Region 2 (UK) Edition

Reviewed by Darrell Jones

Director Jeannot Szwarc

Featuring:  Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

David Huddleston as Santa

Dudley Moore as Patch


A long time coming to R2 DVD, this famous Christmas film – one that distinctly divides people as to its merits (or lack of them) – has finally made it onto our shores in the digital format courtesy of VCI and Cinema Club.

The film concerns the story of Santa Claus (The Big Lebowski’s David Huddleston), his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) and their induction into a world of magic and immortality, courtesy of a society of toy-making elves, headed by the enterprising rogue Patch (Dudley Moore). Secondary to the plot is a much superior yarn about a villainous toy manufacturer named BZ (a fine John Lithgow in his element), trying to exploit Patch’s naïve good will.

The biggest problem with this film, which infamously flopped upon its cinematic release in 1985, is the first half, focussing on Santa moving in with the elves. It's all terribly slow stuff, with very little happening bar character introductions and heavily milked establishing shots. This overlong first act is single-handedly responsible for the bad reputation the film has in some circles, demonstrated by the absolutely terrific latter half, taking it off into a totally different, and distinctly more riveting, direction. This B-plot makes for an enthralling romp. It’s sharply enhanced by John Lithgow, who delivers a charismatic performance as BZ, by being more than a little tongue-in-cheek with the role, and nipping any evident cheesiness in the bud. The subplot running throughout both halves of the film, about two children from radically opposite ends of the class system befriending each other, often seems to hold up the action rather than advance it in any way, but charming performances from child actors Christian Fitzpatrick and Carrie Kei Heim rescue their thin story.

Despite the numerous structural problems mentioned above, and a rushed (not to mention morally questionable) ending, Santa Claus The Movie never comes across as anything less than totally loveable fluff, with few films topping it for sheer Christmassy-ness. With some impressively picturesque special effects, and a beautiful score from Henry Mancini (only marred by some underwritten and somewhat clichéd songs), it does manage to stay watchable, despite its many slow-moving parts early on, and I certainly wouldn't recommend passing up the chance to see it if you've never watched it before.

Anya (Judy Cornwell) and Santa (David Huddleston)

Patch (Dudley Moore) and BZ (John Lithgow)


VCI/Cinema Club have made a commendably slick job of this release. This is especially surprising considering the budget price tag, the generally un-acclaimed status of the film, and it only being likely to sell during the Christmas period.

Whatever the circumstances, fans of this film certainly haven't been given coal in their stocking this year. It comes in a sparkling new transfer from Studio Canal, in a stunning anamorphic presentation in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with video bitrate averaging at 6Mb/sec and audio at a crisp and steady Dolby 2.0 stereo mix, encoded at 192kbps. Colours are clear, though the blacks can seem a little crushed at times (no doubt due to the low lighting present throughout much of the film). There are no noticeable artefacts, although the transfer still maintains the slight characteristic graininess from the original print (certainly preferable to the over-processed plastic look that a blast of DVNR would have resulted in). For a movie of this period and nature, the optical shots look just as pristine as the as-shot footage, which I'm assuming is down to terrific work on behalf of the original composite artists.


Extras are few, but substantial. Two trailers are presented for completeness, and they're certainly not unwelcome, but the star of the show is The Making of Santa Claus The Movie - a documentary screened on television at the time of the film's release. Lasting a full fifty minutes, this is a world apart from the sweetened, hard-sell featurettes that we're used to seeing go out on modern-day Saturday afternoon ITV, forming a rather revealing look at the production of the film in detail. It doesn't attempt to mask any tension on set, painting a picture of the filming as a generally unpleasant slog, which is rather surprising to see. The disc is almost worth buying just for this documentary, really, as it reveals the truth behind the production of an atypical eighties family film in a much more open and honest way than I've ever seen previously, and anyone who’s even the slightest bit interested in filmmaking should definitely try and see it. All the praise for this feature comes despite a bizarre linking narrative in which Huddleston is referred throughout as though he is ‘the real Santa Claus playing himself’, and a sickly Disney-style voiceover, all quite ignorable amongst the remarkable extracts of behind-the-scenes footage and interview segments. Oh, and look out for a clip of Dudley Moore performing his Die Flabbergast song, which will be instantly familiar to fans of his comedy LPs!

The only real downside to this documentary is its presentation on disc – it’s encoded as anamorphic pillarboxed widescreen, with black areas at the left and right sides of the screen. This is more than a little infuriating to those with 4:3 televisions. If a programme is made in 4:3 format, there’s no point presenting it in anamorphic format: this will only result in reduced picture resolution. It should have been encoded in 4:3. It would have been nice if it had been given a digital cleanup, too, but as the budget seems to have been relatively tight for this release I can understand why this didn’t happen.

Behind-the-scenes - Dudley Moore.




It’s worth comparing this R2 release to the existing R1 issue from Anchor Bay, which was released four years ago. The Anchor Bay edition features an audio commentary by Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc. Sadly this is not on the Cinema Club disc. Both versions feature the Making of… documentary: the Anchor Bay version is in 4:3 format. Anchor Bay’s disc also contains a 5.1 mix, though this is of questionable additional value considering the crispness of the original stereo mix (present on both editions). Reports indicate that this other version also contains a very nasty layer change, whereas the one on Cinema Club’s R2 is completely invisible. If you’re a UK resident, it’s really down to whether or not you want to hear Szwarc’s commentary as to which region to pick. If you feel you could do without this feature, then this R2 release is definitely the one to go for.












Unless explicitly stated, DVD screen captures used in the reviews are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be accurate representations of the DVD image.   While screen captures are generally in their correct aspect ratio, there will often have been changes made to the resolution, contrast, hue and sharpness, to optimise them for web display.

Site content copyright © J.A.Knott - 2002-2004