Release Date: November 29th
Box Office: $23,717,291
Those Salkind’s eh? What a legacy.
It’s not the best of legacies mind, more one of huge success tarnished by later failure and a sense of a potential not quite realised.
Make no mistake, the original Superman was one of those films that helped to change the film industry. Firstly by legitimising comic book films as a major player at the box office and also with the special effects it employed. The Salkind’s were also the first to shoot a film and its sequel back to back, with The Three Musketeers and its follow up The Four Musketeers. On that basis you could argue that The Matrix sequels were probably their fault but no matter.
By 1985 the wheels had come off somewhat. Superman II was another success, how much of that was down to Richard Donner’s influence before he was removed from the film is another matter. Superman III however was a failure both critically and commercially whichever matched by Supergirl, an attempt to refresh the franchise.
A film about Father Christmas released at Christmas would seem like a sure thing, a good way to get the box office tills ringing again.
Santa Claus shows the origins of Santa as a man rescued from freezing to death by the Vendequm, or rather magical elves who make toys. He is gifted immortality by Rocky’s manager Mickey because he loves children as much as the elves. So Santa Claus is born and is tasked to deliver the elves’ toys on Christmas Eve.
To sidetrack for a second, do we really need a Santa origin film? Do we really need to see the original man about to freeze to death? Anyways.
Centuries later, we’re about at the present day; Santa is becoming weary and promotes Patch, played by Dudley Moore, to be his assistant. He modernises production which leads to a batch of shoddy toys being delivered. He leaves the North Pole and ends up in New York, falling under the influence of greedy toy company executive B Z, played with relish by John Lithgow. Mix in a homeless kid, exploding candy canes and some ropey special effects and you have a holiday classic.
Those effects; whilst they were created by essentially the same crew that worked on the Superman films, by now they were showing their age. The animatronic reindeer are okay and they make a decent stab at showing Santa’s workshop. It still looks a bit rough around the edges, it doesn’t feel quite like the big budget Hollywood film it wants to be.
The story is a bit all over the place, the early part of the film not really gelling with the sequences in the modern world. The theme of anti-commercialism around Christmas is hammered home again and again, although the whole idea around Christmas II is enough to raise a chuckle. It feels bit and bloated and unfocussed, much in the same what that Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory does.
The casting of the film doesn’t help as it is so up and down. David Huddleston played Santa whilst Moore was the first cast as Patch the elf. B Z was offered to all and sundry as the Salkinds wanted to a similar level of casting as when they landed Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Hackman himself was offered the role as we as Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds and even Harrison Ford. Lithgow eventually landed the role and is probably the best thing of the film. Moore just doesn’t seem like a very elf like person so his casting, and the fact that he was top of the Salkind elf list, makes it a bit bemusing.
At this stage of his career he had split from Peter Cook and had made a splash in Hollywood with 10 and Arthur, the films following that didn’t exactly build on this. Santa Claus was another step on what was a slow decline for Moore until his death in 2002.
For the Salkinds the film was also an ending of sorts. They’d produce a couple more films after this but this was essentially it. The Superman franchise would be picked up by the Cannon Group and, somehow, found even lower depths to plumb. Does Santa Claus make for a good send off? Quality wise, probably not but it bears all of the Salkinds hallmarks so, in a way, it does make for a good place to finish.
One more thought; originally John Carpenter was approached to direct this film. Imagine how good that would have been.