Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
In space-blazing COLOR
Get in the Christmas spirit with a tale about Martians finding what it means to have the Christmas spirit! Most will remember this one from MST3K well before they remember it by itself I would wager, but it's at least certainly something different from the normal stable of television-run Christmas flicks. Different is good, right? He may conquer the martians, but find out if good ole Santy Clause can conquer your heart too.
The children of Mars have been watching their television sets and receiving signals from Earth on them, leading to quite a lot of christmas-themed pictures coming across the screen. The concept of it is foreign to them, as they are essentially adults by the time they can walk thanks to learning-machines educating their brains directly while they sleep in their cribs - but it also means the poor folks of Mars don't really know what it's like to have fun. When the children of Mars start acting strangely, not wanting to sleep or eat, the leader of Mars gathers the council together to go and speak with the oldest Martian to ask for advice. It is here that the eldest suggests that Mars needs a Santa Claus, to bring joy through toys and learning to play and have fun to the children of Mars, else they find themselves in a revolution of the younger kind.
Following this advice, the council launches a ship to Earth to kidnap Santa. During their initial search, they come across a young brother and sister, whom they kidnap to keep their secret safe after asking them for directions to Santa. The kids aren't to keen on being kidnapped, let alone letting them be the reason that Santa gets kidnapped, so they try to run away and hamper the Martians plans with a little bit of sabotage to the Martian's radar jamming equipment. Unfortunately, they get lost while trying to find Santa's workshop to warn him of the Martian plan, and almost get eaten by a "polar bear" before finally being recaptured by the Martian's robot. The Martians proceed to the shop, putting not only Santa's elves into a stasis but also his wife before accomplishing their goal of kidnapping the jolly fat man.
After the "mean" Martian, who serves as the equivalent of the Martian Grinch, fails at sending the kids and Santa out an airlock, guards arrive to escort him to trial upon Martian landfall to discover that he has escaped! The leader of Mars has more pressing matters to attend to, however, and introduces his kids to the jolly captive, only to be relieved by the sounds of his childrens laughter. The Martians then let Santa know that his "recruitment" isn't a temporary one, and they expect him to stay on Mars forever. Can Santa escape Mars in time for Christmas back on Earth? Will all the Martian kids get to experience the happiness and joy of getting toys? Will the Mars Grinch succeed in ruining the plans of bringing happiness and joy to Mars?
This movie is pretty dated, down to the grainy 'static' of the film itself. I can live with this myself, thankfully enjoying movies from all sorts of time frames, but it really does set a good portion of what to expect from the movie - costume quality, acting enthusiasm, set pieces - it all very much feels as though it came from a long time ago. Martians, for example, are basically just green body suits with a "name tag" sewn on to them, combined with oversized green helmets with some antennas sticking out and a little bit of tubes. The Martian robot when it shows up is kind of what you would expect to make out of a cardboard box and a few of those flexible vent tubes - painted up pretty grey, and let's not forget about that "polar bear"! Oh my goodness! Oddly enough from the descriptions I've given, I have seen much worse done (sometimes in movies from more recent than the 60's at that), and it does keep in line with much of what you would expect from things from that time period.
Acting, likewise, is that older style where it feels more like a play then a movie specifically. The child actors take turns going from pretty alright or almost convincing to feeling like they just phoned in to read the words as plainly as they could. When it comes to acting, let's just leave it at the adults for this movie - who generally pull of what they seemingly mean to do well enough. Across the board, the most convincing acting done in the movie is the laughing, which despite (generally) being pretty dumb in the context of "Santa has shown up, guess we'll all just find something hilarious" still manages to be the slightest bit contagious and netting a smirk or a chuckle. Other bits of comedy rely on more classic executions - such as Three Stooges physical gags. Heck, there's even a joke or two in there that might fly over the heads of some (or maybe be offensive, in the case of Santa's remark about his wife being in stasis being the longest she's been quiet in years).
Sets are likewise what you'd expect from the era of movies - lots of little bells and whistles, but largely consisting of each set being a room that isn't really all that fancy. The most elaborate set is probably Santa's toyshop, as it has so many toys and colors going on, but even then it's still mostly just a room. There's a few shots outdoors, both on Mars and Earth, but even these bleed through the feeling of being nothing more than just built in a room on stage for the most part. The more "open" shots are generally all something that is most likely stock footage (planes launching, Santa Helpers on streets in the city).
Opinion time. Most people will be better off watching this on MST3K than by itself. It's not going to replace any of your Christmas Classics list like White Christmas or A Christmas Story, but it is certainly at least something that isn't super terrible and has a bit of uniqueness to it's take on the generic yuletide formula. It hasn't aged as well as wine, but if you can get over that and it's rather clear-cut, no-surprises nature of telling you that christmas is about happiness (and toys) then you probably wouldn't hate watching it either. It's no recommendation, but I'm not about to steer anyone away from it either.