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Blu-ray Reviews

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians Blu-ray review



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#1 of 21 MatthewA

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Posted October 19 2012 - 04:12 PM

When two Martian children (Pia Zadora and Chris Month) become fixated on Earth TV broadcasts about Santa Claus (John Call), the planet’s leaders, who fear his influence on the culture, kidnap him and bring him there to build toys for the children. A Christmas classic to Bad Movie lovers everywhere, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a ridiculously inept, relatively low-budget clunker whose clunkiness provides some amusement. Kino’s corrected Blu-ray features a transfer of the uncut version of the film from a 16mm TV print with a smattering of unrelated ephemeral films as supplement.





Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Studio: Kino (originally distributed by Embassy Pictures)

Year: 1964

Rated: NR

Length: 81 Minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (MAR)

Resolution: 1080p

Languages: English Mono

Subtitles: None

MSRP: $24.95

Film Release Date: November 14, 1964

Disc Release Date: October 30, 2012

Review Date: October 19, 2012 (updated December 21, 2012 to reflect corrected pressing)

“S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S,

Hooray for Santy Claus!”


The Movie:

2.5/5 (add a point for camp value)


Two of the most significant events to influence post-WWII American culture were the space race with the Soviet Union and the rise of a little box known as television. The growing interest in worlds beyond our own led Hollywood—as well as the growing pool of low-budget filmmakers with no alliances to any studio—to churn out science fiction movies with what seemed like the same frequency with which they used to churn out westerns. Meanwhile, the novelty and popularity of television made social critics fear its effects on future generations. In 1964, the same year Marshall McLuhan declared, “the medium is the message,” Joseph E. Levine, whose Embassy Pictures first brought Federico Fellini’s to American movie theaters, produced Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a film that tried to combine those elements with a Christmas theme. What it is almost defies explanation, but here goes:


Opening with a kiddie-rock jingle that will worm its way into your memory if you let it, the story starts when two Martians, Bomar (Chris Month) and Girmar (Pia Zadora) become obsessed with the Earth broadcasts of KID TV they receive. This station has managed to send a reporter (Ned Wertimer) to the North Pole to interview Santa Claus (John Call). How a small station not affiliated with a network could afford a North Pole correspondent is anyone’s guess. When the children’s clumsy sitter Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) tells their parents, Momar (Leila Martin) and Kimar (Leonard Hicks), how captivated their children are with Santa, the Martian elders fear his negative influence on their tightly controlled culture. Martians, who have the convenient ability to breathe oxygen, are fed pills instead of food and are educated through machines that implant knowledge directly into their brains. Such a culture allows little room for creativity, imagination or freedom. When Chochem (Carl Don), the oldest and wisest of the Martians—which isn’t saying much—explains to them about Santa Claus, whom he had known about for centuries yet said nothing, they decide to look for a Santa Claus figure of their own to get the little Martians away from the boob tube. With so many different Santas to choose from, whether in department stores or on street corners, the Martians can’t figure out which one is the real one. Rather than ask Chochem, or even Bomar and Girmar, where Santa actually lives, they kidnap two children, Billy (Victor Stiles) and Betty (Donna Conforti), who tell them where the real Santa lives. The Martians kidnap Santa and force him to make toys for Martian children, and chaos ensues.


Santa Claus Conquers the Martians had spent most of its life languishing in the obscurity of UHF TV station movie shows until 1991, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 showcased it in order to lampoon it. While the IMDb, where this film has appeared on the Bottom 100 List for years, is not the last word on financial matters related to individual films, it claims the film cost $200,000 to make. In comparison, Ed Wood’s magnum opus Plan 9 From Outer Space, made a few years earlier, was said to have cost $60,000, while the average cost of a Hollywood film in 1964 was around $4,000,000). But as sloppy as Ed Wood’s movies are, he had his own unique primitivistic style. Nicholas Webster’s direction is mostly artless, save for an opening shot that pans from the TV to the glassy-eyed Martian children. Exactly where did that money go?


It certainly didn’t go towards getting the sets not to look stagy and fake. And it couldn’t possibly have gone towards make-up that would make the Martians look like something other than guacamole-covered humans clad in leotards and tights. And the special effects budget was only enough to buy a spaceship that looked like a hair curler with push pins attached


The money certainly didn’t go towards hiring anyone who could have given the script any scientific accuracy. Huge chunks of the film take place in the North Pole, yet the people there are not exactly wearing what I would call “not-freeze-to-death” clothing. Despite its furtive attempts at a mild satire of the commonly held fear that television was going to turn people in to drooling, mindless zombies, screenwriter Glenville Mareth treats the audience as if that ship has sailed already. Its satire falls flat because its understanding of the Spirit of Christmas is limited to mass media images of Santa Claus. Worse, the plot is stupid with a capital “S,” and it gets progressively stupider in every scene until it makes Jaws: The Revenge resemble a widescreen David Lean epic with a Robert Bolt screenplay. Occasionally, that stupidity provides a few laughs, but they’re few and far between. By the last act, it degenerates into a tiresome mish-mash. Its climactic battle between Martians and toys bears more than a little resemblance to Walt Disney’s version of Babes in Toyland, and may have had at least an indirect influence on Toys, Barry Levinson’s 1992 fiasco.


