Well, we get the “Avco Embassy” logo with some of the worst ambient noise I've heard in a pre-credits—heck, pre-film—part of any movie. While the animated logo swirls and forms itself, we get all this cracking, like rain dripping from trees in the aftermath of a storm, while there are other noises that sound like someone setting up a mic stand.
How about that, a paragraph and we're only fifteen seconds in!
We get the credits (kind of a cheap, static sub-Hubey design, as Santa pushes blocks of type around) and the song “Hooray for Santa Claus” which is pop sung by children. Love to hear the Cramps do a version of this. The trumpeter is really good, though. Too bad he's playing in this song.
And once the song and the credits are done, we're back to that weird ambient rain dripping. Say, did the Blair Witch Project have its genesis here, lo these many years past?
Never mind that, we're watching television. No, I mean, we're watching a television screen as the first scene in the film, which doesn't say much for the state of the cinema when this was produced. The smarmy, condescending host of “KID-TV” (a precursor to Cartoon Network, no doubt) says that they now present the Event of the Year, “A first in television history.” It turns out the crew of KID-TV is at the North Pole, where they are preparing to interview Santa himself. To an odd, discordant musical tone, we pan away from the TV (hey, I was watching that!) to see that the audience is...Martians! Specifically, two Martian children, perhaps seven years old. Just like Earth children today, they are literally gaping at the screen. Around them is displayed the art director's idea of what people on Mars might live in. It wouldn't be out of place on The Jetsons.
Anyway, we cut to the correspondent at the North Pole, who makes stupid jokes and is just as condescending, but this was the Nightmare Age of children's movies, so we can go with it for now. Behind him is Santa's workshop, and a checkered barber pole with four hands all pointing south. Get it? See, from the North Pole, every direction is South! Ha ha ha.
What's interesting is that, unless this is some elaborate production by KID-TV, there seems to be no question in this world that Santa Claus is real, an actual person who does his fabulous deeds and lives at the North Pole. It makes me wonder why no one has ever interviewed him before; newsfolk are, as the movies alone tell us, pretty competitive about this sort of thing and I doubt they'd hold off until a kid's network had the chance. So if Santa is real—huh? What do I mean, “if”? Has no one told you? Oh, I...well. Hey, I think I hear your mom calling you! Better run along.
Okay, now, as I was saying, if Santa is real and makes and delivers all the toys, are there no toymakers in this world? If he knows what every kid wants (and also knows their behavior) is he a threat to national security? How has he escaped the clutches of the Russians? If he knew Captain Kirk was in trouble, would he fly off to help him, or is he only concerned with toys? Will this film answer any of these questions?
Well, we know the answer to that last one, anyway.
So, the goofy correspondent continues telling bad jokes and laughing at them, then enters the shop. The elves studiously ignore him as he preens for the camera, telling us that Christmas is only weeks away, and everyone here is hard at work. But no matter, the press are going to barge in and get their damn story. So the reporter sticks a mic in Santa's face and starts asking the hard, tough questions, like “Do you think you're going to be done on time?”
Well, Santa is a good sport about it all and says they've never disappointed the kids yet. He also calls the reporter by name, which leads me to think that this is just some stunt cooked up by KID-TV, with an actor in a beard and hired midgets. Santa himself is jolly and well-mannered, if a bit distracted. He's kind of a low-rent version of the Edmund Gwenn version.
The reporter asks him about a rumor that Santa will use a rocket sled this year, but Santa quashes the hopes of Star Trek fans everywhere by insisting he'll use his reindeer. He then names them, but gets them wrong, and names one of them Nixon! I bet Richard M was startled to hear that, then had a good laugh as he plotted his nefarious doings, while listening to David Bowie's “Young Americans” song.
Santa's wife shows up and good-naturedly tells him off (one is reminded of a happy version of W.C. Field's wives), then says hello to the newsman. Santa introduces her as “Mrs. Claus,” and we imagine that had this film been made after the 90's she'd probably be using her maiden name and wear a leather jacket, but we digress. We do that a lot, in case you haven't noticed.
Well, Santa brings Mrs. Claus's attention to the TV camera. She immediately gets good-naturedly flustered, declares her hair a mess, and dashes off screen, and Santa and the reporter share a hearty “Women, eh?” laugh.
“Come along, Mr. Anderson, and I'll show you some of the new toys we're turning out,” says Santa as the music gears up to a display of just that. Santa drops by the desk of Winky, an Elf who is in charge of all the space toys. Winky is busy planing some wood (no, that is not a euphemism) so he can't do much more than assure Santa that things are going smoothly. Santa picks up a toy rocket and tells the reporter that this, the latest toy rocket, runs on real rocket fuel. Uh, Santa, that sounds kind of dangerous. Not to mention, where are kids going to get refills? NASA?
The reporter obviously has no future on 60 Minutes, as he brushes aside Santa's rocket talk and picks up a discarded figurine. At first glance, and be still your beating heart, it looks like a Darth Vader figurine! Visions of books touting this film as the seminal influence on George Lucas rapidly evaporate, though, as we see it is a Martian. It's dressed just as the Martian kids were earlier. In response to the reporter's query, Santa brushes it aside with a simple “Winky made that. That's his idea of a Martian.”
“A Martian! Wowee-wow, I'd hate to meet a creature like that on a dark night!” enthuses the reporter, and Santa chuckles indulgently at this display of moronity.
“I wonder if there really are people on Mars,” wonders the reporter, and Santa tries to change the subject with a muttered, “Well, who knows.” Not that he has anything to hide, it's just that toys are his game, he will leave Martian speculation to experts like H.G. Wells, George Pal, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. Hey, I wonder what Isaac asked Santa for when he was a kid? “Hey, I remember you, you wanted a typewriter last year! Did, er, did I not get you one?” “Oh, sure you did Santa, and it was swell, but I wore it out!”
In the film (sorry for the sidetrack), the reporter says, re: Martians, “Well, if there are, I hope they have someone like you up there, Santa, to bring joy and good cheer to all the Martian children.”
And he thrusts his mic at Santa, who makes demurring comments, as if he...knows something. (Ed's note: Santa doesn't know anything about any Martians.)
(Get on with it.)
Well, Santa tells Winky to get busy again, and then takes the reporter to show him more new toys. But we cut away from here so we don't get to meet the Elves in charge of video games, Barbie and friends, and pets. Think about it: if you get a new puppy for Christmas, which one of the elves was in charge of that? And do you really want to know?
Well...no matter, as we cut from Santa's workshop to an even more exotic location: Mars! And sure enough, a guy who looks like Winky's fantasy come to life strides into a room and calls for “Dropo.” He continues to call for this Dropo, and then notes that he (Dropo) is sleeping beneath a tiny little table that could not have possibly concealed him from anyone with functioning eyes or a decent brain. So I hope we're not to be told these Martians have either, for it's an uphill climb. (The creepy Blair Witch noises have returned. Maybe the Blair Witch was from Mars!)
It turns out that this Martian guy, who wants Dropo awake, has to use an electrical rod of some kind to actually accomplish this awakening. No, it's not a cattle prod. It seems to be some kind of electronic tickler, and it tickles Dropo awake, and it...it looks as if Dropo is going to be the Martian version of Comic Relief. It is obviously Martian Comic Relief, as it is funny nowhere else in the solar system.
The Martian continues to order Dropo to stand up, but then has to extend Dropo's antennae for him so that this can be accomplished. Once done, Dropo duly stands up.
A word on the Martians and their costumes and headgear. Their faces appear to be a metallic bronze color, they have green tights, some of them have capes (Dropo doesn't), and they all have hats which are like half-football helmets, with two antennae and some tubes stuck to them. Other than that, they're perfectly all right, no problems, just don't say “mattress” to them. And don't mention The War! They also have patches on their left breasts; Dropo's reads “D.06” and has a circuit illustration under that.
This unnamed Martian asks Dropo why he was sleeping during “working hours” and Dropo explains that he forget how to sleep, so he was practicing. And they both laugh this off. Then Martian suggests he (Dropo) practices doing his work, and Dropo does this comical Ooo I'm in trouble now expression.
Unnamed Martian asks where “Lady Momar” is, and Dropo explains that she went to the “Food Pill Center” to get some new Food Pills, as the children haven't been eating well lately. “No appetite at all,” he says, and this unnamed Martian looks really concerned at this. I hope we hear his name again so I can write it in.
He puts this down to TV, complaining that the kids sit in front of “those ridiculous Earth programs” and stating that “it confuses them!” He then asks Dropo where the kids are.
“In there,” Dropo says with “comic” reluctance, pointing at a door, “watching Earth programs!”
Well, that's enough for Unnamed, as he strides forth, points at the door (it opens for him) and goes inside.
We see the same two kids from earlier, listening to the audio portion of our pictmission, as Santa explains the new dolls for this year. “Now, this little doll walks, talks, cries, and she even sings!”
The Martian kids look absolutely hypnotized by these pleasures of the flesh-time.
“Almost like a real live little girl!” enthuses the reporter, giving rise to generations of creepy old men.
“That she is, sir!” Santa agrees, “that she is! All she needs is tender loving care!”
Unnamed comes in and sits down behind the kids as they stare, spellbound, hypnotized, why, more Hu-man than Martian! Or am I jumping the gun?
