As a genre Christmas movies are probably the most hit or miss, for every Miracle on 34th Street you have a dozen more like Santa Claus Conquerors the Martians. Now in 1985 the Salkinds decided to take a stab at it and with Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc at the helm that’s exactly what we got….stabbed.
The movie starts our promising enough as we pan down from a starry sky to a snowy Scandinavian landscape and wood cottage full of people. They are all waiting for their beloved friend Uncle Claus (David Huddleston) to bring toys for all the children as he does every year. Many are impressed that Claus can cut wood for the whole village and still have time to carve all the wooden toys he provides each year, but it is his love of children that makes it possible. After giving out wonderfully hand carved toys to the children he and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) bid their friends goodbye as they have more stops to make, and even though the weather is getting bad they can’t think of disappointing the children who live on the other side of the forest. The storm intensifies and soon their reindeer collapse in exhaustion as the snow whips around them. Claus embraces his wife as the winter storm takes their lives.
The Northern Star appears and a cone of light descends on the frozen countryside and out of it steps a large contingent of elves. Claus, his wife, and reindeer all wake up as the group of colorfully dressed little people approach. They are led to their new home at the North Pole where they are informed by the Ancient Elf (Burgess Meredith) that Claus is The Chosen One and will fulfill the duties of the prophecy. That is live forever and give out toys to all the children of the world. And this is where the film runs of the rails and into a morass of boring maudlin scenes coated with syrupy crap.
At 108 minutes the film really drags with overlong montages of the elves making toys, endless shots of Santa flying around with his reindeer pulled sled, and it’s not until about the 40 minute mark that the real plot of the movie starts to rear its ugly head. A seemingly overworked Santa Claus promotes an elf named Patch (Dudley Moore) to assistant, but his radical ideas of mass production results in shoddily made toys and unhappy children on Christmas morning. A now disgraced Patch runs away to prove he is useful. Of course he ends up hooking up with the films villain B.Z. (John Lithgow) an evil toy manufacturer who is being investigated by a Senate committee for producing dangerous products. Throw in a poor little boy who lives on the street and the rich girl (also stepdaughter of B.Z) who befriends him and you may need to take a couple of insulin shots to survive a viewing of this film.
About the only real enjoyment I got out of this film was watching Lithgow hamming it up with the evil cranked up to eleven, but as his character doesn’t show up until the hour mark it’s really not worth the wait. Like Supergirl this Christmas disaster just seemed to meander around without purpose, now Jeannot Szwarc pretty much stopped directing movies after Santa Claus: The Movie but has made a decent mark for himself in episodic television (he even directed an episode of the excellent show Heroes). So if you’re looking good Santa Claus movie keep on moving as this one is not going to fill the bill.