Filmed on soundstages in New York, many of the actors come from Broadway, but their performances fluctuate between stiffness and mannered theatricality. John Call provides no more or less than the required Christmas cheer as Santa Claus, but the children cannot act at all; Donna Conforti is more wooden than Pinocchio, while 1980s B-minus-movie queen Pia Zadora isn’t much better in her film debut. She’s not the only one who would go onto bigger and better things, though with all due respect, there was nowhere to go but up. Bill McCutcheon, who played Uncle Wally on Sesame Street in the 1980s, plays Dropo, the buffoonish “comic relief” character that ends up saving the day, like a man possessed. Fans of The Jeffersons may get a kick out of seeing Ned “Ralph the Doorman” Wertimer out of his doorman’s uniform and in a fur parka interviewing Santa Claus. At least they put effort into their performances.


Yet underneath all that, there are some perceptive observations about the effects of mass media and the growth of machine-made toys at the expense of handmade ones. Furthermore, the film’s unintentional laughs will have you laughing loudly and heartily.


The Video:

3/5


The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which can’t possibly be the OAR; by that time, only television and movies shot in 16mm used that ratio. However, after Kino  recalled and replaced the old version of the disc, which was missing 12 minutes of the film, they stated their transfer came from a 16mm TV print. Luckily, they were able to make it look palatable The color is warm and saturated, though fleshtones veer to an unnatural shade of orange sometimes; where does one get a tan in the North Pole? Highlights are overblown, while shadows are fairly deep. The print’s age and frequency of use is equally apparent, as Kino has left in the dirt and scratches.


The Audio:

2.5/5


Presented in a mono 2.0 LPCM track, it’s an accurate representation of a problematic source: the print’s optical track. Dialogue and music are compressed and boxy, and pops and hisses are sometimes audible.


The Extras:

2/5


All material is 1080p and 16x9 unless otherwise noted.


Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival (46:21, 4x3): A ragtag assortment of rare Christmas shorts and ephemera, most of which revolve around Santa Claus, ranging from two Max Fleischer cartoons (Christmas Comes But Once a Year and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), Howdy Doody’s Christmas, a Harriet Nelson Kodak commercial, several movie theater snipes wishing patrons a Merry Christmas (one with Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop), and a Christmas Seals ad bringing Abbott and Costello together for the only time in film history. This feature could benefit greatly from the option to watch each one individually.


—Trailer (1:57): A trailer for a modern re-release paired with several other Christmas shorts.


—Stills Gallery: 8 production shots.


Final Score:

3/5


Clumsy, wooden and ridiculous, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians mines more laughs out of its limited budget and talent pool than its attempts at satirizing TV culture and the machine age. The film’s main bonus feature, 46 minutes of rare Christmas shorts, is not exactly relevant to the film and lacks an option for individual viewing, but I applaud Kino for responding to consumer complaints about the disc when it was released in October.




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#2 of 21 bgart13

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Posted October 19 2012 - 04:31 PM

12 minutes missing? Sheesh. I dug out my dvd to check its runtime -- 1hr 20m. So yeah, 12 minutes. What the heck is that? And why no proper OAR? I know they worked with Holland Releasing for this, but Kino should've known better - yes, even for a movie this bad. :P EDIT: From Bob Furmanek's OAR thread: Posted Image

#3 of 21 haineshisway

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Posted October 19 2012 - 04:40 PM

The reviewer is correct - the one thing you can absolutely count on is the imdb being incorrect. Why? Because anyone can get anything posted there - that site is riddled with so many ridiculous errors it's not even funny, although some idiot posting that this film cost $200,000 IS funny.

#4 of 21 Michael Elliott

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Posted October 19 2012 - 05:07 PM

It's strange that someone like Kino would release a print that is missing 12-minutes. When I saw the theatrical re-release last year I didn't notice anything missing and the print they showed was actually the best I had ever seen the film. Yes, it was still a mess but it had the best color. The extras here are what was shown before the movie so this is certainly strange on their part.

#5 of 21 Radioman970

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Posted October 19 2012 - 11:45 PM

Well, darn... .
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#6 of 21 Chuck Pennington

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Posted October 20 2012 - 12:05 AM

The imdb.com is certainly not a reliable source for much of anything, and yet they removed my assertion that the SWEET CHARITY DVD is missing a minute and a half of footage in a key scene! I included a transcript of the scene from other video releases and a description of where the cut occurs. It was on the imdb.com listing or the film at one point, but now it is gone.

#7 of 21 atcolomb

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Posted October 20 2012 - 03:26 PM

Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a great job making fun of the movie and that will be the only way i will see this.