The kids attempt to speak some dialogue. “Spomar, what is a doll?” asks what I take to be the female of the two.
“I don't know, Gromar,” answeres Little Martian Boy, simultaneously revealing a) that he wasn't paying attention to the VIDEO portion which showed the doll, and b) that Martians have a limited variety of names. You know someone is going to be named Malomar, though perhaps not in this movie. Also Babar, Akbar and Racecar. Did you know that Racecar is the longest palindrome word in English?
Spomar asks, “What is tender loving care?”
“I don't know either,” answeres Gromar.
Unnamed harrumphs from his back seat. But he calls the kids “Boomar” and “Ghimar” which are not their names! Unless Martian children refer to each other by one set of names, and their parents use another, in which case...this movie is making me work too hard. I hate that!
Unnamed tells the kids he told them not to watch “those silly Earth programs” and then orders them to go to sleep.
The kids protest, saying that they want to see more of Santa Claus, and more toys too.
Unnamed says “No, go to sleep!” and the two kids duly (and dully) shuffle off to whatever constitutes dreamland on Mars. The little girl gets into a transparent pyramid, which rains cartoon sleep energy down on her. Presumably the boy does the same, but we cut to Dropo instead, playing with some switches that make cool electronic noises. Given that Dropo is an idiot, let's hope that's all they do. Lady Momar shows up with a little plastic pad and complements Dropo on his busyness. Dropo says he sure is busy. Lady Momar asks how Keymar is, Dropo says Kaymar [sic] isn't too happy, and then leaves as Keymar hoves into view.
Keymar is, of course, Unnamed from the previous scenes. A couple more minutes and he would have remained “Unnamed” throughout this review! Let it be spoken, let it be done, the law is the law and the law is fun. Keymar you are now and forever. Let's hope they keep the pronunciation consistent.
Lady Momar tells Keymar that she bought some new food pills, as the kids weren't eating the old ones, and she thought, well, what the heck. She picks up each vial of pills in turn, and names them: hamburger, buttered asparagus, mashed potatoes, and (as a special treat) chocolate layer cake. She seems quite triumphant over her culinary skills, but Keynar doesn't whip out the compliments, instead he says he's “worried about our children.”
“So am I,” she says, “they haven't eaten a thing in three days!”
“It goes deeper than that,” Keymar says, “they're behaving strangely, they appear to be troubled, they don't care to sleep. I had to use the sleep spray on them again!” He goes on, “I mentioned this to my council chiefs today, and I learned it's the same with children all around the planet in every district. Something is happening to the children of Mars.” Hey, The Children of Mars sounds like a great A. E. Van Vogt novel, doesn't it?
Ah, yes, but that's not what we have hear. I suspect “A. E. Van Vogt” sounds like a breakfast cereal additive to these finely tuned Red Planet minds. (“Oo, look, Keymar, Sugar-Blasted Drop-O's, now with A.E. Van Vogt! And they're on sale!”)
A-hem. “Keymar, as leader of the Martians [thanks for the exposition, lady!], you must do something about it.”
“I know,” says Keymar, “but what?”
“Why don't you go to the forest, and see Chelcham, the Ancient One?” Hillar—er, Lady Momar says. “He'll know what to do, he's never failed you!”
“You speak wisely,” Keymar says, apparently never having considered such a thing. “I will go.” He then plucks his belt buckle, and asks for the council chiefs to “please report.”
They all report, but “Volgar” is reluctant and has to be called twice. Finally he reports, in a “whatEVER” kind of voice. I bet he will be trouble. Keymar says that everyone will meet at “Chelcham's chair” in “Thunder Forest.”
“What's wrong NOW, Keymar,” grouses Volgar. Definitely a trouble maker.
“I don't know,” says Keymar, “but I mean to find out!”
And we cut to some weird rocks somewhere. A cobweb tent, some sticks...sure looks like he home of the Old Man of the Mountains to me. A bunch of Martians gather, and struggling to be heard over the music, ask what's going on, etc. One guy with a beard says they're probably going to see Cho-Cho, which is probably Chelcham of the Previous Scene. See, we mere humans can't grasp the fluidity of the Martian language! A guy could be called anything, but they always know who you’re talking about.
Well, one mean-looking Martian with a mustache objects to this Cho-Cho stuff, asking if the Martian Council is to be regarded as “a kindergarden class.” This guy has a V on his heart-plug, what do you bet it's Volgar? (“Ev'ry-one knows-it's Volgar!”)
“Must we always come crawling to that doddering old man, Cho-Cho?” asks Volgar, emphasizing for our puny Earth minds that “doddering old man” and “Cho-Cho” are one and the same. We might have forgotten it in those few seconds, after all!
Turns out it was my brain on the fry (imagine!), as someone else provided the “Cho-Cho,” (stomping on Volgar's line) and noted that this guy is 800 years old, and says “You can't dismiss the wisdom of centuries.”
“I can,” Volgar counters, using an incredibly impressive bass voice. Then Keymar shows up, thanks everyone for likewise showing up, and calls out to Chochem asking if he's here. Our dim Earth eyes see no one, but apparently the sharp intellects of Mars don't see anyone either. Keymar repeats his request. He notes that everybody who's anybody is here. (I'd like to note that Keymar's headgear includes some tuning pegs. That must come in handy.)
Well, Chochem appears in a puff of smoke like those on the old Lost in Space show. He looks...a LOT like Christopher Lee as Saruman in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. I'm sure it's sheer coincidence. In fact, when he opens his mouth (“You called me?”) the illusion is dispelled completely. The magic of the cinema!
Keymar says they need Chochem's help, cause the kids are not all right. “They eat not, they sleep not, their only interest is watching meaningless Earth programs on the video.”
“What time of year is it, now?” croaks Chochem. Guy, you've got 800 years of wisdom, don't you know?
“It is the middle of Septober,” Keymar says.
“No, no,” Chochem says with a twinkle. “Not here. I mean, on Earth. Ah yes,” he says, gathering his centuries, “it is early December on Earth. Close to the time of the Christmas.” He looks toward Keymar. “That explains it.”
“What is a 'Christmas'?” asks Volgar. Pity Linus isn't there to say “Lights, please” and explain it all to them.
“It is an occasion for great joy,” Cho-Cho croaks, so much so that I wonder if he has the Innsmouth Look (he's kind of lit from below). His next words are squeezed out through some kind of gas but it sounds like, “of Peace on the planet Earth. And for children, it is also a time of anticipation. As they await the arrival of Santa Claus. And his gifts.”
Big close up of Volgar saying “Bah!” He continues: “What nonsense!”
Keymar, however, doesn't subscribe to Volgar's I-Hate-Everything views, and asks, “What has this to do with our children, ancient one?”
“We have no children on Mars!” Cho-Cho sermonizes. “They have children's bodies, but with adult minds. They do not have a childhood.” He pauses to breathe. “I've seen this coming for centuries,” he notes. “They are born, our electronic teaching machines are attached to their brains while they are in their cradles...information is fed into their minds in a constant stream...and by the time they can walk, they are adults! They've never played...they've never learned to have fun! And now...now, they are rebelling!”
“What do you advise?” asks Keymar.
“The children must be allowed to be children again. They must learn to play. They must learn what it means to have fun.” He then delivers the plot motivation for the rest of the movie (er, I'm betting he does, anyway). “We need a Santa Claus on Mars!” The Thunder Forest starts, well, thundering and Cho-Chelm himself seems weakened by the very revelation he was forced to deliver. He gathers his strength, though, and vanishes in the time-tested Lost In Space puff of smoke and minor explosion combo.
Well, this sends the Council into a bit of a problem. One guy says “Santa Claus, on Mars?” like they all know what the old guy meant. Another guy confirms this by noting that there is only one Santa Claus, and Earth's got him. Volgar uses this opportunity to laugh and laugh, because he's pretty darned evil. (The film still hasn't identified this guy as Volgar, by the way, and I hope they do soon, as I don't want to edit this like crazy when, perhaps, the REAL Volgar shows up at the 45 minute mark.)
Anyway, Volgar basically says, you idiot, Keymar. Fortunately, Keymar names Volgar for us. Whew!
“Earth has had Santa Claus long enough,” says Keymar. “We will bring him to Mars.”
Volgar is against the plan. “Our children are fine the way they are,” he says, oh, like HE has any kids, like any Martian babe would let this guy get CLOSE to her. Yeah right. “I don't want any Santa Claus bringing them toys and games! They'll start playing and laughing and running underfoot! They'll become a nuisance!”
Keymar repeats that his mind is made up. He says that they'll leave for Earth tonight, and asks a couple of flunkies to prepare “Spaceship Number One.” And everyone marches off, but just so's we get this is on Mars and all, we hold a really long time on the rock that Cho-Chelm was sitting on. You know, the wisdom of centuries and all. You can't dismiss that! I mean, look at that rock. It's quite a...rock!
Cut to some tiny lights. A spaceship passes overhead, so I guess they're stars. Inside the spaceship, the Martians are all sitting around the navigation table, navigating, and so on. Of course, one of the crew is Volgar, the guy who was against all this stuff to start with. Yeah, that is the best person to bring along because...because, uh...since he, um, hates this Santa Claus idea, he will know when you get the genuine guy, because his mustache will burst into flame. In 3-D. On the White House lawn.
