Friday, December 24

Movie Review - Santa Clause Conquers the Martians

    What better way to get in the Christmas spirit than to watch a sci-fi movie about Santa Clause killing aliens? Well, this movie has nothing to do with that. Santa Clause Conquers the Martians was released in 1964 making it the second oldest movie I've reviewed on this blog (the oldest being Plan 9 from Outer Space.) It's about Santa being kidnapped by Martians to bring joy to their joyless children.

(If I had to wear an outfit like that, I'd be joyless too)

    The movie's pretty silly, but if you're in the right mood it can be entertaining. It's both intentionally and unintentionally funny, which is a first for this blog. There are several unintentionally disturbing scenes, but they aren't that bad and pass by quickly. For me it was a nice break from some of the painful movies I've been watching lately, but it's hard to recommend. Still, it could be worth checking out for general audiences since it still contains the charm that many Christmas classics share. With that, lets get started.

    The movie starts with the theme song "Hurray for Santa Clause" over its opening credits. Rather than trying to explain it to you, I should just show you.

(Interesting credits. Two generations of John K. Wright and a Wardrobe Mistress)

    After that, a reporter named Mr. Anderson shows up at Santa's workshop and talks about the matrix. OK, he doesn't do that, but he barges in and starts asking Santa questions. Santa seems all happy and excited to answer the reporters questions despite saying that he's really busy at the moment. The elves don't even seem to notice as they casually work away - yup, they look like they're working as hard as a beach lifeguard in the winter. You know in most places, simply barging into an office building or factory to interview the CEO/head manager will get you kicked out fast and you'll probably never meet your target, so either the north pole has very poor security or Santa is very easily distracted. I'm guessing both.

    Anyway, the reporter asks Santa if the rumors that he's using a rocket powered sleigh is true or not. A rocket powered sleigh sounds awesome, but of course Santa says no, he's flying the old-fashioned way. Mrs.Clause then shows up and urges Santa to get back to work. Santa tells her that they're on live television, so she laughs like a dork and walks off. Yes, I'm so glad she made an appearance that was so vitally important to the movie. Santa then shows the reporter some of the new toys they're working on, like a toy rocket that's fueled by jet fuel - HOLY CRAP I WANT ONE OF THOSE! Not sure that's very safe for the children though. Another toy is a figure of a martian.

    "I'd hate to meet a creature like that on a dark night," The reporter comments. "I wonder if there really are people on mars, well if there are I hope they have someone like you up there Santa to bring joy and good cheer to all the Martian children." Foreshadowing? No, it doesn't count when the title says Santa will conquer the Martians, although this overjoyed man seems far too happy and dumb to conquer anyone so I already have my doubts. Santa continues his tour as the camera zooms in on the Martian toy. We then cut to, OH MY GOSH - a Martian! The Martian looks exactly like the toy.

(Just...look at these outfits - I got nothing.)

    One Martian, Kimar, is looking for another. He shouts "Where are you?" Before he finds him, sleeping on a chair right in the middle of the room. I can see how he was so hard to find; I lose my bed all the time. Kimar points some cane at his fellow Martian and shoots some beam at him to wake him up. Do all Martians have some fear of touching each other? That's a pretty useless invention there. Oh yeah, the other wakes up laughing because this beam tickles people too. The other Martian, Dropo, explains that he wasn't really sleeping but he was practicing. Apparently he's been having trouble sleep...what? Practice sleeping? I never expected that one.

    They talk about how Kimar's children aren't getting enough nutrition or sleep either and that they keep watching Earth TV programs. They must get good reception on Mars if they can receive Earth based television signals at that distance considering TV signals back then used air waves to broadcast. Oh no, we're heading into "The Core" territory here. Not really, that's the only truly bad science here, and it's not trying to be a sci-fi so I'll let it pass.

    Kimar walks into the other room where his kids are watching Santa Clause's interview on TV. The kids ask Kimar what a dog is, and what tender loving care is. The kids want to watch more, but Kimar tells them to go to sleep. His wife then shows up and they talk about how all the kids on Mars are having trouble sleeping. It's here where we learn that Kimar is the leader of the planet Mars. He decides to meet up with the council to come up with a solution.

