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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Okay. I have to admit that I have been avoiding this film. Released in 1964, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (SCCM) was beyond "bad." SCCM often ranks high on "worst film ever" listings. However, Christmas was coming just as the films of 1969 were wrapping up. And, starting the new series, "FrankenFEST" on Christmas, just didn't seem right. At least SCCM would be date-appropriate, so in the forgiving spirit of Christmas, I give you, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  Merrrrry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Two martian children are watching Earth television programming about Santa making toys at his workshop. Their father,Kimar (King Martian), and mother Momar (Mom Martian) worry that their kids don't eat much and just watch TV all the time. Apparently this is the same all over Mars. Kids are as dull as adults. Kimar summons the council and consults Mars' oldest citizen, Chochem, for advice. Chochem says the kids don't have a childhood. All education and responsibility. Need to learn to laugh and play. How? Mars needs a Santa. So, Kimar plans to fly to earth and steal Santa Claus. When he and the others arrive, they are fooled by so many street corner santas. They kidnap Billy and Betty to make them reveal which is the real Santa. They then all travel to the North Pole. They kidnap Santa too, but decide to take Billy and Betty, lest they alert the authorities. En route, Voldar is all upset at bringing toys and laughter to Mars -- the "warrior" planet. Sneakily, he tries to jettison Santa and the kids out the airlock. He fails. On Mars, Santa eventually gets the morose mars-kids: Bomar (Boy Martian) and Girmar (Girl Martian) to laugh. Kimar thinks this is great, so builds a toy making factory. Santa doesn't make toys, he pushes buttons on toy machine. Voldar and his henchmen, lurking as outcasts in a cave, attempt to kidnap Santa for themselves, to use him as a hostage to force Kimar to stop the happy-ization of Mars. Trouble is, they kidnap the comic sidekick, Dropo, who was dressing up as Santa, just for fun. More hi-jinx ensue when Voldar thinks he's got the upper hand, but Santa (the real one) is obviously not his hostage. Voldar is attacked by the children with toys in a comic melee. Kimar has him arrested. All is well. Billy and Betty are homesick. Santa, having charmed (conquered, I suppose) all the martians (except Voldar) into smiles, wants to get back for Christmas. Dropo will be the Martian Santa, operate the toy factory and bring toys and peace and good will to all of Mars. Everyone says goodbye. The rocket flies back to earth. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It is designed to appeal to young children, so it is intended to be a sappy sort of "fun." At an adult level, there is some amusement at the parody of classic science fiction films: martians, cheap "alien" sets and ray guns, etc.

Cold War Angle
SCCM has no Cold War elements. It is self-deprecating slap stick with no deeper message than adults-are-stupid and kids-rule.

Kid TV Context -- Before judging SCCM too severely, it should be kept in mind that it was aimed at young kids. It was not intended to be a cerebral adult sci-fi. Instead, think of SCCM in the context of children's TV of the early 60s. Look at it as a cross between Captain Kangaroo and Major Astro. The later was an after school kids' show (in Kansas) with a host in a space suit and on a simple "moon base" set. SCCM is more in the spirit of "Captain Kangaroo On Mars" than  Robinson Crusoe on Mars (also 1964).

Kids' POV -- Note how many plot elements are The World, from a kid's point of view. Parents worry that they watch too much TV. Santa is unquestionably real. Martians are real too, are green and have antennae. Many adults are inept bumblers. And, in a bit of pandering, kids can subdue adults with toys. Of course, adult viewers (of serious sci-fi) balk and choke at the silliness, but from the POV of an eight year old in 1964, it all seemed plausible enough.

Gandhi Claus -- On a somewhat more adult level, the message is that kids really can be harmed by too much (inane) TV. Note the subtle pacifist persona of Santa in SCCM. He wins people over to the "Light" side with contagious laughter and jokes. Even though he knows full well that Voldar was trying to kill him, Santa couches it carefully as an "accident." The only "action" Santa condones was the toy attack on Voldar -- symbolic of how "fun" can subdue evil. In the end, Gandhi Claus has everyone convinced to live peaceably, with the biblical phrasing of '"Peace on Earth" (and Mars) and "Goodwill to all men."

Serial Flashback -- For adult viewers in 1964, who may have been eight years old in the late 40s or early 50s, the robot Torg was a bit of nostalgia. Yes, he was crudely constructed compared to Robby or Planeta Bur's John. Torg, however, was all a kid needed for a robot. In fact, Torg seemed very reminiscent to the robot of Republic's early serials or the tin men of Captain Video. One might suspect that Torg was a tragic bit of underachievement, but quite intentional.

Nearly Farr -- Viewers familiar with the TV series M*A*S*H could be mistaken for thinking they see actor Jamie Farr playing the role of Stolo, one of Voldar's inept comic minions. The resemblance is strong, but Stolo is actually played by Al Nesor. Uncredited is Pia Zadora (later more famous for singing than acting) in her first movie role as Girmar.

Bottom line? Complains that SCCM is a terrible adult movie, is akin to blasting SpongeBob for not being deep enough, or The Muppets as a poor production. SCCM should be viewed as an extended after-school television special, designed for an innocent eight year old (or younger). Yes, it's silly, shallow and cheaply done. Get over it. It's a kids' show on Christmas. Enjoy it as an innocent eight year old.

If you're not too adult to handle it, you can watch it on YouTube, just for fun.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians - YouTube


S. L. Hennessy said...

Great movie title. What a way to celebrate the holiday - conquering martians!

Anonymous said...

Cholernie kretyński film! Kosmici po prostu rozbrajają wyglądem a naiwność dzieła wskazuje jednoznacznie grupę odbiorców. Ale dzięki temu uwielbiam to dziadostwo ;D

Nightowl said...

Pikuslaw's comment via Google Translate:

"Stupid movie! Aliens simply disarm the appearance of a naive work shows unequivocally audience. But thanks I love this chicken feed. ;D"

(Note to others: please leave comments in english. I'm more likely to nuke non-english comments as 99% of the time, they're spam. Thanks)