|Another Christmas Movie??? A personal moment with DaViD…|
Christmas movies represent something very special to me. Every year (after Thanksgiving has passed, that’s part of the rule) I pull out my stack of Christmas DVD titles from their dedicated spot on the shelf and systematically watch them all before the New Year rolls in. Classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott), Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss’), The Bishop’s Wife, Miracle on 34 th Street, and (no Christmas movie list would be complete without it) A Christmas Story, have long held honorable positions on this list. These were films I grew up watching annually on television before their inception on DVD; They represent movies without which the Christmas season just wouldn’t be complete (my Meet Me in St. Louis laserdisc manages to get the dust brushed off of it too). Most of these films constitute memories of my childhood and so garner that added magical dimension that, through no fault of their own, newer films just can’t quite seem to catch hold of. Then again, let’s be honest folks…maybe it is their fault… Hollywood just can’t make’em like they used to. Our chance to find magic in Christmas movies can only look backward in time through sentimental eyes that romanticize the past. Newly produced “Christmas” movies are best avoided: they are squarely secular, don’t have the “heart” or sense of depth to them like movies from the good-ole-days, and in their vain attempt to entertain modern audiences they strip away the very soul of Christmas in favor of offering some new “interpretation” and so inevitably end up making a mockery of an otherwise sacred, special time.
At least that’s what I thought until I watched Santa Clause 2.
Surprising myself, for approximately two hours I experienced the joy of what it was like being seven years old again and feeling the sensation of a magic-filled movie going straight to the heart. It was mystifying--the simple, pure, and magical joy that brings with it that fresh sense of innocence you take for granted when you're young. SC2 is a genuinely charming and “sweet” movie that doesn’t loose substance by turning into a Halmark-card-cliché. Yes, folks, take it from me, if Santa Clause 2 can rekindle my jaded emotional sensibilities (imagine Blanch taking a long drag on her cigarette pausing only to take a sip of a vodka as she types), maybe it can work for you too. Santa Caluse 2 is officially now added to my Christmas-Season-Must-Watch list.
Just what makes this film so special? After watching it completely and investigating the special features of this DVD, my suspicion is that we have Director Michael Lembeck to thank for it (THANKS).
A prerequisite to Santa Clause 2 is…well…Santa Clause 1. So before you plunk your new Santa Cause 2 DVD in the tray, do the experience justice by making sure you’ve watched the prequel: The Santa Clause. Tim Allen has the distinction of taking the lead in both these films and he’s wonderful. Just to be fair, in my enthusiasm to praise SC2 I did not intend to cast a negative light on the original Santa Clause film incase you’re thinking to your self: “Hey! I thought the first movie was good too!”. TSC is quite entertaining in its own right and I’m sure many of you (myself included) consider it well worth watching. I own the WS disc of “The Santa Clause SE” for this very reason (careful…available in P/S so look carefully when buying). IMO, however "good" TSC is, SC2 is even better.
Some minor spoilers are inevitable so read the rest of this section only if thusly prepared…
SC2 picks up the action where TSC leaves off. We’ve got our new Santa (Tim Allen) managing things up at the North Pole and doing a fine job. Then comes trouble…the fine print of the Become-the-new-Santa card reveals “The Mrs. Clause” specifying that Santa has exactly one month left to find a Mrs. Clause (get married) or else the clock is going to do a stroke-of-midnight-carriage-back-to-a-pumpkin number on him. Complicating things further, his son has managed to get onto the “naughty” list (yes, he checked it twice to be sure) and so Santa heads back “home” to try to work things out before time runs out.
I know on paper none of this sounds particularly inspired or moving. Where the magic comes in is the way Director Michael Lembeck delivers it. I’ve identified 3 key elements that I think are part of its success (I’m sure there are more):
- [*]Despite all the glitz and sparkle of the visuals, sets, and costumes, the character acting in this film is spot-on and remarkably believable. You really feel these characters, and you trust them with take-it-for-granted sense of faith you'd typically associate with a more serious drama. And these characters feel like real people...not some script-writer's puppet or formulaic invention. Even characters that at first would seem to be the typically cardboard-cut-out types like the “hardened and bitter female school principal” (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) surprise you by revealing a substantial level of depth and dimensionality. Comedies (and this is a comedy) often don’t bother to try to create characters who preserve a strong sense of realism like this. I was very impressed with the acting team (and Lembeck’s handling of them).
[*]The screenplay is good. What good is it to have good actors if the words they’re saying sound cheesy and lame? (think Phantom Menace…just had to say it, sorry…back on track now...) No scripting weakness plagues this film. Oh no. SC2 is well-written which, in combination with good acting, creates a genuinely moving experience for the viewer.
[*]Lembeck is a man with heart, and his love for this film creates a sense of magic that is tangible. There are scenes that are truly beautiful in this movie. Beautiful at a very deep level—a level of rich human experience. The scene that touched me most (some soggy tissues to prove it) was (spoiler warning…) when Allen attends the school-staff Christmas Party which is populated with adults who’ve lost touch with the Spirit of Christmas. Whipping up a bit of Santa magic, Allen begins to distribute gifts to each of the faculty members. As each gift is opened, it contains a coveted/wished-for toy from that person’s childhood, which rips right to the emotional core of the individual as well as you, the person watching. The power and simple beauty of this moment is on the level of Cary Grant pointing out the story behind the Roman coin to the old professor who's lost his inspiration (The Bishop’s Wife), or when Jimmy Stuart’s friends come pouring into his living room with donations to save his family’s firm and personal reputation (Wonderful Life), or when Linus takes the spotlight as the house-lights dim and silences the chaos of the floundering Peanut’s Christmas pageant by sharing with everyone the true meaning of Christmas. Magical moments like that are worth watching an entire movie to experience, and Santa Clause 2 has got a few of them.
