Is "Santa Claus" the best and worst Christmas film of all time? It embodies what Christmas has become, managing to depict both seasonal warmth and mercantile exploitation.
Beginning with evocative shots of Santa's factory, snowflakes, reindeer, the North Pole, we are reminded of how wonderful Christmas was when we were young children. But by the end of the film, the emphasis is on how cynical, corny, and commercial Christmas has become. (At the time of its release, according to "Variety", the film set a record for "the largest ever McDonald's tie-in with a motion picture.")
The plot is simple. The writers and producers were responsible for the "Superman" films, and the formula is similar here. The first half of the film tells how Santa became Santa Claus, reminiscent of the first "Superman" film; while the second half introduces a wonderfully deranged Lex Luthor substitute in John Lithgow's corrupt businessman, who has such classic lines as "Do you ever have one of those nights when you just want to drop a bomb on the whole world?". Dudley Moore is quite charming as Patch, simply because he was born to play an elf, but David Huddleston, as Saint Nick himself, has little to do because Santa is presented as a symbol of goodwill rather than a person - but he looks the part.
Director Jeannot Szwarc knew exactly what he was doing in creating a multilayered metaphor for the increasing commercialisation and meaninglessness of Christmas. If you're under 12, you'll love this film. But if you're over 12, the abysmal flying effects, the machiavellian machinations of Lithgow, and the corruption of the innocent Patch, will leave you incredibly depressed. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life" instead.