Bad Santa (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Bad Santa” might be one of the more off-color comedies to come around in years. It’s also almost depressing to watch as these characters don’t have any single redeeming qualities. Then again, that’s the point. Billy Bob Thornton, best-known for his work in “Sling Blade” and “Armageddon” takes the title role and evidently has a fun time doing it. The movie was inspired by, not surprisingly, Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”) and was directed by relative newcomer Terry Zwigoff whose previous effort on “Ghost World” won him critical accolades. The movie wasn’t without controversy, however, as it was released back during the holiday season and the depiction of a drunken Santa Claus is something that a lot of people don’t want to associate with the jolly fat man. Nevertheless, the movie received some critical marks and went on to become a modest success at the box office. Apparently they didn’t offend people enough the first time around, so they’ve added some new scenes to the movie.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie, a drunken, broken down shell of a man who has never had a break in his life. He had a nasty childhood, beaten by his father and has now turned to a life of crime. Every December, he and his partner Marcus (Tony Cox) go to a different city where they masquerade as Santa Claus and an elf. Due to Marcus being a “little person”, they’re a natural pair and never have trouble finding employment. They do manage to burn their bridges as they rob the department store that they work at, only to skip town the next day. Willie claims to go straight, using the money to open a bar in Miami. He drinks whiskey at a pace that would kill an elephant and somehow manages to have sex with women in cars and plus-sized dressing rooms. It’s sad to say, but there are probably people like this out there somewhere. Things are going to plan as the town of Phoenix is their latest scam. Willie meets a bartender who isn’t turned off by his off-color remarks and with her “Santa Fetish”, the two form an unlikely couple. He then meets a kid (Brett Kelly) who believes that he really is Santa and even lets him crash at his expensive house. Trouble ensues when Willie starts to develop an attachment to the kid.

I have to admit that watching this movie was a bit painful. There are some funny parts, but it’s John Ritter’s last movie, movies about alcoholics (funny or not) aren’t entertaining to watch and the humor is done in such a way that when you laugh, you feel bad for doing so. Now I could be in the minority, but I did find “Bad Santa” funny, just not as funny as I thought. The image of a “mall” Santa hobbling around drunk and cussing at the kids is funny in concept, but we have to ask “when does it go too far”? Bernie Mac offers some laughs in a supporting role and it does feel a bit odd to watch a “Christmas” movie in June. While this movie is sure to have fans, I’m not so sure that I could call myself one of them. Perhaps I took it too literally and should have just enjoyed the show, but something about humor this dark can’t always be taken with a grain of salt.

Video: How does it look?

The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer is a noticeable improvement over the previous DVD, which came out a few years ago. Almost immediately I noticed an improvement in detail and colors seemed very strong. Thornton’s ragged Santa suit shows off all of its dingy glory and we can see the twinkle in Lauren Graham’s eyes to boot. The previous transfer wasn’t bad, but as we can expect from nearly every HD DVD or Blu-ray out there; there will be an improvement. Disney seems to do right by their catalog titles and “Bad Santa” is certainly no exception.

Audio: How does it sound?

This cut of “Bad Santa” comes equipped with a more robust PCM Uncompressed track that’s a bit better-sounding than the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This isn’t exactly the type of movie that will show off your system, but I did notice a few very discrete effects that caught my ear. There’s a scene near the beginning where Thornton’s character throws a bottle and it shatters on the ground which made me turn my head (why, I don’t know I didn’t have a bottle in my hand and I have carpet, so it’s not like anything could actually break) and Lauren Graham’s climatic scene with Thornton sounds just about as good as if we were right there. By all means, this isn’t reference-quality, but it’s a notch above the previous effort and for that I’m happy.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Most all of the extras that came with the first DVD are present here, though this Blu-ray version contains not only the Director’s Cut of the film, but the Unrated version as well. So if you bought both versions on DVD then this one replaces them both. This disc also includes a director’s commentary by Terry Zwigoff that was found on the Director’s Cut of the DVD. The same deleted scenes, outtakes and “Making of” featurette are included here as well. There’s also the obligatory trailer and Disney’s “Movie Showcase” that gives us some of the best examples of video and audio found in the film. Fans of this movie will have something to crow about with this release as everything from the previous DVD’s is now on one little disc.

Disc Scores