Earlier this fall we saw what seemed to be an inordinate amount of Halloween-related Blu-ray and HD DVD releases. Most holidays inspire multiple appropriately themed movies, but this Halloween seemed especially brutal. Fast-forward two months, though, and 2007’s Christmas-related films have been fewer and farther between, almost to the point that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause releasing on Blu-ray Disc elicited a response of “oh, so there you are; it’s about time.”
Tim Allen’s third outing as Santa didn’t exactly win accolades in theaters, but that’s never really kept a movie producer from trying to capitalize on holiday sentiment. Fortunately, although the artistic quality of the film isn’t any better with its Blu-ray Disc release, the overall package of The Santa Clause 3 is creative enough and (dare I say it?) “cute” enough that people jonesing for a quick elfen fix will be able to scratch that itch with this disc.
The Santa Clause 3 continues (and ideally concludes) the story of Tim Allen inheriting the role of Santa Claus. Having spent the first two films transitioning from his real-life role to that of Santa and finding Mrs. Right, er, Mrs. Claus, this third movie chronicles the last days of Mrs. Claus” pregnancy and Santa’s brief questioning of whether he really wants to continue being the Jolly Old Elf. As a Disney film, it should come as no surprise that Santa returns to the North Pole after briefly flirting with his old life, that Mrs. Claus gives birth to a happy son (named Buddy?), and that Santa’s in-laws eventually warm up to the fat guy in spite of his whisking-away of their daughter to the secret workshop.
With a movie this colorful, it’s important to have good saturation and contrast, and the VC-1 encoded transfer delivers just that. I was honestly expecting the Blu-ray presentation to show some grain, particularly with so many shots transitioning from bright-white snow to vibrant indoor scenes, but the video is continually sharp. The CG elements are also treated with respect, so much so that three of them are highlighted in the Blu-ray Disc-exclusive Movie Showcase bonus feature, which shows three one-minute sequences in all their 1080p high-definition glory.
The audio is also well done, although as expected from a movie like this, the center and two front speakers get the most workout. In fact, save for two “sleigh whooshing in” sequences, I couldn’t really tell you what purpose the Dolby Digital playback really served for the two rear speakers. The quality of the sound from the front two makes up for it a bit, though; the environmental audio subtleties are both surprising and welcome.
Aside from the Movie Showcase, the Blu-ray Disc release of The Santa Clause 3 has two additional BD-exclusive bonus features. The first, Tour Elfsburg, is a 90-second on-rails tour of the North Pole’s downtown plaza. Accessed from the main menu, this feature is basically a throwaway, as it’s neither interesting nor well executed. In essence, the feature walks viewers through a 3D model of Elfsburg much like an architecture student might use rendering software to walk a professor through a rendered building. Only there’s nothing architecturally compelling about Elfsburg’s buildings.
The second Blu-ray-exclusive feature is a serious departure both in its interactivity and creativity. Called Deck The Halls: Virtual Holiday Decorator, this interactive room-decorating “simulator” that lets viewers place two dozen different types of ornaments wherever they wish on a Christmas tree; place lights and garland around the room; “write” their name on one of six different stockings and hang it on the mantle; and create a holiday-music playlist from a list of eight classic Christmas carols, which they can do first if they want to listen to music while undertaking the other aforementioned activities. Then, when the room and tree are fully decorated, viewers can use the feature’s “main menu” almost like a screen saver for their TV as they gaze upon the scene while listening to their playlist. None of these activities is rocket science, but the overall vibe of this bonus feature fits perfectly with the film.
Most of the bonus features are comprised of the usual suspects: an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Lembeck, a Blooper Reel (2:58), a visual effects feature called Creating Movie Magic (4:03) and an Alternate Opening (3:34) that’s really little more than an extended version of the current opening sequence that recaps the first two films in about 30 seconds. Technically the Christmas Carol-Oke (6:24) is also a “usual suspect,” because no matter how cute it may be to watch an ornament bounce over the lyrics to seven Christmas carols, the karaoke model has been used on countless DVDs and really offers nothing new here on Blu-ray.
However, the final two bonus features do offer something a bit more unique, albeit more for their insight than their actual production. Jack Frost and Mrs. Claus: A Very Different Look (4:02) provides an inside look at how the art direction and visual concepts for those two characters changed even in the middle of production. Jack Frost, for instance, has a distinct and great look in the film, but in this feature we learn that he was originally more impish and childlike and much less menacing in appearance. Likewise, Mrs. Claus, who looks more like a red-hot MILF than a red-nosed ELF, was originally conceived to be almost as tubby as her hubby. We’d like to thank the director for making the visual change. The New Comedians: On-Set with Tim and Marty (2:59) is another behind-the-scenes feature that, while not groundbreaking, sheds some light on the hilarity of having both Tim Allen and Martin Short on set at the same time. The feature explores the chemistry between a stand-up comedian and a theater-trained comedian and explains, with a bit of chagrin, how the stars” energy occasionally messed with the production timeline.
With any motion picture, “timeline” is everything, and that holds true with this film’s release on Blu-ray Disc as well. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause didn’t win any awards the first time consumers saw it, and although it’s entertaining, it definitely relies on viewers” holiday cheer to make it so. Yet where we were inundated with Halloween-themed releases in October, we’ve not been hit with nearly as many holiday-themed movies in December, which makes The Santa Clause 3 more enjoyable than it might otherwise be. As long as you know that going in, the movie will give you two good hours of holiday family time.
– Jonas Allen