    The rest of the council arrives before their leader does and they talk about how Kimar may ask for advice from an 800-year-old. So these Martians are like the Asari in Mass Effect or Yoda from Star Wars? Living up to 900 or so years? This isn't important because it's never mentioned again. Voldar, the mustached Martian from the picture above, argues that they shouldn't ask the old Martian for advice.

    "You can't dismiss the advice of centuries," One Martian argues.

    "I can." Voldar snarks. Wow, what a douche. I'm pretty sure he's the bad guy, becasue he acts like a dick for the whole scene. Kimar soon shows up and immediately asks the old Martian for advice.

(Maybe this is who Yoda was based off of)

    "What time of the year is it?" The old Martian asks after Kimar explains the unhappy children. The leader tells the old Martian that it's "Septober." Well, Mars's orbit takes nearly twice as long as ours, so meshing several months together like that makes sense. The old Martian than explains how it's close to "The Christmas."

    "What is a Christmas" Voldar asks.

    "It is an occasion of great joy and peace on the planet earth." The old guy answers. "And for children, it is also a time for anticipation as they await the arrival of Santa Clause and his gifts."

    "Bah, what nonsense." Voldar comments.

    The old Martian then explains how children on Mars don't experience a true childhood, that as soon as they can walk they're adults, and that he's seen this coming for centuries. Wait? They don't experience a true childhood? While they're sitting there watching TV or being ordered to go to sleep they're not experiencing childhood? Anyway, he explains how the children never learn how to play or have fun and now they're rebelling. Yeah, because watching Earth TV until your dad tells you to turn it off is so rebellious. He explains that the children need to learn how to have a childhood.

    "We need a Santa Clause on Mars." With that, the old man vanishes.

(Voldar on the left, Kimar on the right)

    The council decide to bring Santa Clause to Mars, although Voldar disagrees and says that the children are fine anyway. Oh, and when I say the council decides, I mean Kimar decides, because nobody else on the council says anything - DEMOCRACY!

    We cut to the Martians on a space ship. The leader orders Voldar to fire rockets 1 and 2, and when Voldar fires them the sound of a fire extinguisher is heard. What? Is this ship a giant Wall-E now? This movie's budget must be pretty close to that of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The Martians zoom their monitors onto a city, to which Voldar immediately calls primitive.

    "Look at all those buildings above ground. Why we could destroy that city with one blast of our q-ray." You know, just because this is a kids movie, doesn't mean you can't use subtlety with your villain.

    "We did not come here to destroy anyone," Kimar snaps. They start looking for Santa Clause and quickly find several hundred" Santas." They decide to bring back only one, but at first they think that any one of them will do.

    We interrupt this movie with a special news bulletin! A UFO has been spotted and the Soviet Union has already denied any involvement. The Air Force is on full alert, now let us show you some stock footage at a military base with Generals and officers, um...doing stuff in a control room. Yup, the movie just did that - it was interrupted by some news anchor.

    The Martian space ship sounds an alarm warning that they've been detected by radar, so the Martians activate a Radar shield. Why didn't they use that in the first place? Oh wait, their shield didn't work at first, so Kimar opens up a trunk to find Dropo hiding inside. The second Dropo steps out, the radar shield turns on. It's almost as if they specifically designed this ship to fail. Kimar orders him to leave the cockpit but Dropo plays with a bunch of switches and levers on the way out. This causes nothing bad to happen...somehow, showing us how this scene was 100% necessary.

    We again interrupt this movie with a news bulletin...again. The military has lost radar contact with the Unidentified Flying Object. Maybe it was just a meteorite burning in the atmosphere, but the Air Force is still looking around to be sure. Cue stock footage of pilots running into their fighter jets and taking off. Seriously though, this stock footage works much better than it did in Plan 9, and yet it's just as funny thanks to the ultra-cheesy music in the background.

    We now see two kids talking about Martians outdoors as they listen to the radio broadcast. Wait, the same news broadcast is on both the TV and the radio? I'm not sure where the kids are, in fact they may just be in a set because there's very little in the background. The boy leans against a tree as three of the Martians sneak up behind them. The girl spots them and screams, to which the boy asks her to be quiet as he's trying to sleep. Really? The boy is leaning against a tree and trying to sleep outside in the winter when he probably leaves nearby. What kids act like this? Anyway, the Martians hold their guns up at the kids as the boy turns around.

