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Friday, December 26, 2003

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: A Modern Exegesis

One of the things I always wanted to do, if I ever got my own website, was review some of the movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This would be totally self-indulgent, since it's like shooting goldfish in a Dixie cup, and redundant, seeing as MST has already shot those piscines dead.

However, some of those movies have unrecognized virtues which I'd like to call attention to, while still sitting on them and giving them noogies. What better place to start, at this special time of year, than with that imperialist classic, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?

This movie isn't one of those with unrecognized virtues, however. It has unrecognized vices, which I shall describe in soporific detail.

Short Summary: The children of Mars are unhappy, so their parents kidnap Santa Claus (and two Earth children) to spread a little Christmas cheer to Mars. This makes Santa and the Earth children unhappy, along with a few traditionalist Martians. All's well that ends well, however, as a Martian substitute is found and Santa and the Earth kids return home.

Analysis: The very title of the film brazenly makes its viewpoint clear: Santa---by far the most successful of American imperialists---conquers those Martians. He does not encounter or persuade or dialogue with them; his conquest is swift and total.

Martian children---as represented by Bomar and Girmar (the latter played by Pia Zadora)---are unhappy and listless. They spend much of their time watching the TV programs with which Earthlings aggressively bombard the solar system. As the movie opens we see the two Martian youngsters watching a program from KID-TV, in which a newsman gives a tour of Santa Claus's sweatshop at the North Pole and interviews the Nordic strongman himself. We also see glimpses of the race that labors its life away to make toys for spoiled rich children.

From conversation between the two Martian kids, we find that they're depressed and humiliated that they do not have a Santa Claus on Mars. Forget globalism---this is interplanetarianism! At this point their father, Kimar, leader of the Martians, comes home and expresses his displeasure that his children are forsaking their native, intellectual Martian pursuits in order to stay up and watch TV.

The next day, upon finding that the children still seem listless, he and other Martian men seek counsel from Chochem, a mysterious Martian elder, who bears a suspicious resemblance to Santa Claus. He tells them (for what reasons we can only guess, unless I can make something up) that Mars needs a Santa Claus too, and then vanishes in a puff of smoke.

So the Martians get in their Simon game-powered spaceship and head toward Earth. As they approach a large city, they examine it with their powerful telescopes, and are confused by the plethora of Santa Clauses all over town. They land in a wooded area, where they encounter Earth children Billy and Betty Foster. Kimar explains the Santa confusion situation, and Billy immediately spills his guts by telling them the real Santa can be found at the North Pole. The Martians depart for there immediately, but not before crafty Voldar insists on taking the children along, lest they alert the Earth authorities.

After landing at the Pole, the children somehow manage to elude their captors and attempt to warn Santa. But their inauthentic Western existence has rendered them completely inequipped to withstand the brutal polar winter, and they are swiftly recaptured. The children are then sent back to the ship under guard while the Martians seek out Santa in his lair.

They first send in their robot, Torg, to soften up resistance, but Santa proves too much for the mechanical man, and humiliates it into impotence. The aliens then demonstrate their humanity by immobilizing, rather than killing, Santa's slaves, as well as his downtrodden wife. Santa is completely cowed by this overwhelming display of force, and allows himself to be taken without a fight. (Like a certain hero of the anti-imperia---er, wait, forget I said that.)

The United Nations springs into action, ordering the creation of a task force to study the feasibility of convening a panel to look into the possibility of perhaps contacting the Martians about their intentions towards Santa Claus, but the whole crisis is over before the task force can decide on a logo for their letterhead, thereby demonstrating the intrinsic superiority of multilateralism.

However, once aboard the Martian vessel, Santa uses his CIA training to excite the sympathies of his captors, through the use of stories and jokes such as "What's green and soft and is roasted on a stick? A martianmallow." Quick to ally himself with Santa and the children is the childlike, mincing, grimacing, shrieking, stupid Droppo, a low-status Martian who has stowed away aboard Kimar's ship.