Keymar and Volgar guide the ship into Earth orbit, and then Keymar requests that they find Santa Claus. Volgar gives this I'm-Against-This look, but they activate their Santa Claus finder thing. First, of course, they have to see a pic of New York City, so Volgar can dismiss it as not as great as Martian cities. (It's too above-ground for his taste, and he notes that a single blast of the Martian “Q-Ray” would be all that was needed to devastate it.) Yeah, but we got Santa Claus, you just have a mustache.
Keymar notes that they're not here to destroy, but to kidnap Santa Claus. So the awesome power of the Q-Ray will have to wait for the sequel, or the remake.
Finally, after some comic bits about mistaking street corner Santas for the real thing (both Volgar and Keymar pick a different corner—see, it's funny, because...uh, because...[whistles])
Anyway, they note the presence of hundreds of street corner Santas, and Volgar wants to know if they're supposed to bring 'em all back. Keymar reiterates that no, they don’t, just one. He doesn't care which one, but you know, he's not going to pick some goof in a fake beard, right? What kind of movie/video would that be?
Well, a short one...
Cut to a newscaster interrupting prime time to announce a UFO. We get some stock footage showing they're taking this seriously. Lots more stock footage. Including some computers, some missiles being prepped for launching, and so on. On the Martian ship, a guy notes that the radar beams are starting to track them. Keymar orders Volgar to turn on the radar shield. Sounds like a day late and a dollar short, but hell, who cares around now.
There's a momentary panic as the radar shield doesn't work, but that's quickly fixed as Dropo is removed from a cabinet. Dropo! Who would have thought he would figure into this movie!
What do you mean, you all did? Well, argh, then!
Anyway, Dropo excuses his presence by saying he'd never been to Earth and all, and then he touches some controls with upset the craft's equilibrium, and he's ordered below pretty severely. Well, at least no one says, “Dropo, you rascal, you! When will your comic stylings fail to amuse us all!” No, they seem pretty upset with him. Keymar even threatens to leave Dropo in place of Santa Claus! That sounds like grounds for interplanetary war, the first in our history, too. All over Dropo!
Back in this movie, Dropo pops out of sight, and the crew decides to land near a lake. They set the rocket silencers, which I would imagine is a big help in remaining semi-undetected.
As they land, Volgar observes, “All this trouble over a fat little man, in a red suit.”
Back to the newscaster, who announces the UFO's disappearance from radar screens. It's as if they had a radar shield, or something!
Newscaster segues into some stock footage of Air Force guys scrambling and so on. Jets taking off. Etc. And more etc.
The flying wing (last seen ineffective against George Pal's Martians) is seen taking off.
Back to the Martians and their rather involved landing sequence. Good thing the stock footage missed them! Martians land. Cue: lots of irrelevant footage. In three! Two! One!
Keymar announces to the crew that Volgar will be in the Santa-snatching group, and Dropo will remain on board. I smell trouble already!
The ship lands, and we cut to some kids in a forest listening to the radio reports of the UFO. Say, could this be THE forest, where the Martians were due to land? It makes sense—land a long way away from the street corner Santas, because, um, otherwise, uh, you'd...well, you'd...uh--
Ahem. Well, the kids listening to the radio snap it off, and the little girl asks Billy what a Martian looks like, Billy points out that no one has seen one, so he doesn't know.
Little girl attests that she doesn't believe in Martians, and Billy asks what she'd do if a Martian walked up right behind her?
Do you smell that smell? Aye, it's the scene of an Ironic Plot Occurrence rearing its head! Careful now, don't scare it off by speculatin'!
Well, little girl asserts that she would scream, and when real lame Martians show up, she actually screams! Of course, Billy counsels “Betty” to knock it off as he is trying to catch a few winks. See, it's comedy, because he doesn't believe her, but she is actually accurate! I'll pause while you hold your sides in, lest they burst with merriment at this display of humor. No, no, take your time. You sure?
Okay, the Martians show up and quickly overpower the two Earth children. Wonder what Cho-Cho would have said about that! No matter, though, as Keymar explains that the kids should not be afraid, as the Martians have kids just like these Earth kids, only, they're Mars kids! Keymar is pretty kindly, and one senses Volgar is exercising restraint by not blasting the kids. He is just itching. You can tell. That is the sign of great acting. Well, one imagines it is.
Well, Betty notes the Martian antennae, and asks if the Martians are television sets? Keymar chuckles over this childish wisdom, but Volgar (natch) dismisses this as a ”stupid question.” “Is this what you want to do to our children on Mars? Turn them into nincompoops like these? “
“Hold your tongue, Volgar,” advises Keymar, and he then asks Billy his name. Billy obliges, noting further that his surname is “Foster.” As in foster children? Like, you know, they're orphans or something of that nature? He also introduced Betty.
Betty looks kind of old, like perhaps she's another midget. Anyway, Keymar wonders aloud if Billy can help the Martians find one of the Santa Clauses they noted on their viewers. Billy counters that of Santas, there can be only one; the others are mere pretenders and imposters who, good natured though their mission is, couldn't make a toy if you bit them in half. He also notes, a word at a time, that Santa is at the North Pole. Having gathered the info they need, the Martians prepare to leave, but of course Volgar meanly grabs them. Keymar is stunned by this development, but someone else notes that the kids could squeal on them. So they drag the kids to the ship. A discordant pop-jazz flourish signals the end of the scene.
A newscaster notes the disappearance of the children. Wow, the press sure does work fast! Hope they, you know, made sure all their facts were germane before rushing to broadcast. The newscaster also notes that the “mysterious object from space” is also missing, and we get some stock footage of a plane being refueled in mid-air. Huh. Well, that’s always fun to watch, relevant or not.
On the Martian ship, Dropo takes the kids to see the warp drive chamber. They're suitably impressed. Dropo notes that the kids are not supposed to be here, and Billy laconically delivers a line while reaching for a control, probably the “jettison fuel” switch, or perhaps the History Eraser button. Dropo comically panics and allows that Billy shouldn't touch anything. Dropo goes on to explain some of the controls, including the device that shields the ship from radar. A light starts flashing, indicating that someone is on the way to catch everyone right here, where they're not supposed to be. Dropo hides the kids in a convenient storage bin, while the rest of the crew enter. There's a bit of business where Volgar almost opens the storage bin, but when he hears someone say “Approaching North Pole” he forgets all about that and turns to his duty.
Everyone prepares to land, and Keymar informs Dropo he's in charge of the kids again, he “must not let them escape, now.”
“Now, or ever?” asks Volgar. He then points out that if they bring the kids to Mars and keep them there, “No one will ever know that Santa Claus was kidnapped by Martians.”
Keymar agrees with this, and tells Dropo not to let the kids out of his sight. Dropo, all nervous and things, glances at the kids' hiding place then leaves. See, this is funny because he is actually going away from where the kids are! It's very, very humorous, because if it isn't very, very humorous, this movie is going to be one long painful ride.
When they land, Keymar details the duties of everyone. He specifically tells one guy to be ready for take off at any time, and says they'll activate Torg. Volgar says that they don't need Torg to capture a “roly poly fat little man,” but Keymar is taking no chances, noting that “nothing can stop Torg.” Volgar has serious issues with respecting authority, one would think Keymar would note this and take appropriate steps, but he hasn't. I bet Volgar is Keymar's brother in law. That would explain a lot.
All the Martians leave the control room then. Remember, one of them was supposed to be ready to take off at any time? I should think that would entail remaining in the control room, but that wouldn't allow the kids to escape. Sure enough, the kids peek out of the storage bin. “They're gone to kidnap Santa Claus,” Betty notes for the slow learners in the audience, and those just now startled awake by all the nudity (made you look), “and us too.”
Billy notes that they have to help prevent this. In response to Betty's query about “a torg” and what it is, Billy admits that one has him stumped, but he's “not afraid of it,” and “it's not going to stop us.” They leave, but not before Billy yanks a few wires out of the radar shield, so that “the whole US Space Force” will be able to track the Martians. They almost leave then, but in a bit of business far lengthier than it needs to be, Billy says, “Wait.” Slowly he turns, step by step, inch by inch, and just as slowly, he lowers the lid on the radar shield, conveniently hiding his sabotage. Then, they leave.
And we cut to the kids descending the ship's ladder onto the frozen surface of the North Pole. Billly points in a direction, and they run off. Then, the Martians descend. I, uh, suppose they all had to shower and use the bathroom before they set off on their dangerous Santa hunt. Just out of curiosity, do you suppose when they arrive at Santa's workshop, someone will look at them, then look at the Martian doll, and comically goggle their eyes?
Keymar directs the Martians as to their duties in the hunt. Volgar isn't there to receive his instructions, which makes Keymar pretty mad when he finally does show up. He gives Volgar a dressing down about how he (Volgar) is always “opposing” him (Keymar) and he should cut that out right away as it is no longer funny. “I'm warning you, change your attitude!”
“You finished?” Volgar asks. “Chief?”
“Yes I am, and you will be too if you're not careful.”
“Oh, but I am careful...chief. So careful that I looked in on the children before I left the ship.”
“You stay away from those children!”
