It’s Christmas! I’m calling it early, since Christmas 2020 seems to be starting in October and will likely last until Valentine’s Day 2021 at the earliest. Staying at home, worrying about seeing relatives, unwapping ununkown packages, all the constituent parts are here, so why not take a cue from Netflix and their endless early seasonal offerings, kick back on the couch and slather yourself with festive movies for four months? And where better to start than with a good hate-watch, with perennial mind-bender Santa Claus; The Movie?
After the hits of Superman and Superman II, the Salkind producer team put together a real ‘King Midas in reverse’ streak of utter duds; Superman 3 and 4, an unwanted third Three Musketeers sequel, Supergirl and this truly bizarre original story for Santa. Played by David Huddlestone, Mr Claus is a 14th century woodcutter with a bent for gifting to kids. His good work and jolly personality lead to him being headhunted by the Vendequm, a troupe of elves led by the Ancient One (Burgess Meredith in a Gandalf beard). Sound odd? We’re not even started. After 50 minutes of chocolate-box cobblers as Santa gets a grip on his corporate empire, he’s blindsided when his chief elf Patch (somehow Dudley Moore) takes all his trade-secrets and goes rogue, setting up shop with an evil magnate played without visible restraint by John Lithgow. This results in children being given deadly toys, like pandas stuffed with broken glass, so Santa has to saddle up his animatronic reindeer and embark on a mission to save Christmas as we know it.
A musical without any songs, Santa Claus The Movie hasn’t a clue if it’s a sentimental legend or a corporate comedy, and switches tones abruptly halfway. There’s horrific product placement for McDonalds that completely belies any anti-materialist message intended, and the strain is visible on all the cast, particularly Moore whose dialogue is peppered with ‘elf and safety’ type wordplay gags that no comic could raise a laugh with. Lithgow has reflected recently that of all his many films, Santa Claus The Movie is the one that he’s most recognised for in the UK, which is presumably why he rarely comes to these shores.
With stuffed animatronic reindeer, laughable blue-screen effects and tone-deaf satire, Santa Claus has something for everyone, except none of it works for a second. Instead, this muddlestone of Huddlestone lies inert as a dumped Xmas tree in March, boring children and befuddling adults with hopelessly confused pontificating about the meaning of Christmas. It’s a genuinely bizarre movie, but if you’re looking to laugh at a hopelessly misguided film, this is a traditional, seasonal hate-watch for ironists and bad-movie buffs the world over. Merry Christmas, Patch! Grab a panda full of broken glass and chill!