Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) *

PG, 107 min.
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Writers: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Starring: David Huddleston, Dudley Moore, Christian Fitzpatrick, Carrie Kai Heim, John Lithgow, Judy Cornwell, Jeffrey Kramer, Burgess Meredith

“Santa Claus: The Movie” is a terrible movie, but it may be a pretty good example of the power of a producer. Like many people, I’ve always been a little foggy about just what type of input a producer has in a movie. Sometimes they seem to be moneymen who don’t really contribute much to the artistic product of the film. But then, it’s the producers who collect the Best Picture awards, which would indicate a good deal of artistic input.

Ilya Salkind came from a family of Hollywood producers. His grandfather, Michael, was a silent film pioneer, producing “The Joyless Street” in 1925. His father, Alexander, produced the artistically lauded “The Trial” in 1962. Alexander was credited as “presenter” on many of his and almost all of Ilya’s movies. Ilya’s great success came when he produced “Superman: The Movie” in 1978. He went on to successfully produce two sequels to the hit comic book superhero franchise. “Santa Claus” was his first movie after his popular “Superman” series. It was a highly anticipated project.

What is most notable about “Santa Claus” is how much it resembles the “Superman” movies. The movie starts out as a serious origin story on the mythological centerpiece of the modern Christmas holiday. It descends into a campy battle for Santa to retain his relevancy in the bustling capitalist engine of the American holiday business. It involves a scene-chewing villain played by John Lithgow, who isn’t a far cry from Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther, although Lithgow goes much further over the top with him. The North Pole here could double as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. And like Superman, Santa spends a lot of time flying around the New York skyline; they just called it Metropolis in “Superman”.

Unfortunately for Salkind, the Superman motif doesn’t really work for a Christmas Santa story. It’s a little heavy handed. He does his money job with two of the most blatantly obscene instances of product placement ever seen in the cinema. It’s readily apparent that Coca-Cola and McDonalds contributed generously to the film’s production budget. It’s too bad Salkind didn’t spend as much time developing the film’s script as he did its budget.

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