“That'll be easy to do,” Volgar purrs coolly, then barks out, “They've escaped!”
Keymar thinks this is a Volgar joke (which is not like a vulgar joke). Volgar barks that Dropo ought to be asked. He then speculates that the kids know the plan and are going to warn Santa, so we can see an exciting montage of Santa activating his automatic defense system.
Another guy cuts to the chase and notes the kids' footprints. Keymar orders the guys to find the kids, and says he'll “put Torg on the trail.”
“Torg, come out of the spaceship,” Keymar orders, emphasizing each word. He then repeats this, but we never get to see the awesomeness that is Torg before we cut to the kids.
“Billy, I can't learn any more, I'm cold,” opines Betty. Oh, she said “run” and not “learn.” Ooopsie. She also notes that she'd tired and “it's beginning to snow.”
Billy notes that they can't stop now, they have to warn Santa. Then Billy spots Volgar prowling around the set.
“He's the mean one, the one who doesn't like us,” Betty notes, again for the slow folks in the audience. Billy grabs her by the hand and they run off. They hide in a tiny cave. Volgar approaches, notes the footsteps leading to the cave and pokes his head in, but just then, a guy in a very bad polar bear costume shows up and growls. Volgar retreats in the face of this awesome menace. The kids breathe a sigh of relief. They exit the cave briefly, but then the polar bear guy menaces them, and they go back in. Fortunately, the guy soon tires of this unwinnable game, and goes off somewhere. Into our memories, no doubt. So the kids leave the cave again and note, again, that it sure is cold here in the North Pole. Who would have thought that? Billy notes that the snow will cover their footprints, but Betty counters that it will make finding Santa all the harder.
Betty, however, spots a pair of glowing lights and proclaims that it is Santa's workshop. Billy notes that the lights are moving...toward them!
And we get our first glimpse of the awesome Torg. Billy opines that this is not Santa's house. Asked what it might, in fact, be, he admits he does not know. And we get more Torg. He looks like a meaner, dumber version of Lie Bot. He lumbers right up to the kids, who stand stock still in fright, or because the director forgot to tell them what to do. A handheld camera shot slowly tracks toward Betty's wide, gaping mouth.
And Torg grabs the kids and holds them tight. (I can't help feeling that Torg's effectiveness is considerably lower with prey that, you know, uses its feet to skedaddle.) Volgar shows up. “Good work, Torg! Now destroy them, crush them!” Getting no immediate response, the always impatient Volgar repeats the highlights: “Crush them, Torg! Do as I say!”
But Keymar shows up and tells Volgar that, knowing Volgar would attempt this, he set Torg's controls so that he would only obey Keymar. He orders Torg to release the kids, and tells them, “You are very lucky. Now don't try to escape again! You may not be so lucky next time!” He then orders another underling to return the kids to the ship and lock them in there.
“You won't get away with this, you, you Martian!” Billy defiantly flings the only insult he can think of at these invaders from another world. Considering how they've behaved so far, “Martian” is actually a pretty good insult.
Keymar says that Torg will go and get Santa and that “no one is to be harmed.”
“Bah,” sneers Volgar, asking what has happened to the “great warriors of our planet. Mars used to be the planet of War! Mark my words, Keymar...your softness will destroy us!”
Keymar...sigh. If you can't see that this guy is a MAJOR LEAGUE troublemaker, and a threat to the security of your realm, then...well, I suppose “Martian” is a pretty good insult after all.
“Santa Claus, toys, games, laughing children,” Volgar further sneers.
“We shall see,” Keymar counters. “But for now, to your posts!” And Torg walks right into the camera as we fade, making his awesomeness, his sheer overpowering presence, seem more and more…illusive. I'm sorry, but he's an extra large Lie Bot. He probably doesn't even have Lie Bot's way with words, or his soft touch on the banjo.
Cut to a window at Santa's workshop. A Martian hoves into view and peers inside. Inside, the graveyard shift are still pounding away at toys while Santa stands around.
Back outside, Keymar issues an order: “Get him, Torg!” And Torg's awe-inspiring theme music starts up, and he knocks the door down, and (narrowly avoiding slipping) he strides toward Santa. A brave elf tells him that he's not allowed inside, and Torg uses his totally compelling greatness to pick up the elf, and continue toward Santa.
“Where did you come from?” asks Santa. “You're the biggest toy I've ever seen!” He strides around the metallic colossus. “And very well made, too!”
Outside, Keymar's cool façade cracks and he swears. “By the great Dog Star, Santa's treating him like a toy!” He pauses. “Get him, Torg, grab him!”
“He's become a toy,” a Martian notes softly. Keymar orders this guy, Volgar and himself to go get Santa personally.
So they stride into the workshop. Santa asks if these are further toys, but an elf (I'm going to bet it's the prophetic, all-seeing Winky) identifies them as Martians. Keymar says that Santa “is coming with us.”
“No, it's too near Christmas,” objects an elf; Volgar sneers, “Quiet, you!” And when they don't, in fact, remain quiet, he freezes them with his Wham-O Air Pistol.
These were actual toys, still being sold when this movie was made, and still being sold when it was presented on television. As a child of some years ago, I remember watching this film, watching these “Martian weapons” being brought to bear, and noting even at my tender age that these were toys that were then commercially available. I think I even had one. The only difference is, the ones you could buy shot a kind of ping-pong ball. These, “adapted” for the film (by buying them) forgo the ping-pong ball.
Now, I just happened to pause the film so I could blather on about toys, and what we have on screen is two elves, frozen in the act of pointing out that Volgar is a bad man, etc. And in the background, I swear unto you, hanging on the wall is a flesh-colored teddy bear, whose arms are holding its spread legs wide open! I am not kidding you. Here is a picture!
[Ed's Note: Can't find the Picture.] Oh great, you lose the evidence! [Get on with it.]
Santa, you damn perv! What the hell! Unless this is Winky's handiwork. Either way, I bet we can point this as the origin of the disintegration of the morals of a generation!
Or something. Back to the film. Santa wants to know what's happened to the elves, and Keymar says that it is harmless, and will wear off in a short while. Volgar, you old softy, you! I was certain you would have put your Wham-O Air Blaster on “kill”!
“Oh. Oh!” Santa says. “Well, why didn't you say so in the first place!” He seems remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.
Of course, now there are more witnesses who can attest that Martians kidnapped Santa Claus, I point out, but the film didn’t hear me.
Keymar says they need Santa on Mars, but Santa is still intrigued with this “frozen elf” concept. I bet he's thinking, If I can freeze them for several months of the year, I don't have to feed or pay them.
Mrs. Claus shows up, and starts causing trouble (while seeming not to notice the Martians), and then one of them freezes her, too.
Santa notes that his wife will be quite angry about this turn of events. Keymar, sensing that this scene is really going on too long, orders Torg to grab Santa, but Torg just sits there like a big tin idiot, not moving. Volgar notes that, yes indeed, Torg is just a toy; “Best to leave him here.” Which is kind of interesting, as Santa really didn't do anything to Torg except admire his workmanship. He never even touched him. Such are the mysterious and unknowable powers of Santa.
Santa apologizes to his frozen wife, saying none of this was his idea, and also noting that he cannot recall any other occasion when she was so silent. To more discordant jazz-pop, everyone leaves.
And we get a headline on the Daily Tribune, an EXTRA in fact, “Santa Claus Kidnapped by Martians!” So all that hooey about keeping the kids so no one would know the truth turned out, in fact, to be hooey as we all suspected it would.
We then get a sped up bit to show other newspapers from all around the world no doubt reporting the same state of affairs in their own native tongues. And we end with yet another EXTRA from the Daily Tribune, reading “Martians Kidnap Santa Claus!” The same front page is used, but boy, that's covering it from all angles, the Daily Tribune!
Our newsreader from before breaks in to say, “...and Mrs. Santa Claus has positively identified the kidnappers as Martians. Never in the history of mankind have the nations of the world reacted with such unanimity and cooperation. Tonight, the lights will burn until dawn in the United Nations building as the leaders of the world map a course of action.”
So, that's all it took to unite the nations of the world! All right, United Federation of Planets, here we come!
Our newsreader then switches to a live interview with “Werner Von Green” which is funny, because the real guy's name was “Von Braun” which rhymes with the color brown. Don’t you think that's utterly hilarious?
Well, um, we have this guy and he says, that all the equipment at the space center is being readied, and all the astronauts have gone into accelerated training. “Now, our star-shot ship is supposed to undergo six months of test flights, but we are going to forget about the testing, and go after those Martian monkeys.”
“Isn't that risky?”
“Of course it is risky, but every one of our astronauts is begging for the chance to go after the Martians. Who wouldn't give everything to bring Santa back to our children?”
And we get some stock footage of rockets launching, mission control people looking serious, etc.
And we cut immediately to Keymar, saying, “Earth hasn't reacted yet.” Keymar, you are one…Martian.
“No radar beams bouncing off our ship,” he adds, “it looks like we made a clean getaway!”
Just then a bearded Martian emerges from a door, laughing like crazy. He is asked how the “captive” is, and he responds that “he's having the time of his life! He's such a funny little man, why, I've only been with him five minutes and he has me laughing just like an Earthling! Ha ha ha!”
