12/14/06

321 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

(1964, Children-Holiday/SciFi, color)

Custume designer? Custume?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Santa Claus to brings the Christmas spirit to joyless Martian children.

Summary:

Lots of dignity in this scene.  Oh, yeah.  Dignity flyin' every which way.Green-painted Martian children watch dully from space while balding older men dryly deliver news of Santa’s workshop. An officious Martian named Kimar notices that his children seem rather listless, so he seeks the advice of a shaky old green guy with a long white beard. The quivery oldster announces that the children of Mars have forgotten how to be children. He querulously declares that they need a Santa Claus to remind them, and then explodes for no apparent reason.

No one thinks this odd, however, and soon the Martians are on their way to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus in their highly advanced spaceship, made of light bulbs, plywood, and string. Goofy comic relief Droppo (the laziest Martian on Mars) stows away and wreaks unintentional havoc. The predatory Martians are momentarily confounded by an apparent plethora of Santa Clauses to choose from, so they kidnap a pair of exceptionally dull earth children (Billy and Betty) who direct them to the North Pole.

A great deal of shenanigans and goings-on ensue in the frozen north, including a large cardboard robot and a man in a rather obvious polar bear suit. Soon we learn that Santa is an avuncular old man who tells a lot of bad jokes and his wife is a shrill termagant who relentlessly browbeats her husband. The Martian raiders kidnap Santa and journey back to Mars with Billy and Betty, who narrowly avoid an attempt on their lives by the mutinous martian Voldar. They arrive safely, and Santa Claus starts his campaign to bring joy to all the Martian children.

The hearty, mustachioed Voldar escapes imprisonment and leads an insurrection against the Claus regime, but Santa cracks a few bad jokes and Droppo prances around a lot, saving the day. Droppo is appointed to be the official Martian Santa. Santa and the kids deliver excruciatingly long farewell speeches and go home, presumably to be scolded within an inch of their lives by Mrs. Claus.

Introduction:

I want that gift.Tom and Crow look through a lot of Christmas catalogs filled with useless, overpriced kitsch. Tom wants a Ted Williams signature bath pillow for Christmas. Gypsy wants a pony, but Joel says no. Crow wants to decide who lives and who dies. Quoth he, “you’re next.”

Host Segment One:

The Mads demonstrate the wish squisher, which turns really cool Christmas gifts into really lame ones. Joel and the ‘Bots show off their additions to the Island of Misfit toys. Joel shows off toaster dolls. Crow introduces the Road House board game. Tom has an easy-bake foundry. Gypsy coughs up Mr. Mashed Potato Head.

Host Segment Two:

Joel and the ‘Bots sing Crow’s good-natured but rather violent new Christmas Carol, A Patrick Swayze Christmas. “Santa can be our regular Saturday night thing.”

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots look through tapes of classic and not-so-classic Christmas movies. Included are old standbys like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, lame remakes of classics like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, and such new inventions as The Christmas That Totally Rocked, The Christmas That Wasn’t That Bad, and The Christmas That Really Kicked Ass about various curmudgeons of both genders who learn the true meaning of Christmas.

Host Segment Four:

Everyone on the Satellite of Love reads a Christmas essay. Crow gives marketing advice to Santa’s helpers. Tom imagines Santa’s grisly death in the vacuum of space. Joel decries the debauchery of office Christmas parties. Gypsy brings the Christmas spirit back with a Nativity scene in her mouth.

Host Segment Five:

Everyone sings, “Angels We Have Heard Are High” and then they open their stockings. Joel has a letter in his stocking, and reads it. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank exchange gifts in an O’Henry-ish “Gift of the Magi” moment.

Stinger:

Voldar’s wicked laughter.

Thoughts:

He has a wonderful grinchy idea.Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a joyous, carefree movie—a holiday classic destined for countless reruns, remakes, and merchandising opportunities for many years to come. Or at least, that’s what it would like to be. In reality, the earth kids are painfully stupid. Santa Claus, rather than being the jolly, exuberant icon of Christmas commercialism, is reduced to a bemused, incompetent old man. Droppo’s comedic antics, which I assume are supposed to be heartwarming, make me cringe. He’s like a cross between Jerry Lewis and Marty Feldman, without any of their funny qualities. No wonder Voldar wants to do away with the Martian Christmas movement. Also, someone should have proofread the credits.

The host segments rank among the best in the overall run of the show. A couple of them (Crow’s strange version of Candyland and his offbeat Christmas carol) evince a rather bizarre obsession with the Patrick Swayze movie, Road House. I can only assume that this has something to do with Mike’s fascination with this film (see the introduction of Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese). I also enjoyed Tom’s Christmas essay, where he references modern Santa’s humble beginnings as a Coca-cola advertising mascot before imagining his horrible demise in space. The catalogue intro, the invention exchange, and even the reading of the letter were well done. Crow’s shiny red nose and Tom’s snow globe head were nice touches.

The Satellite crew keeps the quips flying during the film segments in the face of the movie’s hopelessly botched whimsy. When Santa can’t keep the reindeer’s names straight (he includes Nixon in the list) Crow asks, “What’s in [your] pipe, Santa?” When Kimar shouts out orders to his ridiculously named henchmen, Joel throws in other possible Martian names, such as, “Cream Horn,” “Clam Dip,” and “Soft Batch.” Of course they have to reference the Golden Globes scandal whenever the young Pia Zadora is on screen. The great host segments and great film segments make this one of the funniest episodes you can find. I predict that this Christmas classic will soon supplant the 1973 TV version of Miracle on 34th Street (with Roddy McDowall) in the hearts of children everywhere.