While not the best reviewed holiday film in recent years, the timely release of Fred Claus last November proved to be a solid outing for Warner Bros. The film pulled in a little over $70 million domestically and will no doubt reap even more in home video sales this holiday season. Although definitely not the best holiday film to be made, it is one of the more unique outings with its quirky tale of Santa’s older brother and the life he’s had over the years.
This is the story you’ve never heard before, a hilarious and heartwarming comedy about Fred Claus, Santa’s brother – and complete opposite. After growing up in saintly Nick’s shadow, Fred becomes a grouch who’s lost his belief in Christmas. Then, one magical December, Fred flies north (first class via reindeer) to find brother Nick is in trouble: a scheming efficiency expert is out to shut down Christmas forever! Expect fun by the sleighful as Fred helps save Christmas and rediscovers the gift of family. Join Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey and more in a yuletide treat to enjoy for years to come.
The above description, plastered across the DVD and Blu-ray rear jackets for this film, is a tad bit inaccurate. Fred’s appearance in the North Pole is anything but friendly and the true intentions of the “efficiency expert” are not even revealed until a while into the film. It’s a bit of a stretch to call this film a coming together of brothers so much as a study of sibling rivalry. On top of that the film is plagued with tiny little nuances that don’t quite work, but all the while I couldn’t help but try my best to overlook the flaws as I was really enjoying watching this film, as flawed as it was.
Obviously the biggest flaw is the “efficiency expert”, played by Kevin Spacey. Exactly who is he working for and how does he have the authority to shut down Santa Claus? It’s incredibly vague and we only get the smallest sense that they’re some kind of agency in charge of all of the holiday’s, as passing references to the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are made, and it’s altogether a very vague and underdeveloped plot point that runs throughout the entirety of the film. Although it’s a major detail that sat in the back of my head while watching the film, it was again something I just pushed aside for the greater good.
What made me want to like this movie was how it started out. It set up a genuinely believable scenario for which Santa Claus would not also exist but also a believable plot that would work in an older brother. I was more excited about the films originality than I was about the clichés and plot holes that were plaguing it and more than anything that fueled my desire to enjoy this film. It had the makings of a genuinely good and entertaining family film and every time I would make a note of something that seemed off, I opted to ignore it as best as I could.
Particularly enjoyable to me was the banter between Fred and Nick, who had a genuinely believable bout of sibling rivalry between the two. Although Fred was the older of the two, he certainly looked younger than Nick, which is another discrepancy I’ll freely avoid. I also found the interactions with Fred and his mother and father to be wholly believable and, really when it comes down to it, it’s the family elements of the film that really kept my attention for this film. I was rather shocked at its run time (five minutes shy of two hours) when starting it, but the film honestly flew by. Not once did I feel it drag in pacing and the run time never got in the way of my enjoyment of it.
What did admittedly irk me was the films constant switching between tones. At one point it felt like an adult Christmas comedy (in subject matter) and then it would switch into something out of Jingle All the Way. The film kept up this constant switching in tones up until the very end and that was perhaps the most aggravating. The other annoying aspects of the film were the elf CGI; Willie (John Michael Higgins) looked absolutely horrid in some of the environments, as did Ludicrous. They simply didn’t mesh well with the other non-CGI elements and why they couldn’t have done it ala Lord of the Rings I don’t know. Whatever the case was, it was highly distracting at times, especially since not all of the elves were CGI. On top of that were the sound effects in the film, which got to be a bit too much, especially the first round of them; they came out of nowhere and I had to wonder if I was really hearing what I was hearing.
Oddities aside, the film really is enjoyable to watch, as long as you are able to push the annoyances to the sidelines like I did. If I were feeling overly critical towards films like I am some days (luckily I’d spent the morning reviewing comedies, so I was already in a pretty lightened mood) I’d probably tear into this film for being a wildly uneven story that makes up stupid plot points for its own benefit and completely screws with the viewers head when it comes to deciding what age group it wants to go after, but it being the season of giving, I’m going to be a bit more lenient on this film. It’s certainly the most original Christmas film I’ve seen in a long time and based on that element alone I’m going to Recommend it. There’s no reason a family less critical than I wouldn’t have an absolute blast watching this one, so put it on your list or give it a rental—either way it’s a solid holiday film that gets major points for originality (and quite the star studded cast).