While the others look uncomfortably at this guy, he tries a riddle: “What's soft and round, and you put it on a stick, and you toast it in a fire? And it's green?”
Keymar admits this stumps his vast intellect, and the bearded guy responds, “A Martian-mellow!” and he renews his laughing.
In a culture starved of wit, this turns out to be the height of hilarity, and everyone laughs...except Volgar, of course.
“That's what you're all becoming,” he says, voice dripping with contempt, “Martian-mellows. Soft. Weak! That old man is a menace!”
Cut to the Martian ship's brig, where Santa is regaling Billy and Betty with tales of his past glories. Something about a foggy night, and a huge, cyclopean chimney that Santa was crawling down. He then delivers the punchline, which is that it was not a chimney, but the smokestack of the Queen Elizabeth ship.
He laughs wheezingly at this joke, while Betty and Billy remain stone-faced. Since this is their preferred method of acting, it's hard to know if this indicates they found the story unfunny or just didn't hear their cue.
Santa asks if they thought that was funny, and they respond robotically, “Yes, Santa.” Again, since their line delivery was never less than wooden, it's hard to know what we're supposed to think here. But my guess is, they're sad.
Billy spills the reason for this sadness when he notes that it was they who told the Martians where Santa might be found.
Santa, however, pooh-pooh's the very idea that these kids could be responsible for anything, other than scattered migraines. “Oh, balderdash and a fiddle-dee-dee” is his exact phrasing. “Everybody knows where Santa lives.” Well, everybody except Martians. “Besides,” he notes philosophically, “I've always wanted to visit Mars.” Dropo appears at the door.
“Mommy and Daddy are going to be angry,” says Betty, trying to sound like a robot, because...because, well, there isn't a reason. She just does.
Santa says that's nothing, his wife will kill him. Well, not in those terms, but I'm trying to spice this up. He laughs about this, notes that it is not cheering up the children, and gives them hugs.
Dropo then enters. “Come and get it...dinner time!” he announces, flourishing a plate of pills.
“Here's Dropo,” Santa plays the MC, “if I can't cheer you up, Dropo can, he always makes me laugh!” Santa, your tastes in comedy are, oh well, you're a nice man. You're very nice. You're forgiven.
Dropo displays the pills and says there's soup, and beef stew, and chocolate ice cream. Billy declines these drugs, though. Dropo then requests Billy's chocolate ice cream. Billy accedes, and Dropo practically has an orgasm.
So...they have beef and chocolate on Mars, or were these pills whipped up especially for the guests? We'll probably never know! I'll be awake all night wondering. Of course I could just remember the earlier scene, where Lady Momar enthused about her “buttered asparagus” pills, but where’s the sport in that?
Dropo leaves, and Betty examines the pill she took from Dropo's tray. “Gee, Mars must be a terrible place to live.” If all you'd seen of Martians were Dropo and Volgar, I could easily see you coming to that conclusion. Torg doesn't help the illusion, too.
“Pills for dinner,” Santa says with distaste. “I suppose if a Martian has a headache, he doesn't take pills, he takes chocolate ice cream.” He then laughs at his joke, and once again, is distressed when the kids do not follow suit.
The thing is, though, Santa is a nice man who makes toys and brings them to kids. He is not a comedian. Never has been. Oh, one supposes that he is jolly and friendly and probably knows a handful of jokes, but, we don't look for him to comedy. Definitely not in this movie, at any rate.
Back in the control room, a Martian looks at an oscillator and says that a blip on the screen is not “an asteroid” but is, in fact, “a spaceship,” and that this spaceship is rapidly gaining on them. Keymar says this is impossible, as the radar shield would prevent this. Volgar goes to look at the radar shield and notes the sabotage.
He then goes on a rant about Earthlings, how dangerous they are, how he personally warned Keymar, and how Earthlings will “destroy us if we allow them. [pause] Well, I won't allow them.” He gets a dreamy look in his eyes and storms out of the control room.
Keymar notes the damage, orders the repairs to be made, and says he'll take evasive action.
In the brig, Volgar shows up and steps inside. He sarcastically inquires after the Earthlings' welfare. He notes that the brig is kind of crowded, and asks if they'd like to see the rest of the ship.
“You're not fooling me, you don't like us,” Billy notes.
“You're mean,” Betty pronounces.
“Oh, come now, that's not true! Why, Santa makes everyone feel good. Even me!”
“I don't trust you,” Billy avers.
“Now, now, Billy boy,” Santa states, “that's not the Christmas spirit.” He addresses Volgar. “Why of course, Volgar. We'd love to take the grand tour.”
And everyone leaves the cell, and Volgar skips out after them.
And we cut to a little hatchway, which reads (in English) “Warning, check equipment before leaving ship.” Say, I bet I know where this is going, and yes, I can hear you talking about how wrong I am. It's because I have Santa powers and know what you're thinking. He's going to try and trick them into the airlock!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we're only 46 minutes into this, and Santa isn't even on Mars yet, let alone busting loose with any conquering.
Anyway, Volgar brings them to the airlock, which Billy explains to the audience. (Presumably, Volgar already knows the room's function.) Volgar congrats young Billy on his erudition, and notes that the controls that open the airlock are in the main control room; once the switch is pressed, the doors open sixty seconds later, even if there are children and Santas inside. Oops. Billy goes on to note that it would be bad if the door opened with all of them dressed as they are, ie, with no space suits. Again, Volgar notes Billy's knowledge. Betty helpfully says that Billy is going to be a spaceman “when he grows up.”
“Maybe sooner than that,” Volgar says sotto voce. And he kinds of sneakily backs away from the little group, closing the door behind him.
Despite Billy's vast intellect, he fails to note this, though he does note the 60 second timer above the door.
Then he notes the locked door. Santa demurs, saying Volgar probably stepped out for something, he didn't mean to lock the door. The children basically say mean things about Volgar, and gosh but doesn't he deserve each one, too.
We cut to Volgar, opening the airlock switch. The kids note the timer moving, and they start pounding on the door, calling out the names of the nice Martians to enlist their aid. They note the passage of time (there are fifteen seconds left) but can come up with no better plan than futile door pounding. Santa notes a smallish opening attached to a pipe; it's about the size of a kitchen sink. He asks Billy where this leads.
Back in the control room, Volgar is counting down the seconds. As soon as he reaches zero, Keymar bursts in. “Who's in the airlock, Volgar?” he demands.
“No one,” Volgar purrs, “...now!”
Dropo also pops in, and mentions the lack of Earthlings in the cell. Well, this leads to a long fist-fight between Keymar and Volgar, which Keymar finally wins. Just then, Santa and the kids walk through the door; Santa himself announces, “Merry Christmas!” for some reason. Maybe it's the only greeting he knows.
If Dropo hadn't left just before the fight, I bet he'd say, “G-g-g-ghosts!” and comically faint. You really missed out on an opportunity for comedy gold, Mr. Director, sir. Keymar is delighted to see the Earthlings, and asks how they escaped their predicament.
Santa explains (while excusing all of Volgar's actions with “accidentally”, concluding that the Earthers were afraid they'd be killed, “accidentally”) that they crawled out through the airduct. When Keymar notes how tiny that is, the kids laugh uproariously. Santa explains that he is Santa. (You know, large man squeezing down tiny chimneys.) When pressed further, Santa says “Why, you wouldn't want me to tell my secrets, would you?” Actually, I thought that is just what the Martians wanted.
Volgar collapses on the floor, and Santa says, “Oh, poor man, he's fainted...just like someone who's seen a ghost.” Everyone in the room (except Volgar) just busts out laughing at this. Okay, so the director did manage to wotk the “ghost” thing in, but it would have been better with Dropo. After all, Dropo always makes Santa laugh! Santa kind of works a tiny dollop of contempt into his tone, making him seem a bit less addled.
Well, we see the Martian ship moving through space, toward a somewhat stylized sphere painted to look like Mars, while happy trumpet pop jazz plays. Inside, the crew prepare to land. Keymar notes that as soon as they land, Volgar will be removed from the brig and put on trial immediately. And they land without incident.
So, what happened to the Earth ship that was in hot pursuit? I suppose at one point, the Martians repaired the radar screen, but come on...they're Martians! Where else are they going to go, other than Mars? Perhaps the Earth ship just decided it wasn't worth it after all. Perhaps they said (quietly) that Santa is just a jolly fat man, and it was all a stunt by KID-TV anyway, and everyone’s tired and needs a drink.
Two Martians, singing “Jingle Bells,” enter the brig where Volgar is tied and gagged. They wish him a Merry Christmas and get him to his feet. But the gag slips, and sigh, it's Dropo. (The gag sure slipped all right.) Dropo tries to explain how he was duped, but he is told to “shut up.” The Martians call Keymar and tell him the situation, and he orders a constant guard on the Earthers. “Volgar will be back!” he says as the music strikes a dramatic chord.
And we fade to Lady Momar doing some stuff with Martian machines. The two kids pop out to ask if Dad's back, and they're informed not yet, and told to get back to their studies. I'm sure glad we got that scene.
Just then, Keymar walks in. He and Lady Momar touch foreheads, and she asks if he's alone. But this isn't a prelude to hanky-panky, as Keymar admits, “No,” and in walk Betty, Billy and Dropo. Lady Momar welcomes them warmly to their home. Dropo points out that there's someone else, and he asks Santa to make his entrance.