Thought I’d never get to this point didn’t you. SC2 demonstrates what good DVD mastering/compression can deliver. On my 16x9 direct-view monitor, colors are rich and vivid without any noise. Detail is clear and crisp and the image maintains a somewhat soft-film-like character while at the same time coming across with a nice sense of depth / 3-dimensionality. Black level is strong and grayscale seems to track from dark to light without any distracting banding, digital noise, or blocking. I can find absolute no trace of ringing from any artificial edge-sharpening in either the vertical or horizontal plane (maybe those guys at THX have finally figured out what we’ve been talking about ).
This film is gorgeously filmed and it looks sumptuous as it should on this DVD. Many of the scenes and sets have a lot of mid-to-background picture information that detail comes across cleanly. I’m certain that a nice hi-def transfer would look even better but from just watching the DVD I’m not left feeling like I’m missing out. Good job Disney.
Warning! A separate P/S version of this film is also available to buy carefully!
Santa Clause 2 has got the obligatory 5.1 DD sound, and manages to make legitimate use of the rear surround channels that far exceeds the typical non-action genre film soundtrack. The Elves’ workshop comes to you with an abundance of sounds finding their way to your rear speakers and the multi-channel presentation really adds to the sense of involvement with the listener. The musical score is well recorded and sounds rich and dynamic, and there is a nice sense of width to the front soundstage. Bass seems solid (mostly in musical score, but also comes in during effects) and there’s a relaxed sense of openness to the general sound.
The only real flaw I can detect is an occasional distortion in the vocal track that sounds like the microphones or recording tape got overloaded during session recording. It only happens a few times when someone talks loudly or yells and it’s not any cause to call 1-800-Disney and complain, but I do need to mention it here (and knock-off a point in our final sound score to reflect).
Putting it all together …
After making such fuss over how much I enjoyed this movie earlier I’ll try to tone it down here, but I do gotta say that the extras on this disc impressed me about as much as the film itself and for a particular reason: They keep in character with the Santa Story…to the point that they purport that this film was shot not with “actors”, but with the real legendary characters (and locations) themselves. Yes, folks, you can imagine the logistical nightmare Disney underwent to get through all that red tape and truck all that equipment up to the Toy Factory at the North Pole.
Not only does this “angle” add a humorous and entertaining second-level to the bonus material for adults, but it perpetuates the “magic” you’re left with after having watched the film and doesn’t dispel any Santa myths for the youngsters to watch it with you.
- [*]Director’s Commentary. If you had any doubts about how much Director Michael Lembeck truly loves this movie, you certainly won’t after spending some time with him listening to his running commentary. In several of the key-scenes I auditioned he really gets into the meat of his movie making and what he was thinking and why he made the decisions that he made (edit: though in many "lesser" scenes he spends more time having fun perpetuating the "reality" of the whole Santa/North-Pole Elves-workshop thing and doesn't focus so much on the process of actual filmmaking--fun for the kids but probably not as much for the adult film-critic). This man is the real deal and loves what he does. Listening to him talk about his movie makes you feel it too. As if I hadn’t gone through enough tissues watching those “touching” scenes in context during the movie…I found myself reaching for them again listing to Limbeck’s talk about them! If you make it through the “gift giving” scene listening to his commentary and don’t cry you’re a stronger man than I am (or your made of stone).
[*]We get seven deleted scenes with or without the director’s commentary. Honestly, many of these scenes were beautifully crafted and would have really enriched the final film…some having been cut only for “time” reasons. Lembeck…count me in for a director’s cut where you branch them back into the movie! I hope in the future more directors take a “Lord of the Rings” approach and start to view the DVD medium as a chance to complete their “true vision” for their film rather than feeling obliged to maintain the same compromises (like run-time) they felt they needed to make for the theater. In any case, thanks Disney/Lembeck for providing us with these great deleted scenes in one way or another. I’ve “imagined” them back in sequence in the film myself for the time being.
[*]Gag reel. Cute but not earth-shattering.
[*]Operation Toy Box: Save Santa. Didn’t check it out. Hey…the disc is out now so you get and let everyone else know the scoop.[/b]
[*]True Confessions of the Legendary Figures. This is a real hoot. Some of the characters who participate in this film are Mother Nature, Father Time, the Easter Bunny and oft mis-represented (as you’ll discover) Tooth Fairy. This featurette assembles interviews with these legendary figures (remember, they’re real) to discuss issues like what they liked most about participating in the film or what they found challenging. I challenge you not to laugh outloud.
[*]Director’s Tour of Elfsburg Featurette. Take a behind the scenes tour of the Elves’ toy factory. Yes, again all “in character” with the whole Santa thing and very entertaining. I think kids will especially enjoy this one.[/list]
In my humble opinion, there’s a new Christmas Classic for Parents, children, and everyone else to enjoy for years to come and become part of a family tradition. If you enjoy the occasional charming Christmas story, or love Tim Allen, or just want to test-drive a seasonal comedy that’s got some real heart, you heard it here: