Get Santa

Director: Christopher Smith
Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Kit Connor

When I was child, there were so many things that interested me and gave me much fascination before my teenage years made me much smarter and more cynical. There were obvious questions I had for a long time, such as where I came from and what would happen to my mind after I would eventually pass away. One subject matter that gave me a lot to think about is probably a subject that passed through your mind a lot while you were also growing up, and that is with supposed magical beings. I am of course talking about magical beings that our parents would tell us about, such as Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Though in my younger years I was dumb enough to take my parents' claims hook, line, and sinker, in my defense I still had a lot of unanswered questions about these beings flow through my mind that planted the seeds of doubt in my mind that eventually sprouted when I became much older. Take Jack Frost, for instance. He made a lot of nice ice patterns on my home's windows, but why would he go to all that trouble for millions of other homes? What on earth would be manage to get out of it? The same thing could be said about the Easter Bunny. Why would he leave candy for myself and my siblings every Easter Sunday? For that matter, where on Earth would he get all that candy from? Things seems a little more straight with the Tooth Fairy. She would leave quarters for kids in exchange for the kids leaving their teeth under their pillows. But what would she do with all the teeth that she bought? Was there someone higher along the chain that would give her big bucks for all those teeth? And if so, why?

But probably the most questions about a magical being that I had about were about the man in the red suit, that of course being Santa Claus. Certainly, part of me as a child was able to accept the idea of there being a Saint Nick - I always got a lot of toys each and every Christmas, and even as a kid I had the idea of the old saying, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Still, it was inevitable that as I got older, more and more questions filled my mind that made me start to doubt the jolly old man. How could Santa Claus go to every home around the world in one night? Where did he get the money and resources to make all of those toys? Why in such a technological age, nobody could find his home and workshop, even though mail addressed to him did seem to reach him? Most pressing of all was the question as to why Santa Claus would go to all of this trouble. Why break your back doing all of this work and seemingly not get anything in return? Eventually, when I did fully realize that Santa Claus did not exist at all, you may understand that I felt quite foolish for being deceived for so many years, even if it had happened when I was a child. But at the same time, at that point and for many years afterwards, I did realize that the idea of a Santa Claus is very appealing, even if you are an adult. In such a cynical and sometimes cruel world that we live in, thinking about a good-hearted person who is completely selfless and works very hard to give toys and joy to so many people can't help but give you some cheer and make you smile.

It's this idea of Santa Claus that even gives some cheer to this middle-aged adult, enough so that if I had kids, I would tell them about Santa Claus like my parents told me. So you may understand that when the holiday season comes along, this adult likes on occasion to sit down and watch a Get Santamovie that is concerned about Santa Claus. Though these movies are typically aimed at children, some of them can still have appeal to adults. For example, a few years ago, Netflix released the Kurt Russell-starring Santa Claus movie The Christmas Chronicles. That was a pretty fun movie, even though the production values were somewhat inconsistent. So when I tell you the news that I immediately snatched up a copy of Get Santa upon finding it at my local Wal-Mart's DVD bargain bin, I shouldn't have to explain why. But there was another reason why I picked it up - this was a British Santa Claus movie, so that promised to give this Santa Claus movie a fresh angle. Before taking a look at this movie's angle, a plot synopsis. The events of the movie center around the Anderson family, consisting of the adult Steve Anderson (Spall,  Shaun Of The Dead) and his young son Tom (Connor, Ready Player One). Steve has just been released from prison, and is being closely watched by his strict parole officer Ruth (Joanna Scanlan, Bridget Jones' Baby). Since Steve doesn't want to screw up his parole, it may be understandable when Tom finds a man (Broadbent, Hot Fuzz) claiming to be Santa Claus in need of help in the family shed, Steve throws out the stranger. But the man is Santa Claus, who is desperately trying to retrieve his reindeer after a sleigh crash. Santa Claus then tries to help himself, but ends up being thrown in prison after encountering the police. Eventually, Steve and Tom learn that Santa's imprisonment may ruin Christmas, and it's up to them to save the day. But Steve's efforts may make him break his parole, and then he'll be locked up with Santa.