“Lady Momar,” he says, bowing, “I'm not accustomed to entering people's houses by the door—but you have no chimney!” He chuckles.
“Welcome, Santa Claus, we hope you'll make the children on Mars very happy.”
Santa says he'll give it a try. “Where are they?” he asks.
Keymar pipes up, “Well, we'll start with my youngsters. How are they, Momar?”
“The same—quiet, remote and very unhappy. They're inside, studying.”
Santa requests to meet them, and points out that the Earth kids would probably like to meet them, too.
“I'll tell them you're here,” Keymar says, and exit Keymar.
And we cut to the Mars kids with their education machines. The voice from the machine says, “Y over Pi R squared. Determine the correct orbit from Mars to Jupiter, traveling along vector A through the 17th quadrant at the power of twelve megatrons.” At this point, before I can point out that there isn't an “orbit” that Mars and Jupiter share, Keymar enters and school is ended for the day. The kids are very glad to see Keymar, and he greets them warmly.
A digression: don't the Martians believe in forewarning? I mean, Keymar could have called from the spaceport when he arrived, so Lady Momar would know he was on the way; further, she could have heard about the landing on the radio or something. And here, Keymar just walks through the kids' door; couldn't he have said, “Hey, kids, I'm home!” Except then they'd have time to ask, “Whadja bring me?”
Anyway, back in the movie, Keymar tells the kids he's brought Earth kids, from Earth. They come in. Keymar introduces Billy and Betty to “Bomar” and “Ghemar.” I give up, I tell you, with these damned Martian names. How the Hell do the adult male Martians manage to keep their same names throughout the movie? Maybe it's one of those cultural rite-of-passage things. When you win your first Batle'th contest, you get to keep a name. Perhaps it is on a slip of paper, inside a hat.
Well, the kids say “Hi” to one another, and there's that awkward “what's a handshake” moment that seems de rigeur in these things, and it turns out that both boys are ten, and both girls are eight. Both the Martians are taller than their Earth counterparts, which is actually scientifically accurate, as Mars' lower gravity would allow taller people. I read that in an Isaac Asimov article way in the past.
Keymar allows that there is yet one more Earther to be introduced, and lo, in walks Santa. He chuckles, and continues to chuckle awkwardly as the Martian kids kind of gape at him. Finally, the Earth kids join in the laughter, and after a couple of pokes from Santa, the Martian kids try this “laughing” thing themselves.
In the hall, Keymar, his wife and Dropo are listening in. “What's that?” Dropo asks, re: the sound.
“They're laughing,” Keymar says, with astonishment, noting that his kids are laughing too.
“They've never laughed before!” Lady Momar notes. The two parents enter this den of merriment, while Dropo kind of dances with himself as the scene fades to black.
Back in the living room, Lady Momar says to Santa that this is the first time in months her kids have actually gone to sleep without being sprayed.
Keymar says that tomorrow they're going to set up Santa's workshop.
Santa says that's great, he wants the workshop to be going “full blast” soon, so he can get back to Earth and take care of Christmas there.
Keymar has to break the news to him. “Santa Claus, you will never return to Earth. Now, you belong to Mars.”
“Ho ho ho,” Santa says mechanically.
And we cut to Volgar's cave, where he has his own Dropo-type henchman for some unfathomably stupid reason. Volgar laments the fact that he has to hide in a cave like “a speckled Mars worm” and then he goes on about how he'll get Keymar for this. His hands make strangling gestures in the air.
His Dropo says they should get rid of Santa Claus too, but Volgar proclaims this “suicide” as Santa is under constant guard. He notes that “We won't get within twenty feet of Santa Claus without being disintegrated.” He looks thoughtful. “But I have other plans!” He then seems to react to the horn music on the soundtrack, and exits the frame. His Dropo notes that someone is approaching the cave, but it's okay for Volgar, as it is one of his men.
Volgar wants to know what this new guy has found out. He notes that the toyshop is operating “full blast” (!) and that “no one suspects me,” so he was able to get a good long look. It turns out that the toyshop on Mars is automatic, turning out toys “by the second” and so “soon, Mars will be flooded with toys!”
This new henchman looks at the camera and gets a wistful expression. “You know, they got one little toy--it's the cutest thing! It's just a coiled spring! And it goes down steps all by itself. I was tempted to steal one! I'd like to fool around with the thing--” Here he is brutally cut short by being slapped by Volgar.
Well, Mr. Martian, that toy is called a Slinky, and they still make them today, just as they did in the 60's when you were immortalized on film schilling for them. They were legendary for becoming hopelessly entangled and thus, useless, within hours of being removed from their box. But here's something I should tell you: I have one. And after years and years, it is still in perfect shape! How about that!
Well, Volgar doesn't take well to this toy-factory news as you can imagine. “Toys! The decay is setting in! It's even affecting you! Soon all of Martians [sic] will be blithering idiots!” Well, Volgar, your henchmen have a head start here. “Oh, we've no time to lose, we must go into action! Now, we cannot eliminate Santa Claus, but we can discredit him—make him a laughing stock throughout Mars!” Volgar, there's a future for you at CBS news.
He goes on to note that Santa's workshop closes at “ten o'clock” and that's when they'll perform their nefariousness to the max.
Cut to (I guess) the workshop in question, where the Martian kids and the Earth kids are loading stuff into laundry baskets. From the look of things, stuffed dogs, some of them wearing suits, are going to be big on Mars this year. Dropo arrives, asks how things are, and is told they are “swell.” He has hundreds of letters from all over Mars. Santa is glad of that, though he is busy manning this console that looks like a big slot machine.
Billy holds a basket out at the end of the assembly line, and something that looks like a very small version of the Trojan Rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail tumbles in. Not the Killer Rabbit, mind you, but the Trojan Rabbit. Next, one of the Mars kids holds out his basket, and gets a toy machine gun. What values was it that the Martians wanted to import, again?
Betty reads a letter which requests “two dolls” and Santa presses a button. On the conveyor belt, there are a number of doors which read, “Ball,” “Bat,” “Doll,” and “Ca” (probably short for “Cash”), and the “Doll” door coughs up a couple of dolls. Santa then fills an order for “three baseball bats” and they are duly vomited out, followed by a toy cannon! Well, heck, Volgar ought to be happy about the toy guns, yes? Teach the Martian kids about being warriors and all, as he wanted? It sure seems odd that “Bat” has a door of its own—I guess the Martian kids really took to baseball in a big way.
Santa gets a sour look. “Look at me. Santa Claus, the great toy maker, pressing buttons. That's automation for you.” Yes, Santa, that is. That is what the word “automation” means. “Technology,” he says with a rueful grin, and then says something that sounds like “fweesh” and chuckles, also ruefully. He then decides that a couple of dolls and three bats are “enough for today.” (And he complains about technology!) “Let's close up shop!” he yells over the mechanical din. Everyone creates an organic din by talking about how swell the day's work was. Santa pulls what looks like a suit identical to the one he is wearing off a hook, and he notes that it is “nice” and that Lady Momar made it for him.
Dropo, his voice a cacophony of wonderment, asks if he can try on this suit, but Santa gently dissuades him by noting he is not fat enough to wear a decent suit. And everyone laughs at this display of Santa's biting wit, and Dropo appreciates his lack of Santa features, though he seems a bit sad to be caught up short like that—in front of the children, too! I bet this embitters him so much that he becomes a homicidal maniac later in life, though probably way too late to matter for this film.
And we cut to Keymar and Lady Momar playing with toys. No, no, no, they're just regular toys, not...uh, adult toys. I'm sure Martians know nothing of such things! Santa enters (accompanied by all the film's children and Dropo) and says, “Well, there's another day gone, children; as they say on Earth, another day, another dollar.”
Keymar asks how Santa is feeling today...tired?
Santa says no, he's not tired but—and he holds up his finger--”But my finger is. It's been pressing buttons all day long.” He chuckles weakly, and then says he's going to go in and “put my finger to bed.”
Lady Momar gives the kids milk pills, and says they have to go to bed in half an hour. A Martian kid asks if they can all watch the Earth channel? Keymar agrees to this, but emphasizes, only for thirty minutes!
The kids all rush off to watch Earth programs. Which makes one wonder, okay, the Martians have television. What do they do with it, just watch Earth programs? Isn't there a Martian version of Sesame Street? What about the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, or Hill Street Blues, for the adults? Not to mention Cinemax, or MTV for the inevitable Martian teenagers.
Well, we leave this notion unanswered and while the Martian kids rush off to watch Earth TV, Keymar asks why the Earth kids don't want to do the same. All they want to do is go to bed. They seem dispirited and deflated (as well as can be judged by their acting ability). Genuinely concerned, Keymar tries to get to the bottom of this “dispirited Earthling” thing but he makes no headway.
After they exit, Keymar notes that the Earth kids are just as depressed and stuff as the Martian kids used to be. He asks Lady Momar what she thinks, and she, being wiser than he, says that they are homesick. And she says he has to send the kids back to Earth.
(All throughout this, Dropo is goofing out quite intensely in the background, but to no avail, as he is not entertaining anyone.)