    "Who are you?" The boy asks.

    "We're from Mars; don't be afraid." Kimar says. If you don't want the kids to be afraid then don't point your fricken guns at them you moron! It's like a group of gunmen barging into a daycare center, punching one of the workers and announcing to the kids "We're your friends!" The girl points out the antennas on the Martians' heads and asks if they're televisions. OK that was pretty funny. Kimar asks the kids about Santa Clause to which they tell him there's only one and he lives in the North Pole. Voldar argues that they should take the kids with them.

    "Leave them alone," Kimar orders.

    "What? And leave them here to inform the authorities?" Voldar half-shouts. What a dick, and as if the authorities are going to listen to a couple of kids saying that they saw Martians. Kimar agrees and the Martians bring the kids along. These kids simply cannot act. They never show any emotion whatsoever and...actually nobody in this movie can act, but these kids are more wooden than a tree.

    We interrupt this movie once again for a special news bulletin. Two children went missing earlier and the military is still looking for the missing UFO. Now for some stock footage of military cargo planes flying around - no idea what this has to do with the movie but whatever. Yeah, so apparently two children that went missing several minutes ago are just as newsworthy as an alien spacecraft. Usually the police wait 24 hours after a missing person alert is filed before they start searching, at least around here. Is this really worthy of a Televised news broadcast when something extremely abnormal is going on?

    On the Martian space ship, Dropo is showing the kids around the ship. When the other Martians come back, Dropo hides them in the radar shield trunk, yet this somehow doesn't disable the radar shield. The Martians talk about how they might as well take the kids to Mars so that nobody on Earth will ever find out about them. As the Martians leave to kidnap Santa Clause, the kids pop out and talk about how the Martians are going to kidnap the. What? You've already been kidnapped! You've been taken against your will and are far away from home. They decide to sneak off the ship and warn Santa Clause. The boy also unplugs a few cables in the trunk - smart kid.

    The Martians climb down out of their ship. Voldar comes out late and warns the others that the kids have escaped. What? How'd they get out before the others? We then see the kids wandering around the frozen landscape. The girl complains that she's tired and cold and they stop for a break. The boy then spots Voldar and they hide in a cave. Voldar passes by them, apparently missing their footprints even though that's what he was following in the first place. How did these guys ever learn to build spacecraft? Next, a polar bear shows up.

    Well, if you can call this thing a polar bear. The bear can't fit into the small cave, so he just gives up and leaves. The kids crawl back out of the cave and the girl complains that it's snowing. The boy then explains how the snow will cover up their footprints. Again, smart kid, but it's not snowing hard enough to make any difference. They see some lights and guess that it's Santa's workshop, until the light moves. Oh no, it's an incredibly slow-moving robot! The robot moves toward the as the kids just stand there. I think they're supposed to look scared, but their blank stares are about as convincing as the polar bear suit. The robot grabs the kids and then Voldar comes back. Voldar orders the robot to crush them, but Kimar shows up and explains that the robot will only listen to him. Good thinking Kimar; Voldar simply cannot be trusted. Kimar orders the robot to return the kids to the ship and lock them up.

    "We used to be a planet of war!" Voldar complains. Really? I'm not seeing any qualities of war in any of them.

    We cut to Santa's workshop, where the Robot smashes through the door. Several elves try to stop it, but it just pushes them out of the way. Santa starts examining the robot and compliments it's craftsmanship.

    "Very well made!" Santa exclaims.

    Really, this thing? It's made out of a cardboard box, a bucket, and a bunch of tubing. I wore a very similar costume for a VBS play years ago. The robot stands still for so long that the Martians burst in. They order the robot to grab Santa, but the robot just stands still. Apparently Santa's compliments have turned the robot into a giant toy - Santa's a tech wizard!

    "You're coming with us!" Kimar says. Two of the elves try to stop them, but Voldar shoots them with some ray gun - freezing them in place.

