Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

At the behest of my oldest son (who is 11 years old), we watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 featuring Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as the experiment. It’s not easy to come up with a list of the best Christmas movies, nor of the worst Christmas movies, at least if one requires a strict ranking and not merely a loose grouping, but in some sense Santa Claus Conquers the Martians might be on both.

Released in 1964, it was a low budget movie that was trying to fill an as-yet-unserved niche of sci-fi Christmas movies (the Star Wars Holiday Special would not be released for another 14 years, and is only arguably a Christmas movie or, for that matter, a movie, since it was only ever shown on TV).

The MSTK episode is pretty good, though it is a Joel episode. I should mention that I have nothing against Joel as a host, but the writing during the Joel episodes just wasn’t as good as it was during the Mike episodes, especially the later Mike episodes, for the very natural reason that the writers weren’t nearly as experienced during the Joel episodes. There were very good Joel episodes, to be sure, such as Cave Dwellers (one of my favorites). It just took the writers a while to learn how to really work with the movie rather than against it. In the Joel days it was common for Joel or the bots to talk over key plot points in the movie, making it much harder to follow and consequently making it harder to realize how bad the movie actually was.

There was also the issue that it’s hard to sit through almost two hours of a show if there is no plot one can follow to keep one’s attention during it. However bad a movie might be, finding out how it ends can help one get through it. Jokes, it turns out, just aren’t enough.

Be that as it may, this is a fun episode, and does include the memorable song A Very Swayze Christmas. It’s also got a decent invention exchange, though as usual the mads have the funnier inventions.

The movie itself is very curious. The Martians are absolutely hilarious and cannot possibly be meant seriously.

You can’t quite see it clearly, but I’m pretty sure that those hoses which go from one part of the helmet to another are the sort of flexible gas hoses one can get in the plumbing section of a hardware store for hooking up natural gas appliances. The helmets also have antennae, for some reason. Oh, and here’s their mighty robot, Torg:

(In another scene you can see that his arms and legs are just plastic dryer hoses, painted silver, and stuffed into a carboard box painted the same color.)

Of course, a movie about how Martians abduct Santa Claus because their children aren’t happy and a thousand-year-old sage tells them that they need a Santa Claus of their own to cheer up their children doesn’t sound likely to be serious.

On the other hand, the Martians do this, and Santa Claus does in fact cheer up their children. In the end a jolly Martian who wasn’t much good at being a serious Martian puts on one of Santa Claus’ spare red suits and ends up being Mars’ Santa Claus while the Martians, having learned the true meaning of Christmas, return Santa Claus to earth in time for Christmas Eve. The sci-fi element aside, it’s as serious as any other Christmas movie, which in their own way are about the most serious movies that exist. Even if they don’t explicitly mention Christ, they do all have the message that life, at its core, is about love and generosity, not power, pleasure, wealth, or honor. That message cannot stand on its own, but if you give people a little bit of credit for the ability to think minimally logically, if life is about generosity and not power, pleasure, wealth, or honor, then life is about God. That’s certainly not all of Christianity, but no movie can be.

Good Morning December 12, 2016

Good morning on this the twelfth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

The topic of Santa Claus is an interesting one. Last year I did some informal research into the origins of Santa Claus, and it seems like Santa Claus originated with the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas. (The name Santa Claus itself being presumed to be a corruption of the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a corruption of Saint Nicholas.) There are precursor figures that Santa Claus was undoubtedly drawn from, though for example the English figure of Father Christmas wasn’t very close.

One thing that has puzzled me about the later Santa Claus lore in relation to the poem is that the poem is fairly clear that the sleigh and reindeer traveled along the ground and essentially jumped up to the rooftop:

“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys‍—‌and St. Nicholas too

That pretty clearly does not describe descending from the sky but rising from the ground. Be that as it may, the common practice of presenting the myth of Santa Claus to children causes not a small amount of controversy, and though not the same as the original controversy around Christmas, it does bear some relationship. Originally protestants (or at a minimum English protestants, but I think it was most of them) were dead-set against Christmas as a papist tradition. Merriment and celebration don’t really go well with doctrines like the total depravity of man. (Luther is his own basket of contradictions, but his view of human nature was at best rosy only by comparison to Calvin’s; Luther thought that the saved would be smuggled into heaven, clothed by Christ, like snow-covered dung hills. Merry Christmas.)

In modern times the controversy is rather around the veracity of what is told to Children than that a good time is had by all, but there is the similarity of two camps around Christmas celebrations, one of which seems decidedly less jolly than the other.

Having said that, I myself have attempted to thread a middle ground. We do some of the rituals involved with Santa Claus, but at the same time I don’t tell my children anything factually inaccurate. The truth is, after all, pretty good: Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived many centuries ago and was known for his love of, and kindness to, children. In his honor we give gifts to children in his name, continuing the celebration of generosity to those least able to give in return. Thus presents labeled as being from Santa Claus are, in that sense, from him, though we as our children’s parents also take part in that gift. It makes sense to my children according to their age and ability to understand, and doesn’t seem in any way to diminish their fun at listening to me reading the poem, or to getting gifts from Santa Claus, or the rest of it. Most of the time they talk as if the stories of Santa Claus are literally true anyway. The stories are, in any event, figuratively true.

God bless you.