In 1978 the Salkinds made you believe a man could fly. In 1985 they made you believe a man, a sleigh, and eight reindeer could fly in Santa Claus: The Movie. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and starring David Huddleston, Dudley Moore, and John Lithgow, this classic funny and heartfelt Christmas classic spreads new holiday cheer on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from StudioCanal with a lovely Dolby Vision transfer, excellent audio, and some worthwhile extras. Highly Recommended
Who is the man with the bright red nose and the belly that wiggles like a bowl full of jelly? A man of legend, of myth, of countless children's stories, good old St. Nick has been a fixture of the holiday season for ages. Kids love the story while eagerly awaiting the gobs of free gifts if they’ve been good, or fearing the lumps of coal if they’ve been bad. But how did this right jolly old elf become the man we love to see adorn our favorite red cola cans? One could tell the true story, but instead, producer Ilya Salkind had a different plan for Santa Claus: The Movie.
Reteaming with writers David and Leslie Newman, and hiring in Jaws 2 director Jeannot Szwarc - they effectively spit-polished and recycled the Superman: The Movie formula. Giving David Huddleston’s Santa Claus a fantastical origin story, we see Santa become the hero of every child’s Christmas as he learns to fly his eight-reindeer-powered sleigh and deliver toys to all the good girls and boys. But this film isn’t simply an origin story for our favorite red-suited hero.
Threatening Christmas cheer for all girls and boys is John Lithgow as B.Z., a slimy toy magnate aiming to squeeze every cent of profit he can by selling unsafe toys. Some are even stuffed with sawdust, glass, and nails! Unwittingly helping him is former North Pole elf-extraordinaire Patch, brought to life by the delightful Dudley Moore. Patch believes by working with B.Z. to make new inventive exciting toys he’s actually making Santa’s life easier but in fact, they inadvertently threaten Christmas for everyone!
As it has been the better end of thirty-five years since I last saw this film, I was extraordinarily happy to see that Santa Claus: The Movie holds up wonderfully. I only had nice faded memories of watching this film as a kid. As the years passed I became reluctant to revisit it out of fear it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered. Some memories should keep their rosey varnish. But because I had this one on my slate, it was necessary to give it a new view. Maybe now that I have a kid who loves Santa (and I’m a little less jaded than if I watched this in my twenties), I was pleased to see it may even be better than I remembered.
As a middle-aged forty-something, I don’t really have a need or want to nostalgically reconnect with old films from my youth. Outside of some genuine true timeless flicks, a lot of them are a bit dicey and only a few live up to the happy memories. While I can often see why I loved them when I was little, it’s hard to watch and rewatch them as a tax-paying adult. But now that I have a kid of my own, I’ve started to share some moldy oldies with him to see how they go. Because my memories were so faded I felt like I got to see Santa Claus: The Movie for the first time again alongside my boy. I’d forgotten most of the origin story. I didn’t really remember Dudley Moore’s Patch. And I especially had forgotten how damn funny John Lithgow was as B.Z. - every time he threw on his devious toothy evil smile I had to laugh.
And the story is a lot of fun too. As I was reading about this movie to learn more about the production I stumbled upon Roger Ebert’s Review and it was quite a funny read. I may have enjoyed the film more, but he hit the nail when comparing it to Salkind's earlier production of Superman: The Movie. The two films have a very similar structure, cadence, and even some flying special effects - even though this film is decidedly more whimsical and silly. Right down to explaining his “belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly” there are fun nods to a variety of Santa-related easter eggs for kids and parents to pick out.
While the production design is incredible and the special effects are fantastic, Santa Claus: The Movie is also wonderfully entertaining thanks to the great cast. Mr. Lebowski himself David Huddleston made a terrific St. Nick belting out a vibrant “Ho-Ho-Ho!” with gusto. Again John Lithgow has always made a great villain and he hones in the sleazy businessman persona perfectly. Then we have Dudley Moore who gets to shine as the heart and soul of the film as Patch. Then we have a nice turn from Judy Cornwell as Mrs. Claus with Burgess Meredith dropping by for some sage Christmas wisdom. I don’t always love reconnecting with favorite films of my youth (especially if it’s been three decades and change) but this journey to the North Pole for 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie was well worth it.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD
Santa Claus: The Movie spreads Christmas joy to collectors thanks to a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from StudioCanal. This set is supposed to be a 2-Disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray release, but for this review, we were only issued a check disc, so we can’t offer insight to disc content on the Blu-ray or packaging. What we do know is the film flies in on a BD-100 disc. The disc loads to a country-specific main menu offering Germany or the United Kingdom. Basically, it’s a language choice and determines the main menu you see - so don’t pick German if you can’t read it very well. From there it’s off to the races.
Note - images are not disc-sourced. When we can we hope to circle back and pull 4K images and if possible a video sample.
Santa Claus: The Movie delivers a nice 4K present under the tree for physical media collectors with a lovely 2160p Dolby Vision (and HDR10) transfer. Some out there worry when they see StudioCanal’s involvement fearing some kind of revisionist color scheme, but we don’t have any weird teal or yellow push at all. Details are immaculate allowing you to fully appreciate every stitch in every elf’s shirt to Huddleston’s big bushy beard to the impressive animatronic reindeer (as well as the real ones). Film grain is apparent throughout with a varying degree of “noisiness.” Depending on the complexity of the shot in question or the number of optical effects in the scene, film grain can have a nice fine texture or be quite a bit more notable. I wouldn’t call it distracting necessarily, but those who hate visible film grain might have something to chat about.
The Dolby Vision HDR grading does a marvelous job highlighting the rich primaries, black levels, and crisp snowy whites. Between the red suits, yellow accents, and bright blue skies - the colors look lively and inviting. Skin tones are healthy and natural throughout with extra attention for Santa’s rosy cheeks. Black levels are nice and inky. Depending on the optical effects used, some sequences can be a bit close to crush but nothing to get too worried over. Given the amount of dreamy diffusion used whites can be brilliantly clean with some nice spectral highlights and accents. No severe compression artifacts and given the appearance of film grain, there’s no sign of smoothing or DNR.
On the audio side, Santa Claus: The Movie comes with a lovely LPCM 2.0 audio mix. The soundscape is quite lively throughout with a full range of elements. Dialog, sound effects, and the terrific Henry Mancini score all sound great. It’s a lively active mix with plenty of atmosphere. From Santa’s workshop to a cluttered commercial sound stage, there’s plenty of activity to give this mix a big vibrant feel through the channels. Levels are spot on without issue. Again that Mancini score is a great piece of work. I really wish this disc had an isolated score track.
Bonus features may not be the biggest batch of goodies ever assembled, but there are some nice treats in the package. The big highlight is the elaborate documentary The Making of Santa Claus which features Huddleston opening the piece in character with Dudley Moore navigating the show with his usual knack for deadpan self-deprecating humor. The behind-the-scenes shooting of the press conference is pretty interesting and the deleted scenes - while incomplete - are pretty fun. It’s especially humorous to see a raw scene with blowing snow and the loud fans drowning out the dialog.
A favorite for many, Santa Claus: The Movie is a delightful show. I hadn’t seen the film in decades, not since I was a wee tot. I remember enjoying it greatly as a kid and now I can enjoy it as an adult. I can see why so many love it to this day. It might have been a completely different film if John Carpenter had made it instead of Jeannot Szwarc! Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the film sparkles with a lovely Dolby Vision transfer, a great clean audio mix, and some nice bonus features to pick through. Without any plans for a domestic release any time soon, it’s a safe one to import. Highly Recommended