    "Why did you do that to my little helpers?" Santa asks softly.

    "It's harmless; it'll wear off in a little while." Kimar answers.

    "Oh, well why didn't you say that in the first place?" Santa asks happily. This guy takes way too many happy pills. This scene is also used for the cover of the comic - yup, there was a comic too.

(don't know why the robot is talking here when he doesn't speak in the movie)

    Mrs.Clause shows up and gets frozen too. Yeah, her role was vitally important to the movie - slow things down for a total of 45 seconds between her two appearances. "Oh dear, I can't remember a time when you were this quiet for this long." Hahahahaha! OK, that line is comedy gold. Santa was supposed to sound sad there, but it comes across as more of a devastating insult than anything else. Awesome! So Santa leaves with the Martians and...

     We interrupt this movie for one last news bulletin. Mrs.Clause has properly identified the kidnappers as Martians and the UN is working 24/7 to find a solution to this catastrophe. Oh come on, another news interruption? Holy crap these are annoying - thankfully this is the last time though. They show us some stock footage of a rocket ship taking off as the news anchor tells us that these astronauts are chasing the Martians. Uh...there's no way that would work, right? The most advanced space ships back then, and even now, aren't designed to go any further than the moon. The reporter says that they do have a ship ready to go to Mars, but they have to skip out on six months of testing in order to follow the Martians now - that's a good idea, right? Even if you can travel all the way to Mars, there's no way you'll get Santa back by Christmas. Here's a solution for you - co-operate with the Elves and send special forces into people's houses to give Christmas presents to the children if you're that desperate.

    Back on the space ship, a bearded Martian we've never seen before walks into the cockpit laughing his pants off. The others ask how things are going, and he explains how only five minutes around Santa has him laughing like he never has before. He then tells the others this joke.

    "What's soft, round, and you put it on a stick and you toast it in a fire - and it's green?"

    "I don't know, what?" Kimar asks angrily.

    "A Martian!" Everybody in the cockpit starts laughing. Well...everyone but Voldar. I'm laughing too - not because the joke's funny, but that the Martians think it's funny. Voldar says,

    "That's what you're all becoming...soft, weak. That old man is a menace."

    Meanwhile, Santa is trying to cheer up the human kids, but they're scared and homesick. Well they say they are, but again they display less emotion than the robot from earlier. The kids are also worried that their parents are angry. Santa tries to cheer them up by saying that he's always wanted to visit Mars.

    Back in the cockpit, the Martians now realize they're being followed, and that someone disconnected the cables for the radar shield. Somehow Kimar instantly figures out that the boy is responsible. Are you sure it was the boy? Maybe it was the bumbling Dropo again, or maybe it was the girl. Maybe it was even Voldar trying to frame the humans so he had an excuse to kill Santa and the kids. OK, maybe that last one was too deep for a 1960's Christmas movie, but still.

    Voldar heads to Santa and the kids and convinces them to continue touring the ship. He leads the humans straight to the airlock and explains how it works. The boy figures out everything about how the airlock works, once again showing that he's a smart kid. Voldar then locks them in and runs to the control room. Santa says it's just a joke as the kids start to panic. Once the warning light turns on, Santa starts looking into what looks like an upside down smoke stack on a boat.

    We cut to Voldar in the control room as Kimar catches him in the act. They start fighting, and the fight scene puts the giant lizard fight from the original Star Trek series to shame in sheer suckitude. It also incorporates the shaky cam - didn't know they used that in the 60's. Kimar overcomes Voldar and asks where the humans are.

    Out of no-where, Santa and the kids show up in the control room. Santa explains how they escaped through the airducts which confuses both of the Martians. Santa also jokes that Voldar accidentally locked them in the airduct and everyone laughs - save for Voldar who just fainted. Kimar then locks Voldar into a cell.

    Shortly after that scene, they land on Mars but discover that Voldar has escaped his cell and tied up Dropo in his place. Oh Dropo, what would the Martians do without you? At Kimar's house, Santa gladly agrees to help the children of Mars learn how to have fun. Kimar then sends the human kids in to meet his own kids. They introduce each other, and then Santa Clause enters. Santa starts laughing, and everyone slowly joins in. Eventually, Kimar's start laughing too. This scene is ultra-cheesy, and ever somewhat disturbing, and yet it's still somewhat charming. Didn't know I'd experience that in a movie.