The camera tracks in to Keymar, and he mutters, “Impossible!”
Cross fade to Dropo farting around with Santa's Martian-made costume. (Have you noticed that Dropo is one of the few Martians whose name doesn't end in “-ar”? Probably the “o” at the end of his name stands for “zero” which is his credit rating.)
Dropo notes Santa's advice to “fatten up.” So Dropo starts pounding the pills, the food pills that is. All the pills are well-known Earth deserts, showing that though our two planetary cultures are separated by the black gulfs of interplanetary space, we are all joined in the ritual of desserts. The way to a Martian-Human peace agreement is through everyone's stomach.
After downing a handful of pills, Dropo again examines his belly area, finds it dissatisfactory, and pronounces that pills take too long. So he grabs a pillow and stuffs it into his pants, puts on the coat, finds a convenient fake beard and extra hat, announces that his “finger isn't tired” and decides to go down and make more toys.
You see where this is leading, right? Good, because I hate to spell out the obvious. No, no, I really do hate that. Look, here is a certificate saying how much I hate doing that. You're welcome.
Well, Volgar and his dim henchmen take this moment to sneak into the factory. While repeated shushing the other two, Volgar plays his light over the factory. And it turns out that “CA” was short for “Car” and right next to that is “Train,” followed by “Tools.” And after that is a big sign that says “Caution – Controls” and I think that this is where Volgar and his men will get up to mischief.
There's a brief hommage to The Three Stooges, as a henchman drops a heavy bag on Volgar's foot, who jumps in pain and slaps one of the guys, who in turn belts the other guy, who drops something else on Volgar's foot...forever and ever, amen. Finally, they straighten out themselves and go to work. More Stoogisms occur (if the Martians decide that their kids need native Three Stooges, Volgar is a damn natural Moe). Anyway, Volgar sabotages the controls, but notes that someone is coming, so they all hide, and Dropo waltzes into the shop singing “Jingle Bells.” He does a little dance as he enters.
Volgar and his henchmen congratulate themselves on this turn of luck; Santa, alone and with no guards, why, that should be easy pickin's.
What? How could Volgar et al mistake Dropo for Santa, considering that Dropo still has green skin and the distinctive Martian headgear? Well, that's a good question. It seems that, um, well, the uh...ahem. Uh...well, the lights are low. That must be it.
The three pop up and surround Dropo, who doesn't even notice them until way after a regular person would. Fade to black.
Funny how Volgar has gone from scary, hateful villain to buffoonish, hateful villain as soon as they landed. And now, all he can surround himself with are goofs who are just evil versions of Dropo. Say, I bet they're Dropo's older brothers! They're probably the black sheep of the family who broke their mother's heart.
Anyway, we fade in on Volgar and his cronies tossing Dropo (still dressed as Santa) into their villainous lair, while cackling and pointing to the Whamo Air Blasters and asking how he likes “these toys.” Ha ha, how post-modern! See, in the film they’re weapons, not toys, but in real life, they’re toys OF weapons!
“Ho ho ho,” is Dropo's weak riposte. He says “Ho ho ho,” in fact, to any question put to him, like a broken Magic Eight Ball. Volgar states that tomorrow will be the end of Operation Santa Claus, and “Mars returns to normal!” he says with an operatic flourish. He and the men laugh evilly over this.
Back at the house, Lady Momar calls out for Dropo, but of course Dropo doesn't answer. She complains to Keymar about this, noting that “his bed hasn't been slept in.”
Keymar wonders what that rascal Dropo is up to, and then Santa pops by noting that his extra suit (the one Lady Momar made) is missing. Santa puts two and two together for the dimwitted couple. “When you find my missing suit, you'll find Dropo inside it!”
Keymar wants to whack out some discipline on Dropo, but Santa avers that he's just off having fun, making toys and such. Oh, if only they knew!
Lady Momar calls out to the children re: breakfast, but gets no reply. Have they been kidnapped too? I think you're expecting a bit much from Volgar's gang, folks.
No, just turns out the kids were lollygagging, probably watching cartoons or something. We fade to the shop, where Santa flings open the doors and calls out to Dropo. The children all pile inside as well. No Dropo, of course; Santa puts this down to a healthy game of hide and seek, and when Dropo's not found after three seconds, they forget about him and go back to work punching out toys. A doll and a teddy bear are ordered, but when they appear, their heads are reversed! It's true! Toy Story completely ripped off this movie.
Santa puts this down to a single glitch and calls for the next toy; it turns out to be a baseball-tennis racket, which, when you think of it, is kind of clever. It's a first for this movie. Nonetheless, everyone is nonplussed by this turn of events.
“This will never do, the machine isn't working right!” Santa says, immediately ignoring what he just said by asking for the next toy. It's a train, but of course, it isn't a train. It's...something we don't get a good look at, but it's not a train. “This never happened when we made toys by hand,” Santa observes. (The train is an engine, upside down, with cars stuck on the underside.) The machine is switched off (and with it dies the bubbly cheery music). Boomar calls Keymar with his communicator and explains the situ.
Back at the Villain's Lair, Volgar is waking everyone up, usually with a cuff to the head. Sure looks like Dropo has been cowering all night. Apparently, Volgar's plan is to march right into Keymar's hands, while holding “Santa” as a hostage (so as to prevent being disintegrated). No, wait, he's going to go alone, with Simm (his more talkative underling) back in the Martian Villain Lair guarding “Santa.” Simm warns “Santa” about the “nuclear curtain” protecting the cave. It's apparently total death to walk through it.
Back at the machine, Keymar has discovered the sabotage. He finally puts all the pieces together (missing suit, missing Dropo, crossed wires) and says they spell “Volgar.” He's determined to bring this rogue to justice. Santa just sadly shakes his head, thinking of Dropo.
Volgar pops right up at the factory, and Keymar says he's under arrest. Volgar gives a long, loud laugh. He then lists his demands as the destruction of the toy machine (done), return of the earthers to Earth (what, no killing them?) and finally, abandonment of this whole “toy” concept which he admittedly has not been able to get his head around.
Keymar says, “Go ahead and shoot Dropo, fool…in fact, we'll help.” Okay, he doesn't say that, but I bet a lot of people wished he had. In fact, he tells Volgar that he has won, and Volgar and his henchman do this weird shoulder hugging thing which looks...well, I'm sure they're great friends.
Now that he has conceded defeat, of course, then, THEN Keymar turns and asks Volgar if he's certain of his captive's identity.
Volgar says yeah, and then Keymar opens a door, and the two evil-doers peer through.
We don't see Santa, of course, but the bad guys do, and they're dumbfounded as to how Santa escaped and made his way to the factory so swiftly. Keymar answers this by pulling his gun on them, and they reach for the sky. Keymar is going to keep “Voldar” and “Stomo” in the storage room of the toyshop, and he asks some other flunkies to look for a man named “Shimm” somewhere out in the caves.
You know, I bet if Martians ever read our literature, they scratch their heads in puzzlement over the fact that the characters retain the same names from beginning to end. “It just...makes...no...sense!” they howl to their twin moons.
Anyway, Volgar and his dim chum (is that a Chinese dish?) are brought to the storage room and locked in...with Keymar. Ooookay....
And we cut to Dropo in the Lair. Apparently Zimm is off in the restroom or something, as Dropo is easily able to switch the lightbulbs in the nuclear curtain device. And here we didn't think Dropo knew anything!
Well, Zimm confronts “Santa” and they hold a brief conversation, as Zimm asks “Santa” where he thinks he's going, reminds him of the nuclear curtain, asks if he can only say “Ho Ho Ho” (which, as noted, is all that Dropo's responses amount to), and, when his warnings fall upon deaf ears, advises Santa to “be careful!” When Santa runs through the nuclear curtain and remains integrated, Zimm swiftly turns to the control panel, notes the switched bulbs, and frantically undoes the sabotage. Hey, that's sauce for the gander, Zimm!
Back in the storage room, Volgar manages to knock Keymar's gun away, and there follows the dumbest screen fight I've seen in a while. Both use Volgar's companion as a projectile, but, ultimately, Volgar gains the upper hand (he's had more practice tossing said servile, one guesses) and Keymar is knocked out.
Back in the machine room, Santa and Billy are just finishing up repairs. On the soundtrack, it appears it is raining somewhere. Santa says that the machine needs some red paint, and that Billy will find same in the storeroom. But...but, that's where those villains are! Oooh, the suspense!
Fortunately, Volgar cannot keep his yap shut, so Billy overhears about how he's going to just break everything and be ultra-mean and all. Billy runs back to Santa and spills the info.
Santa digests this intelligence, and says, “Well, maybe they'd like to have some fun with our toys, and we'll see that they do, won't we kids?” (He leaves little to the imagination that this “fun,” for Volgar, will be undignified at best, and perhaps fatal at worst. Best Volgar can hope for is to be scarred emotionally for life, but then, a villain's life is never easy, is it kids?)
Santa calls a huddle and outlines his plan, which we don't hear because the soundtrack is given over to “wacky” music.
Say...what if Volgar was Dropo's brother! That would explain a lot. A whole lot!
Well, we fade from this to Santa, in profile, smoking his pipe. The door to the storage room opens, and Volgar leaps forth and brandishes his Whamo Air Blaster right at Santa. (It was nice of him to wait until the kids were prepared—probably the first nice thing Volgar has done all film.)
