Streaming Spotlight: Santa on screen

Father Christmas as you’ve never seen him before

by Jennie Kermode and Amber Wilkinson

As the big night draws near, speculation turn once again to Santa Claus and his annual delivery of gifts to children around the world. If you’ve seen the excellent documentary Dear Santa, released just this month, you’ll know how some of his helpers work to make wishes come true. You may also have heard Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, explaining that he is immune to Covid-19 and will be using his magical powers to make sure that all this year’s deliveries are carried out safely. If you don’t have the privilege of mingling in Arctic circles yourself, the best way you can get to know the big man is through the movies, so this week we’re turning our Streaming Spotlight on seven very different portrayals of him.

The Polar Express
The Polar Express

The Polar Express - Amazon Prime

Amber Wilkinson writes: It's full steam ahead for the spirit of Christmas with Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Chris Van Allsberg's book, which opens out the story of a sceptical boy who goes on a magic adventure, with Tom Hanks pulling a Kind Hearts and Coronets manoeuvre and taking on five roles. Motion capture has become commonplace in the years since, but this was the first film to exclusively use it, and though some might say the end result has the whiff of the uncanny valley about it about the characters' eyes, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be carried away by the story and the sweeping visuals of the train journey. Perfect for children of a certain age, who may be having a few doubts about the fellow in the red suit and with a spirit of adventure and technical finesse that's hard to resist however old you are.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians - Amazon Prime

It’s not exactly a must-see movie but it is in a class of its own. With flying saucers, grease-painted comedy aliens, kidnapped children and Cold War paranoia, this really ought to be a lot more fun than it is, but many viewers will find it fascinating to see just how creatively it can screw up. Santa Claus remains a familiar figure, jolly and somewhat bumbling, snatched away by Martians because their children don’t have any toys and need to learn how to play. Not all their people agree, however, with one deciding that the only way to preserve true Martian values is to kill the chimney-loving new arrival. Shenanigans ensure, on shaky sitcom-style sets with even shakier dialogue, as the Earth children strive to save Christmas.

Get Santa
Get Santa

Get Santa - Amazon Prime

Amber Wilkinson writes: The US tends has a tendency to monopolise what we think of as ‘the spirit of Christmas’ but this grittier but no less warm homegrown gem from Christopher Smith - who is much better known for his horror films like Creep and Severance - is worth a look. The film was rather put in the shade by Paddington on release but Jim Broadbent is on top form as Santa (something of a regular party trick for him - see also Arthur Christmas), who upon being discovered by young Tom (Kit Connor) in his garden shed, tells him he's crash landed and his reindeer have escaped. Soon, however, Santa's behind bars and Tom is on a mission to save Christmas, along with his fresh-from-prison dad Steve (Rafe Spall). Dad and son bonding mixes nicely with the festive spirit to make a warming concoction for a cold winter's night.

Crumbs
Crumbs

Crumbs - Vimeo on Demand

Amber Wilkinson writes: Santa can turn up in the oddest places, including this slice of post-Apocalyptic Afrofuturism from Miguel Lansó. A film that is for adults rather than children, it recalls the likes of Ridley Walker in the way that everyday items from our present have acquired mystical associations in the future - from a Ninja Turtle to a Superman outfit. Candy (Daniel Tadesse), who believes he hails from another planet, leaves his pregnant partner Birdy (Selem Tesfayie) to go on a quest for Claus (Tsegaye Abegaz) - who, in a surreal twist, can also be glimpsed via the ball return machine in the derelict bowling alley near where they live. Seductively surreal in its narrative while provoking us to think about our consumerism and what we consider talismans and with some arresting lo-fi visuals, Llansó makes a virtue of oddness, a talent that has become something of a signature for him with his more recent Jesus Shows Me The Way To The Highway. Watch Crumbs on Vimeo on Demand.

Arthur Christmas
Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas - Netflix

Amber Wilkinson writes: The spirit of Christmas surges through the veins of this cosy tale which, as you would expect from Aardman, is packed tighter than Santa's stocking with sight gags and wholesome cross-generational fun. Santa's a regular family guy in this incarnation, with his eldest son Steve running a sort of SAS style Christmas delivery operation from a command hub. When "gift wrap support" elf Bryony discovers a pressie has been missed, Steve is unperturbed and so it falls to Santa's younger, teenage son - and full time Christmas fan - Arthur to try to make things right. While all the usual Christmas magic elements are here, along with a good dollop of feelgood vibes, the film's winning strategy is the way that it embeds the action in the realities of family life - including sibling rivalry and the perils of novelty slippers. A timely reminder that "there's always time for a bow".

A Christmas Horror Story
A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story - Amazon Prime

A collection of short festive horror tales that connect in ways it might take you a while to spot, this film is held together by William Shatner’s hard drinking local radio DJ and features a Santa Claus in similar mien. When he realises that his elves are falling prey to a zombifying plague, our gift-giving hero suspects that his arch-enemy Krampus is up to no good, and sets out to solve the problem in a way that might surprise viewers. Perhaps it shouldn’t. He is, after all, a man who lives year-round in an icy wilderness and presumably has to hunt for a living. He’s also a man who can handle a team of eight or nine reindeer single-handed. At any rate, Santa in action mode is a force to be reckoned with, and there’s plenty of additional entertainment in a film that blends contemporary festive humour with ancient folklore.

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes
Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes - YouTube

Made with leftover film gifted to Jean Eustache by Jean-Luc Goddard, this is a partner piece to Robinson's Place, the French director's second film, like his first, considers the life of a young man living on the fringes of Paris. Daniel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is desperate to get the cash for a classy duffel coat he hopes will impress the ladies and takes a job posing as Santa in a bid to raise the dough. In fact, it turns out the Santa outfit has at least as many charms as the coat he has set his sights on as the women cuddle in for a photo - with Eustache not seeking to sugar coat this likely lad's response. The film works as both a snapshot of blue collar youth and a document of Sixties Paris, with Eustache showing a keen eye for the comings and goings of they city as well as his central character. Watch the film on YouTube

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