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The Santa Clause
Widescreen Special Edition

review by Zach B

 

 

Rating: PG (For A Few Crude Moments)

Running Time: 97 minutes

Starring: Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson and Peter Boyle

Written by: Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick

Directed by: John Pasquin

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: So You Wanna Be An Elf?, Santa's Helper game, Making Santa Snacks With Wolfgang, Sneak Peeks, THX Optimizer. DVD-ROM: Weblinks, 25 Days Of Christmas, Write A Letter To Santa

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, THX-Certified, Scene Selections (17 Scenes)

Released: October 29th, 2002

 

 

Holiday movies are tough to pull off. They're usually geared toward that winter time season and winter time season only, so you only see them in theater around that time (and then they debut on video 10-11 months later to cash in on the NEXT seaosn) and being played non-stop on television. But there are only a few of these holiday themed movies that have stood the test of time, and those are the ones being played over and over each and every November and December. It's not all the others are bad (well, some are) - it's just that certain ones still strike a chord with each passing generation. You know, films like "Miracle On 34th Street" (NOT the remake), "It's A Wonderful Life" and from a more recent time period, "A Christmas Story." But when "The Santa Clause" debuted in theaters in November 1994, many didn't know what to expect. The film was a smash hit, but would it be a classic holiday film? In my opinion, it has become one. Writing these a little over eight years since its original debut, "The Santa Clause" is the definite holiday movie for modern times.

"The Santa Clause" tells the story of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), a divorced father and rather successful business man. Scott has to take care of his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) on Christmas. Charlie is not excited about this arrangment and despite Scott's best efforts, he really can't hold his son's interest. Charlie also doubts Scott's Christmas spirit, but all of that changes on Christmas Eve when Charlie wakes up after hearing something on the roof. Scott goes to check it out, calls out to the stranger and makes him slip and kill himself. The man on the roof? The one and only Santa Claus. Yes, for real.

After checking out his calling card with a clause on it and putting on the suit, Scott is now under contract to be the next Santa. While this results in some more bonding with his son, it also creates friction with his ex-wife (Wendy Crewson), his business life and all sorts of conflicts as Scott gradually transforms and trains to be the big guy. And yes, other problems arise, but those seem natural. The end result is a surprisingly witty and endearing movie.

As great as "It's A Wonderful Life" and all the other classic holiday movies are, we all still have to realize times have changed. "The Santa Clause"'s setting of present day 1990s is definitely perfect. Honestly, I can't recally any other holiday movie that involves divorce and broken families. While that is not exactly the point of the film, it's a topic that is definitely covered throughout and the film's ending is a nice parallel to that even. It's also a fine reflection of our times and something more and more kids - and families - can relate to.

What makes "The Santa Clause" a classic holiday movie is its themes that reflect the human spirit. Any good holiday movie has this and that's why they are still so memorable. We can reflect off themes as they make us realize things about people and ourselves, which is what "The Santa Clause" does in a sleek manner. The film never becomes preachy or corny or rubs anything of moral value in our face. Instead, it lets us experience characters realize the power of believing in the impossible. Still, what I always took away from "The Santa Clause" is that it's important to put things in perspective and get your priorties straight. Scott must realize there's more to life than his work (pre-Santa) and that despite being divorced, family still counts and should always come first. This is definitely something we should take to heart.

Still, what also makes "The Santa Clause" a memorable holiday film is its clever premise. It still is amusing having a normal guy slowly turn into the guy, as well as the anxiety and pressure that goes with it. The film's wit and sarcasm toward the subject, as well as how Scott's change is a catalyst for everything in his life, is very well done. There are a lot of genuine moments that are hilarious, not to mention a lot of funny one-liners. The script is well developed and has an even sense as all of the changes happen to Scott. We actually do end up caring for all the main characters and what happens in the end. The characters have a lot of life in them and we really do get to know them, and relate to most of them, throughout the movie. That is another thing that is key to the film's success and makes it all the better.

John Pasquin and frequent Tim Allen collaborator does a nice job directing the movie. All the major points are highlighted through Scott's unique journey, not to mention it is well shot and you walk away with something in your heart at the end of this breezy adventure. The North Pole sets and other aspects of the production design do look nice and have a fine storybook feel, while Tim Allen's heavy makeup is also pretty convincing. Still, if there's one thing that doesn't sit right, it's the special effects. The blue screen work sure seems cheesy. It did then, and compared to today's standards, it's even worse. No matter I guess, they're not laughably bad or too distracting or anything like that.