    Voldar is hiding in a cave with two fellow evil Martians and scheming about how they can stop Santa, and here we learn that Santa has created a toy factory on Mars. Voldar plans to discredit and humiliate Santa rather than eliminate him. Meanwhile at the factory, Santa is sitting at the main control panel as the human kids read letters to Santa and the Martian kids collect the toys off the assembly line. Santa feels out of place in a factory and decides he's had enough for one day. They shut down the factory for the day and head back to Kimar's house. All the Martians are happy and joyful, however the human kids are homesick. The Martians are confused, but after Santa explains how the kids want to go home, Kimar still resists and wants to keep them on Mars. This part of the movie is fairly well done, and there's not much to say about it. Heck, even the child actors look homesick here, and that surprised me.

    Dropo then dresses himself in a spare Santa coat and hat and heads back to the factory to make more toys. He's all excited and jolly; my guess at this point was that he'll become Martian Santa, what do you think?

    Meanwhile, Voldar and his friends sneak into the factory in a rather Three Stooges-style sequence. Voldar opens the main switchbox and switches a bunch of switches.

    "These toys will never be the same again," Voldar says. Really? It's that easy to sabotage the machine? And how will this discredit Santa? As Dropo shows up they capture him, thinking he's Santa. Really? How can you not tell this isn't Santa? Santa has glasses and white skin, Dropo has green skin, antennas on his head, and no glasses.

    The next morning, Kimar and his wife wonder where Dropo went, but Santa tells them not to worry because he's probably at the factory making toys. Santa and the kids then head to the factory and restarts the machine. Uh oh, the machine isn't working right. The teddy bear and the doll have switched heads, and the baseball hat has a tennis racket for a head. Actually that tennis bat is kind of awesome and would make tennis that much more EXTREME!

    "This won't do...this doesn't make sense!" Santa complains. That's the first time in this movie that Santa isn't jolly, and for toys with switched heads? Depending on the kid, that's actually kind of awesome. Besides, after a quick examination of the switchbox the factory is fixed - so much for discrediting Santa.

    Voldar locks Dropo in the cave behind what they call a nuclear curtain. One of Voldar's men stays behind as a guard, but he barely pays attention to Martian Santa so there's no real point. Worse yet, they sit Dropo right in front of the control that activates and deactivates the nuclear curtain - GENIUS! Dropo switches the red and green light on the control panel and turns the curtain off. He then walks out as the guard doesn't even try to stop him in what is might be the easiest hostage escape in movie history - excluding Idiocracy that is. I can understand the nuclear curtain to stop others from entering, but you'd think they'd have a cell for prisoners that's guarded by a separate nuclear curtain. Holy crap these bad guys are morons.

    Voldar and his friend eventually find the real Santa and hold him up, however they're still confused and ask how he escaped so fast. Do I really have to explain this again? However, Santa saw this coming and recruited the kids to attack the bad guys with toys. Yup, the kids fire dart guns and bubbles at Voldar while wound up toy cars and drummers slowly approach his position. Somehow this defeats the evil Martians - how the mighty warriors have fallen. Kimar soon returns and the bad guys are arrested. Dropo is officially designated as Martian Santa as I guessed, the Martian kids are saved, and the humans all head home.

    Overall, Santa Clause Conquers the Martians is silly, poorly acted, and incredibly low-budget. The video quality suffers throughout the entire movie and the music ranges from stupid to non-existent. The title itself is misleading too - Santa doesn't conquer anyone. He's kidnapped, then he agrees to help the Martians then they let him return to Earth. Despite this, it still has the charm that many Christmas classics like Home Alone and the Muppet's Christmas Carol contain. It's both intentionally and unintentionally funny, and that's a first for this blog. I can't really recommend it, but if you're open to a cheesy movie or a relatively harmless bad movie, it might be worth checking out. As for me, now that I'm done watching this, I'm going to watch the greatest Christmas movie ever - DIE HARD!

Two word review - Stupidly festive

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