10/21/08

CT005 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

(1964, Children/Holiday/SciFi, color)

Rating: ***1/2

Be not that afraid. Be very not that afraid.

In a nutshell:

Santa Claus brings the Christmas spirit to joyless Martian children.

Summary:

The red planet gleams above a festive river of holiday snot.(Author’s note: The following summary has been shamelessly recycled from the last time I reviewed this film.)

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.

T minus ten seconds to spontaneous combustion...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.

Thoughts:

The unholy love child of the Really Real Time Machine and Danger: Death Ray!!It’s not the first time a riffing team has covered previously conquered territory, but it is the first time someone’s delved back into MST3K material. The MST3K’d version was cut for time. The Cinematic Titanic crew has taken pains to let us know that this one wasn’t, but I only noticed two “restored” scenes. The first is a ridiculously lengthy establishing shot of the quivery oldster’s swampy Martian home, during which we see him explode at the beginning of his speech as well as at the end. The other comes after Santa’s arrival on Mars, as Kimar gravely informs Santa that he will never return to Earth. There may have been more; if so, they were unremarkable.

The Cinematic Titanic “stop the movie” skits seem to happening less and less, as this film only includes one. It’s a good’n, though. Joel pauses to present each of his fellow riffers with a gift, including Paul McCartney’s bass for J. Elvis, a Tesla Roadster for Mary Jo, and the film editing machine used on Citizen Kane for Frank. Frank points out that the machine in question was destroyed in a fire decades ago, while J. Elvis accuses Joel of just presenting them with cardboard cutouts of gifts to get their hopes up. The offended Joel insists that his presents are real; he has to be convinced to present Trace with the final gift—a time machine with a laser cannon on top.

Get him, rebellious Martians!  Terminate with extreme prejudice!The riffing shines as always. As the quivery oldster’s pro-Santa rant finally concludes, J. Elvis concludes, “No piece of scenery left unchewed.” During a lengthy silence aboard the plywood Martian rocket, Trace advises, “In space, no one can hear you unless you speak!” During the barrage of stock footage implying Earthling military pursuit of the Martian kidnappers, Joel observes, “Even real military equipment looks fake in this film.” When green-painted Martian rebels engage in poorly choreographed fistfights with pro-Santa forces, Frank says, “You hate to see booger on booger violence,” while Mary Jo thinks it looks like “three Riddlers fighting an invisible Batman.” Everyone walks away during the interminable ending credits, except for Trace and J. Elvis, who get into a kind of iron man competition to see who can last through the nauseatingly chipper closing song the longest.

Comparing this version to the previously riffed version has turned out to be a bit “apples and oranges.” The MST3K version was hilarious on the basis of competent film segments and hysterical host segments. The Cinematic Titanic version doesn’t have as much going on host segment-wise, but the riffing is superior, so the final score ends up about the same. In happier circumstances I’d wonder why the re-riff was necessary, but right now the fact that they’ve finally done a film that isn’t a consummate downer gives them a free pass on that one. Without movie issues to weigh them down, this offering shines.