The children of the planet Mars have forgotten how to have fun and spend too much time watching TV broadcasts from Earth. The Martian King decides to kidnap Santa Claus to remedy the problem, but a renegade official disagrees with the plan…
Dreadful Yuletide science fiction comedy, which has gained a significant cult following in recent years, in part due to that amazing title, but mostly because of its staggering banality. Yes, it is a children’s film and yes, it was made on a very low budget, but those facts do little to excuse the finished product.
The story follows Bomar and Girmar (‘Boy Martian’ and ‘Girl Martian’) played by Charles Month and an 8-year old Pia Zadora. They are binge-watching Earth TV, specifically an interview with Santa (John Call) from the North Pole. They are so invested, in fact, that they no longer sleep or eat properly, which concerns their father ‘King Martian’ Kimar (Leonard Hicks). This is actually a curious foreshadowing of society’s viewing habits today, but it’s the only thing remotely interesting in the vapid, lifeless script. After all, we’ve already sat through Zadora dragging her nails down the chalkboard with opening song ‘Hoo-ray For Sant-y Claus’…
Enlisting the help of Earth kids Billy and Betty (Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti), our naughty extra-terrestrials snatch Santa and get him back to Mars, successfully sidestepping Tom Cruise, H.G. Wells and NASA public relations staff. Once there, the big guy is tasked with turning out some toys and is given the dim, but well-meaning, Dropo (Bill McCutcheon) as his ‘comedy’ sidekick. All round bad egg Voldar (Vincent Beck) hasn’t got time for all this nonsense, though, and plans to sabotage the operation.
But Voldar’s up against it, folks! You see, just being in the presence of Santa makes everyone ridiculously happy! Even cardboard box robot Torg no longer follows orders. And the Martians are soon convulsed with hysterical laughter at the old man’s wit. ‘What’s soft and round and you put it on a stick and toast it in a fire…and it’s green?’ The answer? A Martian-Mallow. You can see why it’s hopeless to oppose him, can’t you?
There are several other ‘delights’ on offer too. A man dressed up as a polar bear. McCutcheon’s hilarious idiot schtick as the ‘lovable’ Dropo. The US Airforce scrambling fighter jets (and a bomber?) to intercept the Martian spacecraft via the reliable old medium of lots of stock footage. A po-faced newsreader providing completely pointless commentary. The first ever appearance of Mrs Claus (Doris Rich) as a character on film. Endless talky scenes that don’t advance the ‘plot’ a centimetre. Oh, yes, and McCutcheon’s a riot as the hapless Dropo…oh, I already mentioned that, didn’t I?
The young Zadora went onto some level of notoriety in the entertainment world, particularly in America. After marrying a millionaire businessman, she got her first big break as a model in a national advertising campaign in the late 1970s. Never mind that her husband held a significant financial interest in the product concerned. From there it was a short step to the magic of Hollywood but headlining her first grown-up film in a cast that included Orson Welles and Stacy Keach was not a move commensurate with her acting experience. Despite (somewhat controversially) winning a Golden Globe as best ‘New Star’ for ‘Butterfly’ (1982), her performance was universally critically panned. She earned two Razzie awards that year, and more such ‘acclaim’ followed for next project ‘The Lonely Lady’ (1983). The award for ‘Worst Actress of the Century’ came her way at the Razzies in 2000.
Elsewhere, most of the cast were minor Broadway performers and only McCutcheon ever achieved any significant level of screen recognition, appearing as Uncle Wally in episodes of TV’s ‘Sesame Street’ between 1985 to 1998. Director Nicholas Webster made an ill-advised return to the red planet four years later with the excruciating ‘Mission Mars’ (1968), a film so unutterably tedious that it should come with a government health warning attached. However, his career took an upward swing in the 1970s with gigs directing episodes of TV shows like ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Waltons’, and as occasional writer-producer and director of TV’s ‘In Search of…’ hosted by Leonard Nimoy. He followed up in the same vein with cryptid documentary ‘Manbeast! Myth or Monster?’ (1978).
The nature of what’s on display, together with Zadora’s reputation has led to the film’s growing reputation as a cult classic in recent decades. A remake was even planned in 1998 with Jim Carrey as Dropo, but it never appeared. However, there were various theatrical adaptations in 1993, 2006 and 2011, and a satirical novelisation of the story appeared in 2005.
So, here’s the obvious question; is it ‘so bad, it’s good’? The answer? Not really, no. It’s just too boring. A dull and dreary slog through a quicksand of cheapness and infantile banality. There aren’t even any bizarre quirks to alleviate the sheer monotony.
Is it the worst film ever made about Mars? No, actually, I don’t think so. Director Webster’s own ‘Mission Mars’ (1968) is a whole different level of ghastly. And don’t even get me started on ‘The Wizard of Mars’ (1964)!