#8 of 21 Radioman970

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Posted October 20 2012 - 11:53 PM

Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a great job making fun of the movie and that will be the only way i will see this.

No no... watch it with somebody who has no or just vague knowledge of MST3K. Do all the MST3K joke and you'll have them rolling, you'll be the kind of comedy! :D
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#9 of 21 Lord Dalek

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Posted October 21 2012 - 12:02 PM

"What a dopey looking robot." "Yeah even the polar bear was better than this."



#10 of 21 mattCR

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Posted October 21 2012 - 01:03 PM

Someone above nailed it.. just remember the MST3k jokes and do it yourself.   Damn, do I miss Joel, Mike & The Bots.


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#11 of 21 SilverWook

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Posted October 21 2012 - 02:20 PM

Joel revisited the movie with Cinematic Titanic a couple years back.

#12 of 21 bgart13

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Posted October 21 2012 - 04:02 PM

I checked Holland Releasing's website, their listed runtime just for the feature is 86 mins. Something is rotten here... And not just the movie! :D

#13 of 21 Russell G

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Posted October 22 2012 - 07:32 AM

I'm mostly surprised that Kino dropped the ball so hard on the aspect ratio. They're typically pretty reliable. I think they put out the Phantom of the Opera bluray last year with a goofed up audio track and did a disc exchange. Hopefully that will happen here for the weirdo's who actually buy this one. :P


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#14 of 21 MatthewA

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Posted October 22 2012 - 12:41 PM

Originally Posted by haineshisway 

The reviewer is correct - the one thing you can absolutely count on is the imdb being incorrect. Why? Because anyone can get anything posted there - that site is riddled with so many ridiculous errors it's not even funny, although some idiot posting that this film cost $200,000 IS funny.


I can assure you I've never knowingly submitted false info to IMDb. But they do seem to let a lot of things slide.


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#15 of 21 JoHud

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Posted October 22 2012 - 02:06 PM

I'm mostly surprised that Kino dropped the ball so hard on the aspect ratio. They're typically pretty reliable. I think they put out the Phantom of the Opera bluray last year with a goofed up audio track and did a disc exchange. Hopefully that will happen here for the weirdo's who actually buy this one. :P

That was Image Entertainment. However, Kino did release the recent Birds of Paradise blu-ray with over-processed and distorted audio which (as far as I know) hasn't been corrected.

#16 of 21 Russell G

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Posted October 22 2012 - 02:12 PM

Originally Posted by JoHud 


That was Image Entertainment. However, Kino did release the recent Birds of Paradise blu-ray with over-processed and distorted audio which (as far as I know) hasn't been corrected.

Ah okay, I always get them mixed up.


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#17 of 21 bgart13

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Posted October 23 2012 - 04:05 PM

Got my copy today, and it is indeed 4:3 and 69 minutes. I can live with 4:3, I suppose (this isn't CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN :P ), but the 69 minutes is pretty inexcusable. I've posted to Kino's FB a few times and emailed as well...no response. I've just sent an email to Holland Releasing, hoping they will respond (they did well by me last year when I sent a message about their theatrical release this disc is based on).

#18 of 21 SeanAx

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Posted October 26 2012 - 09:18 AM

Kino is recalling the disc and will reannounce at a later date.


I received this press  release today:


Posted Image
 
 

New York, NY - October 26, 2012 -  Due to a manufacturing error that resulted in a truncated version of the film, Kino Lorber is recalling the Blu-ray and DVD screeners for SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, originally set to street on October 30th. It was always the intention of Kino Lorber to release a full version of the film.

Posted Image
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Kino Lorber plans to reissue the film's DVD and Blu-ray at its full running time (81 minutes) before the end of the year, and a new street date will be announced sometime soon.

 

[clip]

 

In regards to the film's aspect ratio, that will remain at 1:33.1. Due to the rarity of materials available, the master (from Holland Releasing) of Kino Lorber's release of SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS was created from a LPP 16mm answer print, sourced from Europe. Since this 16mm answer print was originally created for television, it is presented in a 1.33:1, 4x3 aspect ratio.

About Kino Lorber Posted Image

Kino Lorber curates high quality, critically-acclaimed films for discerning audiences delivering the classics of yesterday and tomorrow. 

Sean Axmaker
DVD/Blu-ray columnist for MSN Entertainment (http://social.entert...drone-blog.aspx)
Editor of Parallax View (http://parallax-view.org)
Member of the Online Film Critics Society (http://www.rottentom...com/author-229/)

#19 of 21 Russell G

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Posted October 26 2012 - 09:25 AM

Refreshing to see that they're willing to acknowledge and fix the mistake. Well done Kino!


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#20 of 21 bgart13

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Posted October 26 2012 - 09:42 AM

Glad to hear it. I was afraid they weren't acknowledging the problem, but this is really cool! :D Now then, do I hold onto my copy or send it back, or...? :confused:





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