As I indicated in the previous paragraph, the fact that Get Santa was made by British filmmakers made me curious as to if there would then be a different perspective that could make the movie stand out from the ever-growing pack of Hollywood Christmas films. To a degree, that can be found in the finished product. For one thing, much of the humor in the movie isn't in the loud and brash style of many Hollywood comedies. It's often quite understated, with the characters in a situation that may seem absurd to the audience, but the characters treating things as if everything is normal. It's low key, but the gentle style is charming and often amusing. But the movie isn't afraid to get really silly on other occasions, and the silliness is sometimes funny, the best scene when Santa first encounters fellow prisoner "Sally" (Warwick Davis, of the Leprechaun horror film series). However, maybe in part due to American studio Warner Brothers being involved, there are some jarring moments of American-styled humor. There's reindeer farting and fecal matter abound, one character gets slammed in the crotch, American Christmas song play on the soundtrack, and there are various American expressions like, "One fry short of a Happy Meal." (They call them chips in England!) Such jarring American material wasn't the only issue I had with the script. To its credit, the movie manages to set up the entire situation in the first 9 or so minutes without feeling rushed. But after that first part, seams start to show. There are many unanswered questions during the movie's entire run, like why exactly Santa was testing his new sleigh near England just before Christmas, how a reindeer is able to open the doors of a van and close them again after entering, why inmates in a prison use (presumably) smuggled-in cell phones out in the open in view of guards, and...

Actually, I was willing to overlook some questions like those as long as the rest of Get Santa proved to be competent and entertaining. But for one thing, the movie additional weakness that made that hard for me to do. I was able to overlook that the movie has the same problem as many other Santa movies, that being it can't decide whether the adult community in its world can see or not see the great evidence that there is a Santa Claus. But a bigger problem was that the character of Santa in this movie was not particularly compelling, not just for the fact that he seems to be somewhat slim in this cinematic telling. Santa here doesn't seem as jolly, wise, and magical as I wanted him to be. I don't know if it was from a performance alternately understated and somewhat forced by actor Broadbent or the writing of his character (come to think of it, it was probably both things), but Santa here didn't have much spark to make him stand out. As it turns out, the lack of spark also comes with the portrayal of the father and son who get mixed up in Santa's predicament. Child actor Connor and adult actor Spall don't really manage to whip up much chemistry, seemingly just going through the motions. Part of this may come from the fact that we don't really learn much about their pasts. We never know why the father got mixed up in crime in the first place, or why the son still has faith and love for his irresponsible father. Instead of being fleshed-out characters, they are simply devices by the screenplay to advance the story with absolutely no human feeling or emotion attached to the characters' actions.

None of the other characters in Get Santa stand out as well, despite a few promising features that could have been expanded upon, such as the ex-convict's former wife and her new husband not coming across as heartless and need of compassion and understanding. As you can see, the script for Get Santa is pretty weak in several aspects, which may explain why writer/director Christopher Smith seems unable for the most part to whip up any cinematic magic. The last third or so of the movie has a little Christmas life, depicting Santa's homeland with some acceptable special effects and some other-worldly feeling. But the rest of the movie is sorely lacking in holiday spirit. There's usually no snow on the ground, hardly any Christmas decorations are seen, and the cinematography is more often than not dark and murky. There is also no magical feeling; the characters don't seem to realize that they are dealing with something beyond their full comprehension. More often that not, the movie instead has a leisurely feeling to it. About the best that Smith can do with his direction is that he does portray a lot of the mortal world in a somewhat realistic light. This may have been in part due to a tight budget where most of it was blown portraying Santa's homeland, but filming on location in real homes, real offices, and a real prison does give the movie a slightly gritty feeling that is surprisingly welcome in an age of slicked-up beyond believability Christmas movies. Had this part of Get Santa, as well as the other merit buried in it been expanded upon, we might have had something here. But as things ended up, you'd be much better going to Netflix to watch The Christmas Chronicles or its sequel if you and your children are in the mood for a movie about regular people helping Santa.

(Posted November 25, 2021)

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See also: Blizzard, Santa With Muscles, Ziggy's Gift