Voldar, however, is made of harder stuff, and proves immune to Santa's mind-tricks. Proclaiming a (strategic) truce, he gives Santa and the children a tour of the ship, terminating in the airlock, where he contrives to trap them. Santa, utilizing methods honed during his days as an MI6 agent, effects their escape through an air duct (just as enters chimneys back on Earth to plant listening devices in the homes of dissidents).

Kimar is furious when he discovers Voldar's heroic efforts, and has him thrown into the brig. But on their return to Mars, the wily Voldar escapes when he gets the better of his guard (the aforementioned chunkwit, Droppo), and disappears.

Kimar and his wife, Momar, introduce Santa (and the Earth children, who are still tagging along) to their own children. In one of the most chilling scenes every filmed, Santa uses his Mossad mind control techniques to reduce the dignified, taciturn Martian children to a pair of giggling cretins.

Afterwards, the Martians offer Santa the thing his black heart must desire most---a toy-making machine! If he had that on Earth, he could finally carry out that genocide against those pesky, smelly elves. Always demanding food, and sleep, the ingrates. Naturally, almost the first thing produced by the machine is a "toy" gun, intended to introduce the Martian children to Earth-type violence. No doubt the resultant splintering of Martian society will please Santa's puppet masters back on Earth.

But even the wicked have to rest sometime, and Santa and his underage minions knock off for the day. This disappoints Droppo, who like all traitors is anxious to prove his new loyalties. He desperately wants to be Santa. So he dons Santa's extra costume (and beard, the existence of which is never adequately explained) and returns to the toy machine to churn out more model death weapons and Earth-centric imperialist playthings.

Now we find that Voldar has joined up with the Martian Underground (literally underground) to try to take back their planet from the colonizers and their running dog lackeys. To that end they arrive to sabotage the toy machine when they see Droppo, mincing and prancing alone in his Santa outfit. Mistaking him for the real Santa Claus, they kidnap him and drag him off to their underground hideout.

The next morning Santa and the children find Droppo gone, and the toy machine sabotaged. Kimar comes to investigate, but instead encounters Voldar, who has come to make an arrangement to give up Santa Claus if he will be deported and the toy project abandoned. Kimar, knowing Voldar does not have Santa, holds him at gunpoint while stalling for time until the next plot point. This occurs when young Billy overhears the parlay and reports back to Santa, allowing him to prepare a defense. Voldar then escapes from Kimar and runs to the toy room where Santa and the children await.

Then follows an embarrassingly goofy fight scene, in which Santa and the children use toys to defeat Voldar and his men.

Meanwhile, Droppo has escaped from Voldar's comrades, on account of they're even dumber than Droppo. After Voldar's defeat, Santa declares that there is no longer any need for his direct supervision of the conquest of Mars, since Droppo is sufficiently brainwashed to do the job (of course, he doesn't put it quite like that). So the Martians send Santa and the Earth children back home, with much hallooing and ho-ho-ho-ing.

Now, this may seem like a major victory for the forces of racism, imperialism, and (inter-)globalization, but consider: instead of the competent (if stodgy) Santa Claus, Mars is left in the hands of the dim, flailing Droppo, whom Kimar has called "the laziest man on Mars". No doubt his reign will be short, and his end, ugly.

For more on this movie, see this site. En fran├žaise. But you were only going to look at the pictures anyway. More pictures here.

Also, this IMDB commenter points out that the characters' names are just shortened versions of their roles: Bomar=Boy Martian, Girmar=Girl Martian, etc. I never thought of this. Wonder what Voldar stands for? Allegedly the movie was remade in was remade in 2002, but the IMDB listing contains no cast, only a plot summary and the writers (Ben Edlund and Randolph Heard, who have solid modern comic credentials---being writers for The Tick and, in Heard's case, Space Ghost Coast to Coast).

Pleasant December Work Stoppage Interval, Comrades!