“Ho, ho, we meet again, eh?” Santa asks, which seems to take some of the wind out of Volgar's sails.
“I don't know how you escaped Shimm, but you won't escape me. You're through!”
“Volgar, why don't you, uh, relax,” Santa advises, which causes Volgar to actually cock his gun. Watch out Santa, it fires deadly ping-pong balls! Full of plague!
“You're going to relax, permanently,” coos Volgar, and just then, he is hit with a spray of yellow fluid (no, no, it is not urine, it is some kind of paint I'm guessing). At the same time, sprightly music plays, and Volgar reacts predictably to being sprayed with paint—he twirls around in humiliation. Then the children start hitting him with balls, shooting him with pop guns, and assaulting him with toy robots, while Santa laughs and laughs.
Toys, uh, well, basically harmless toys, continue their merciless onslaught (a toy trumpeter even plays a fanfare!) and Volgar is caught helpless in the toy attack. There's also a drumming, mean-looking Indian doll, and they children even blow bubbles at Volgar.
I tell you, they are going to have to lock him up and throw away the key.
Out in the hallway, Volgar's underling mugs mercilessly as he watches his boss's humiliation. Then Dropo shows up. The underling is totally mind-boggled, not knowing how Santa could be in two places at once! Before his head explodes, however, he decides that he can “take care” of this new Santa himself. But a ball is shot into his mouth, which, like, totally puts him in his place. Or so one would think; he recovers rapidly and readies his weapon, just as Keymar emerges from the storeroom and disarms him. He orders the toady into the melee, and then says that the kids can cease their attack.
Where is Volgar? Oh, he is...sobbing.
Yes, he is crying big-time, even unto blubbering. The very trombones on the soundtrack make merry of his plight. One of Keymar's orderlies shows up, and takes away the two miscreants. Volgar gets one last chance at dignity by shoving his underling. The chance...fails. The kids all laugh. Dropo waltzes into the room, repeats his Ho Ho Ho manta, and adds, “Merrrrrrry Christmas!” And everyone enjoys this.
Santa goes up and pats Dropo in triumph. “You don't need me here, Keymar, you've got a wonderful Santa Claus of your own!” and Dropo punctuates this with...what? Yes, he does say “Ho ho ho!” How did you know that? Were you peeking?
Well, the room explodes in laughter, and we fade to black.
And fade in on Lady Momar saying goodbye to all the Earthers. All the Martians thank all the Earthlings for the good they've done for Mars, like bringing the Christmas spirit to all and stuff like that, and everyone wishes that everyone else will meet again, sometime.
Santa Claus says to Keymar, “Son, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you and yours, the very--”
Merriest Christmas? Who said that? Ha! You're wrong. He says, “the very best of everything.”
Well, we don't want to get too solemn, eh? Good thing Dropo chooses that moment to Ho Ho Hop into the room, announce that “Dropo Claus is here” and generally shred anyone's good will. He has some obvious padding, which Lady Malomar fails to note, saying instead that he has “put on weight” and Dropo yells about how there's “no pillows,” and Keymar puts this to the test with a pin, which...pops the balloon he was using.
Well, Dropo is abashed but doesn't lose the spirit of fun and stuff.
Santa notes to his fellow Earthlings that, if they hurry, they can get back to Earth in time for Christmas Eve. “Shall we get going?” he asks, and they do that football thing where everyone yells.
“Goodbye, dear friends,” he tells the Martians, “AWAAAAAY!!!!” And just like that, he sweeps out of the room. Only the churlish would point out the need for a spacecraft, and who's churlish on Christmas? Well, yes, you are, but I wasn't talking to you.
And the “Hooray for Santa Claus” song starts up, as Santa turns and bellows out a final “Merry Christmas” to everyone. And we get footage of the Martian ship traveling through space. And we get Santa's visage, and the words Merry Christmas, superimposed over the starfield. Then that fades, and we see this yellow, burnt looking planet move toward us.
Oh my God, it's the Earth! Without a Santa, the nations of the world turned to war, and destroyed the whole world! You bastards, you actually did it! Or whatever that famous line is.
Finally, we're told (at the same time as The End) that this was a Jalor Production. Hey, you forgot the “i”!
“Kimar” was Leonard Hicks, who apparently did little else aside from this movie. “Voldar” was Vincent Beck, he appeared on an episode of Gilligan’s Island, and another of Lost in Space. “Dropo” was Bill McCutcheon; he appeared in Steel Magnolias and was on Sesame Street for a time (he’d be a natural there). “Winky” was Ivor Bodin, who never got a break. John Call was Santa Claus, and he had a handful of additional credits, but for Lady Momar and a lot of the other folks in this production, this was the sole extent of their film careers. Make of that what you will.
Oh, we also get the lyrics on screen. Well, since they went to the trouble--
Hang up that mistletoe
Soon you'll hear Ho Ho Ho
On Christmas Day
You'll wake up and you'll say
Hooray for Santy Claus
Hooray for Santy Claus
You spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S
Hooray for Santy Claus
Hooray for Santy Claus
Hooray for Santy Claus
I'll say this for the song: like Ren & Stimpy's "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song, once you've heard this, it only takes a note or two to make the whole thing play in your head.
As for the movie, I remember seeing this one as a wee tot, as previously mentioned, and while I don’t remember much from that earlier viewing, I do remember the Wham-O Air Blasters, and I remember Dropo. For years and years after seeing this movie, whenever I wanted to refer to someone as an idiot, I would name the person as “Dropo.” That’s how big an impression he made on me.
In the actual movie as I have just seen as a grizzled old man, I have to say (and color me startled) that while Dropo is annoying and not funny, he’s not that bad as a character. Remember, this is ostensibly a children’s movie, and Dropo is certainly energetic enough to make his scenes go by without much tedium. As a matter of fact, the scenes of him in the Villain Lair are actually kind of amusing, as he simply yelps out a frightened, frantic “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to every query put to him. While he’s an idiot, and while I will continue to refer to people who drive slow in the left lane as Dropo, I didn’t actually hate the guy.
The rest of the film…well, it’s a film for kids. While that should not, in the discerning viewer, mean that the production values or care in storytelling should be tossed aside, it does mean for the undiscerning producer, they can be downgraded severly. It’s for kids, right? Kids don’t care, right? They just want certain buttons pushed and they’ll go away happy. If you and I are unable to view this attitude sympathetically, it makes the film rather hard going at times. Most of the time, in fact.
But you can see where it might impinge on the film. For example, the two children, Billy and Betty are stiff and uninvolving; they’re clearly not actors. They’re probably some staff member’s relatives. Much, much cheaper than actors, right? The Martian ray-guns have already been discussed, but you can see here how “cost effective” trumped “creative.”
Of course, the film was doomed when they decided on the title, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. There’s just no way in hell a movie with that moniker is going to be any good at all, except possibly camp value, and who back in 1965 had “camp classic” as a goal? (Nowadays, sure, that’s what everyone seems to be striving for, but let’s not get into that.) For some years now, apparently, there’s been talk of a remake solely for its comedic stupidity value—the reasoning being, everyone’s heard of this film, a remake would be box office gold! Who sees the flaw in that plan?
I’m not sure there’s much more to say. The film is pretty dire, and the reviews you’ll find of it all over the web are much, much funnier than anything in the movie. Maybe even this review. Okay, yeah, it was worth a shot. As Nathan Shumate points out, it’s pretty difficult to base a whole movie around Santa Claus. He’s a nice guy who makes and delivers toys, and that’s kind of the extent of his character. Oh, he might get a little short with Rudolph, or berate the elves on occasion, but these are minor lapses in what is otherwise a pretty exemplary character. The only (successful) movie based pretty much around Santa Claus is the classic Miracle on 34th Street, with Edmund Gwenn, and to be honest, he’s kind of a co-star in that one, along with that guy and that gal and Natalie Wood. I haven’t seen the Tim Allen movies, or the Mexican Santa Claus movie (though I have a copy of the latter), so I can’t really judge their success, but at least in the Allen films, the point is that he is NOT Santa Claus, he’s Santa’s replacement. That is a difference.
Most of the other Christmas movies that feature Santa Claus show him as an important character, sure, but not the main focus of the story. I don’t think there’s enough conflict in the character to really make him a successful lead.
Finally, this movie will probably be a lot of fun to laugh at, and unless you’re very, very young, that’s going to be the only real entertainment had here. In a way, it’s kind of like a precursor to the “Super Friends” cartoon show, as anyone over a certain age will be non-plussed by the sheer, slack stupidity shoe-horned into every moment in an attempt to keep the project from bursting the target age-bracket. The Super Friends talked all the time and never did anything right, and yet things worked out for them consistently, but only because the producers decided that they had to win at the end of each episode (at the same time they decreed that the villains had to escape at the same time). In fact, now that I think about it, I’m kind of surprised that the Super Friends never met Santa Claus. It would have been a natural. (They could have saved him from the Toyman.)
Recommended if you have some pals and some beers, or both. If you’re trying to recapture some of the innocence you remember from childhood, however, I’d keep looking elsewhere.
--January 26 – March 10, 2005 - November 30, 2005