Fred Claus arrives on Blu-ray in a three-disc edition (one Blu-ray disc, one digital copy and one DVD-ROM game, i.e., the usual Warner Bros. fair). The set is in a standard three-disc Elite Blu-ray case, complete with an embossed/foil reflective/glitter laden o-ring cover. The interior of the case includes the three discs (be sure to give your set a shake; mine arrived with the middle tray broken and upon opening the set I got an array of blue plastic confetti pieces flying up at me) as well as inserts for the digital copy and notes to keep your firmware up-to-date. There is also an instruction manual for the DVD game. As a general note, the DVD game is really for children only, so unless you have a great desire to absolutely waste your time, and don’t bother putting the disc into your PC or DVD player.
Video for this film arrives in a VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.4:1 transfer that is a bit of a baffler to me. On one hand it can look exceptionally great, with plenty of detail and the North Pole coming to life in a sea of lights and at other times I’m either put off by the compression or grain level. In fact, in the opening shot of the film in the woods, I was confused as to whether or not it was even compression showing up or just a very light grain level. It paused me to check the bitrate on the transfer, but it was sporting an average of 27mbps and a maximum of 29mbps, so I don’t know what was going on with it…just my eyes going overly sensitive, I guess. The more I watched the film, however, I became more inclined to think it was just the grain, which really was some of the most finely diced grain I’ve seen on a print in my life. Thankfully there is little DNR present, although it’s obvious when it’s been applied as there is a bit of an overly smooth haze to the picture.
For the audio we once again get a DD5.1 mix. Yup, Warner has again decided to bless us with a compressed and generic DD5.1 track that we get on the standard DVD release. What exactly is the point of the Blu-ray format if they’re going to pull this type of crap with the audio portion of the release? This isn’t a film that demands a TrueHD 5.1 track, but it’s the very least they could do if they’re putting out a 1080p transfer. I mean I wouldn’t even be so upset about this, but they pulled this crap on Speed Racer too and that was a film that really deserved to be heard in a lossless mix. Granted everything sounds clean and clear here so I don’t really know what we’d be missing if we had a lossless track, but it’s more the principal of it than anything. If you have a format like Blu-ray, then why squander its disc space with lossy audio tracks? Also included are French, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese DD5.1 tracks and English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese subtitles.
Moving onto the extras we have a Commentary with director David Dobkin which is worth a listen, although the lack of Vaughn or Giamatti on the track is a bit disappointing. The remaining extras are either a tongue-in-cheek type piece, such as the Pause for Claus: Elves Tell All (9:00) bit that is…I don’t really know why they even made this extra to be honest. It’s almost too cutesy that its wholly unbelievable and you can feel everyone making fun of the whole idea of an extra like this. Sibling Rivarly (9:27) focuses on the element of the film that will click the most with individuals and we get to hear from Vaughn, Stephen Baldwin, Roger Clinton and Frank Stallone (all of whom made up one of the most memorable sequences in the film).
Meet the Other Clause (13:05) acts as a making-of for this film and Ludachrismas – Music Video (1:37) wraps up the high-definition extras on the disc. Those wondering what the Ludachrismas song sounds like…it’s annoying. It sounds like every other song the man has put out and I make no apologies about being so blunt. I literally just listened to another one of his songs a few hours before watching this film and I honestly could not tell the difference. Granted rap just isn’t my forte, but…blargh.
The remaining extras, a series of Vince and Paul Fireside Chats (4:11) and a wealth of Deleted Scenes (25:30), are in standard definition. I’m surprised there were such a large number of deleted scenes for this film. None were particularly wonderful and if they’d been left in the film would’ve been near two and a half hours long; I’m more surprised there was this much material shot for the film than anything.
That ends the array of extras (unless you count the digital copy and DVD game), which really isn’t bad for a film of this nature. The commentary more than makes up for any in-depth extras on the construction of this film and the short making-of and Sibling Rivalry pieces are well worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. Like the film this one comes Recommended.
Fred Claus is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.