*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B-
starring Tim Allen, Martin Short, Elizabeth Mitchell, Judge Reinhold
screenplay by Ed Decter & John J. Strauss
directed by Michael Lembeck
by Bill Chambers Much like a TV show that's been on the air too long, the Santa Clause films have accrued an unwieldy supporting cast (including those old harbingers of cancellation: grandparents and babies) and begun hitting the reset button on characters thought to be at or near the end of their arcs. Here, workaholic Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is reminded via the frustrations of his second wife that he might not be husband material--which, all things considered, isn't a bad direction for the series to take, if only because we rarely see remarriage grappled with in any context on the silver screen. Still, as the house style has evolved such that it can no longer accommodate even the quasi-realist, Oh, God! Book II trappings of the original, we get that reductive trope about a family man who takes pride in his work being a man who's asking for karmic retribution. Never mind that he's fucking Santa Claus and the needs of the many would appear to outweigh the needs of the few in this case. I suppose it's progress or innovation that Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell, whose role as one of the child catchers in Running Scared retroactively renders her a subversive presence in these films) is expecting and in her third trimester at that, thus upping the asshole quotient when Santa allows his attention to drift towards other impending deliveries for five-nanosecond stretches--but at the risk of applying logic where it isn't wanted, why would Santa impregnate his wife nine months before Christmastime? It's counterintuitive at best. And if it was an accident, surely there's an 'Abortion Clause' he could've invoked. Maybe they're saving that for a future instalment.
So a beleaguered Santa falls victim to the low-rent scheming of nattily-dressed Jack Frost, played with an awesome and perhaps contagious malevolence by Martin Short: in launching an extended riff on Back to the Future Part II (minus the post-modern cleverness) by transporting Santa and Frost into a pivotal scene from The Santa Clause, the film is casually mindless of the fact that it's depicting the death of Santa Claus over and over again like some mad Zapruder loop.* (It's still not as ghoulish, mind you, as the Kuleshovian cutaways to the late Peter Boyle, who looks as though someone's propping him up, Weekend at Bernie's-style, in his role as Father Time.) The megalomaniacal Frost essentially wants to corporatize Christmas ("Frostmas") and exploit the North Pole's potential as a synergistic theme park, and so, as our own Ian Pugh astutely pointed out in his review of the execrable The Year Without a Santa Claus, you have the incongruous image of Coca-Cola mascot Santa Claus conspiring to reclaim Christmas from commercialism. The secularization of Christmas is apparently only selectively offensive--like when it interferes with Tim Allen's personal life, or the hetero orientation of the holiday. After all, the whole Frostmas scenario ultimately reveals itself as a pretext for Short to belt out a show tune in drag.
This third entry in the Santa Clause franchise boasts the best production design of the lot, but that's an indication not so much of artistic growth (I mean, the reindeer continue to fart up a storm) as of a concentration of labour, since the film itself is more insular than its forebears. (Suffocatingly so.) The antagonist--anthropomorphized this time around--is uncharacteristically entertaining, but that was a given with the casting of the reliably irreverent Short. Santa's workshop has lost its fascist tincture, but that might simply be the absence of David Krumholtz's problematic Bernard the Jewish Elf. In other words, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause creates the illusion that it has learned from previous instalments, though it's really just the same old twaddle. Michael Lembeck returns to helm the production like the veteran sitcom hack he is, directing with a style best described as obsequious--note the hilariously un-directed extras littering the margins of almost every shot--and rarely seen outside the realm of live television. Any kind of deference to the material is the last thing this movie needs, as the script is so transparently mercenary in its lack of ambition, coherence, and conscientiousness that it seems to have been composed on the teleprompter between takes. Apropos of recent events, you look at a movie like The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and wonder how some screenwriters can have the temerity to go on strike.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Averaging an astonishing bitrate of 46 mbps, the 1.85:1, 1080p Blu-ray presentation of The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is a smidge better on paper: The colours are sorta lifeless (then again, what else is new?), black drop-off is a bit steep, and Frost's zoot suit does strange things to the image that trigger NTSC flashbacks, if not outright seizures. That said, the level of fine detail is breathtaking. Likewise, though the soundmix is typically flat, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (640 kbps) has more zing than one would expect, and I can only assume this is doubly true of the attendant uncompressed option. On another track, find a feature-length commentary by Lembeck that's surprisingly engaging until you realize--once he starts in with the statistics pertaining to the number of toys, elf shoes, etc. inventoried on set--that a yakker from the prop master would've yielded the same results. The actors are predictably fawned over; what I liked was the anecdote about Allen struggling throughout filming to squeeze a laugh out of co-star Arkin. That's what I call an asshole contest with two winners.
The BD features a few extras you won't see on the movie's DVD counterpart, starting with "Deck the Halls", a virtual living room you can dress with Christmas decorations. Just don't sew the word "Fuck" into your stocking--I learned that one the hard way. Too, you get the usual three-scene "Movie Showcase" and HD startup trailers (for Ratatouille and Meet the Robinsons), and I think the "Tour of Elfsburg" (which is basically something to watch in lieu of a static menu screen) might be Blu-ray-specific as well. Meanwhile, the majority of the standard definition DVD's content resurfaces (in 480i, alas) under "Original DVD Features", including: an extended version of the "Blooper Reel" (3 mins.) that pads the closing credits of the movie proper; an "Alternate Opening" (4 mins.) that recaps the plot of The Santa Clause in the manner of a Friday the 13th sequel; the legitimately interesting "Jack Frost and Mrs. Claus: A Very Different Look" (4 mins.), wherein we see footage of the eponymous twosome before their makeup and costumes were scrapped and redesigned (completely unmenacing, Frost v1.0 bears an uncanny resemblance to both Phyllis Diller and Toronto scenester DJ Lazarus)--easily Lembeck's smartest decision(s) the whole shoot; "The New Comedians: On the Set with Tim and Marty" (3 mins.), a piece on Short and Allen's aptly-named makeshift comedy duo "Pushy & Desperate" that marks the first time Allen has directly participated in these supplementals; "Creating Movie Magic" (4 mins.), an overview of the film's mostly pathetic special effects; the self-explanatory "Christmas Carol-oke"; and the music video for Aly & AJ's "Greatest Time of Year."
Bah, humbug. Originally published: December 5, 2007.
*Need I remind, this got a G rating while Whale Rider was slapped with a PG-13? return
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