The film's performances are flawless and well structured. Tim Allen, who already experienced much success on the small screen with his hit sitcom "Home Improvment" gives what I think his best screen role (live action one, at least) and surely his breakthrough film role. Allen's portrays Scott Calvin in a mesmerizing manner. While you can certainly feel the sarcasm drip all over him, he perfectly capture a man who is reluctant to change into Santa. There is a biterness in Allen that is a lot of fun to watch. While he nails his comedic timing, a testament to his abilities is also how he changes the character as he grows into Santa. Tim Allen definitely makes the movie work in such an excellent fashion.

Other supporting performances such as Wendy Crewson as his ex-wife, Judge Reinhold as her new husband and Peter Boyle are all quite good and strong (it's nice to see Reinhold in only a semi-dopey role). David Krumholtz is certainly lively as head elf Bernard, while Eric Lloyd as Charlie is certainly energetic and you really believe the relationship he has with Allen. In all, "The Santa Clause" is definitely a fun, strong movie that while is holiday-based, certainly has a theme that really resonates. If you've never seen it, then what are you waiting for? Turn on the heat this season, pop it in and enjoy.

 

Definitely an improvement over the first DVD release, "The Santa Clause" features a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is THX-certified. It's not perfect or anything, but it is pretty good. The main problems with the transfer is that there are blemishes, specks of dirt and other little nicks that pop up a good amount and the image itself is quite soft. There is some edge enhancment on the top and bottom of the image, as well as some pretty noticiable shimmering and noise here and there. Still, there are a lot of bright spots to the transfer. Detail is effective, black levels are strong and fleshtones look quite good. Color saturation is also very nice, be it the whites and Christmas-esque colors of the North Pole or the dull schemes of suburbia and the real world. The transfer does hold up and it's nice to see the film in anamorphic widescreen, but it definitely could have been better.

 

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix in English is the same one as in the first DVD release. So yep, you have the same lackluster and disappointing sound mix. You'd think a film like "The Santa Clause" would utilize a bunch of surrounds, but you're wrong. The mix does not feature much in the way of surrounds except in a few key scenes, like good old Scott taking his first reindeer ride or those elves with jet packs towards the film's climax. The nice score fills up the channels nicely, but I was in disbelief in that there aren't really any subwoofer effects. Also included is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a French Dolby Surround track, English subtitles, Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.

 

I'm sorry, but what's given here certainly does NOT constitute for a special edition. The film definitely does deserve a real special edition on the making-of it rather than just fluff Christmas-themed features. I guess it's a special edition in comparison to the first release, but there's not much here at all and it's really not that great. I still think it'd be cool if there was a Vista series edition of this film, but it seems this release is to cash in on the sequel.

So You Wanna Be An Elf? is some silly and pointless feature that acts as some recuirtment for elves, hosted by Bernard, AKA David Krumholtz (the Jewish elf... or so I think). It's basically him playing with the minds of elves in trying to hire them, and then it becomes a making-of sorta deal which explains some of the process in making movies. You get to see footage on the set and putting on the make up. It lasts six and a half minutes, and while it's weird, that makes it unintentionally hilarious.

Santa's Helper is an annoying little game where you guide Santa around to deliver presents and Making Santa Snacks With Wolfgang is a cooking feature hosted by renowned chef Wolfgang Puck. Complete with a disclaimer (because children cooking is dangerous!), you can view the man making three recipies (pizza, cookies and cocoa). Film clips and behind-the-scenes footage are intergrated into this "Elf TV" special. It also serves as an ad for Puck's book, but can you blame him for that? So yeah, if you want some cooking segments, here you go. Also included are text recipies (I guess you can write them down and jump back and forth between your DVD player and kitchen to see what to do) plus a cooking measurements guide.

The rest of the extras aren't much. We have some Sneak Peeks for "The Santa Clause 2," "The Jungle Book 2," "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas," "Lilo & Stitch," "The Country Bears," "Inspector Gadget 2," "Winnie The Pooh: Very Merry Pooh Year," "Atlantis II: Milo's Return" and finally, "101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure." (Phew!). On the DVD-ROM side, there a weblinks, a weird "25 Days Of Christmas" calendar thing and a "Write A Letter To Santa" e-mail program. Obviously, these are aimed for the kiddies and those who want to be exposed to more Disney advertising. Oh, and there's also a THX Optimizer.

 

"The Santa Clause" is truly a solid, fun modern holiday movie that will always remain a further showcase for Tim Allen's comedic talents. It's just too bad to report this DVD edition is sorely disappointing. The extras are some of the most superfluous yet I've seen on a DVD, the 5.1 mix is the same as last time (read: mediocre) and while the transfer is THX certified and anamorphic this time around, it still could have been better. The high retail price doesn't help either, so unless you're really into the film, you might as well pass. Maybe they'll re-release this one again when the sequel hits DVD, hmm?