
- Tim Salmons