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Fred Claus (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 11/25/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/24/2008

Every movie begins with an idea. Some of them are unique and interesting, while others are old and stale. And then some have that "Ah ha! Why didn't someone think of that before?" These ideas offer such simple brilliance that one can't help but assume that the resulting movie will be a classic. Once that central idea has been hashed out, it seems that everything else will simply fall into place. Apparently the makers of Fred Claus had this same idea, and they thought that no work would be needed to make the film work. Or at least, that's what I hoped happened. If they actually did put any effort into this movie then they should be ashamed.

Fred Claus opens in the distant past, where we meet a family who live in a small cottage in the woods. Mother (Kathy Bates) and Father (Trevor Peacock) already have a son, Fred, and as the story begins, they are blessed with a second son, Nicholas. As Nicholas grows, it becomes clear that he's a special child. He is very generous, loves to drop down the chimney, and decides to bring a tree inside. While Mother and Father shower Nicholas with compliments, Fred goes ignored. Well, Nicholas eventually becomes a Saint, and he becomes Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) and moves to the North Pole. And as for Fred...he moves to Chicago and becomes a hustler. Fred can't hold down a real job or commit to a relationship, as his on-again/off-again girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz) will attest. Oh, and Fred hates Christmas. When Fred is arrested for pulling a charity scam, he calls Nicholas for bail money. Nicholas agrees to help Fred, but he must earn the money by coming to the North Pole to work. So, Wille the Elf (John Michael Higgins) collects Fred and whisks him away to Santa's Workshop. Once there, Fred is reunited with Santa and Mrs. Claus (Miranda Richardson). Santa, a naturally jovial man, wants Fred to join in and help with Christmas. But, as Santa will soon learn, Fred's natural inclination towards laziness will only lead to trouble.

Again, you can't argue with that central concept. Santa Claus' ne'er-do-well brother? What a great idea! And one can assume that makers of Fred Claus looked to the success of The Santa Clause films, and decided that audiences liked movies which humanized St. Nick. Things must have only looked better when the film was cast. Along with the actors named above, the movie also features Kevin Spacey, Elizabeth Banks, and Ludacris. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, almost everything. Writer Dan Fogelman clearly couldn't come up with a good story to backup the movie's main idea. Once Fred gets to the North Pole, the movie turns into an incredibly predictable "Christmas is in jeopardy, what will we do?" story which we've seen many, many times before, going back to the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials from the 60s. Only the youngest or most naive audiences members who have never seen one of these shows will be surprised by anything that happens in the second or third act.

The movie also makes the mistake of not giving us any likable characters. Fred is a jealous, lazy, lowlife. Wanda is an enabler. Santa is an over-eating simpleton. Mrs. Claus is domineering. And on and on. There's no one here onto which the audience can latch. Thus, the talents of all of these great actors go to waste, and most of them seem to be sleep-walking through the movie. Eventually, one's enjoyment of Fred Claus will come down to how one feels about Vince Vaughn, as the movie focuses on him. If you're a fan of Vaughn's nervous rants, then you'll love this movie. If not, be prepared for a grueling experience. Also, for his role as an elf, the face of John Michael Higgins is slapped onto a smaller person's body. This effect not only looks shoddy, but creepy as well.

With Wedding Crashers, Director David Dobkin showed that he could take great talent and a good story and practically ruin it. At nearly two hours, Fred Claus wears out its welcome and any initial charm that the film had quickly dissipates. I really liked the idea of exploring Santa Claus' family dynamic, but Fred Claus does nearly everything wrong, and by comparison, makes the Tim Allen The Santa Clause films looks like masterworks.

Fred Claus ho ho hos onto DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a mild amount of grain and no defects from the source material. While the colors are very good, and The North Pole is simply colors in great hues, the image is somewhat dark at times. The level of detail is notably low in some shots and there is some mild video noise at times. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The flying sleigh scenes provide some nice surround sound and stereo effects, as the sleigh passes from side-to-side and over our heads. The Santa's Workshop crowd scenes also offer good stereo effects. Subwoofer effects are rare, mostly coming from "Santa" walking on the roof and coming down chimneys.

The Fred Claus DVD contains only two special features. The first is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director David Dobkin. This is a serviceable commentary, as Dobkin makes solid scene-specific comments. He never gets too technical as he discusses the story, the actors and the sets. He also lends some insight into how the film was edited. Next we have 13 DELETED SCENES which run about 26 minutes. The majority of these are simply extended versions of scenes from the finished film, and the added moments don't do anything to spruce up the material. Of the actual new footage, there is a long montage of Fred getting the elves to do his work for him and an exchange between Fred and Santa about the importance of Fred reconciling with his parents.

Warner Home Video has also brought Fred Claus to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing basically none of the grain which was visible on the DVD transfer. The colors really stand out here, most notably the reds and blues. The image is well-balanced, as it's never too bright or too dark. The picture does lack somewhat in detail when compared to other Blu-rays, but the depth of the image is quite nice. The Disc contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 640 kbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Essentially, this is the same track as the one found on the DVD. The stereo and surround effects are passable, and there are actually more subwoofer effects here, but it doesn't make sense to put DVD sound on a Blu-ray Disc.

The Blu-ray Disc contains the extras found on the DVD plus several more. "Pause for Claus: Elves Tell All" (9 minutes) is a weird featurette, as the characters (in character) talk about their lives at the North Pole. Hosted by Willie (John Michael Higgins), we get an overview of the work which goes into creating Christmas. "Sibling Rivalry" (10 minutes) explores the Fred and Santa characters and their relationships. The cast and filmmakers give their views on the characters and we get a look at the "Siblings Anonymous" scene. "Meet the Other Claus" (13 minutes) is a fairly standard making-of featurette which contains comments from the cast and crew and a ton of clips from the movie. The interviewees talk about the characters and the story. The piece looks at the sets and touches on the special effects. "Vince and Paul Fireside Chats" (4 minutes) contains five brief snippets where the two actors talk about Christmas memories and a bit about the movie. Finally, we have the MUSIC VIDEO for "Ludacrismas" by Ludacris. ("Luda-Christmas" on 30 Rock was much better.)

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long