Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (US - BD)
Jonathan watches a delightfully odd Chritmas movie from Finland...
Young Pietari lives with his stern reindeer-herding father Rauno in arctic Finland. On the eve of Christmas, an enormous excavation at a nearby mountain disturbs the locals and captures Pietari's curiosity. When Rauno's reindeer herd is mysteriously slain and the children in the town go missing, Pietari realizes that the dig has unearthed the evil Santa Clause of local lore - who no one wants coming to town. Pietari's father rounds up a posse and captures the nightmarish creature in an attempt to sell him to the misguided leader sponsoring the dig. But Santa's freakish elves will stop at nothing to free their fearless leader, and what ensues is a fantastically bizarre holiday adventure that tests the bonds of father and son and pits man against mythology. (From the Oscilloscope synopsis)
If you can't tell from the plot description alone, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an unusual film. It's not unique in the fact that it's a scary movie about Christmas. We've seen that done plenty of times. What sets it apart is the way it takes the mythical lore of Santa Claus, turns it on its head, and then approaches it with complete seriousness. It's a parody of uplifting Christmas movies and living dead features that never, for a second, stops to acknowledge how silly it is and let the audience know that the filmmakers are in on a joke. On one hand you might think that a little tongue-in-cheek humour would suit an idea like this well, but the serious approach used works marvelously. The movie does have humour to it, but it's incredibly dry and could go completely unnoticed. The tone reminded me very much of some of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's earlier films, like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. It's dark and creepy on the surface, but there is an odd whimsical nature beneath it all.
Rare Exports takes some bold risks, especially in the final moments. First time full length feature director Helander is aware that sometimes less is more. Whether its subtlety on his part or the result of budgetary constraints, some Hollywood directors (I'm looking at JJ Abrams) could certainly learn something from this example. Treating Santa Claus like he is some kind of mythical, child-murdering demon that came straight out of 'Dante's Inferno' is an effectively creepy concept. Helander milks his premise without ever being excessive or allowing the film to slip into a gorey slasher movie. It's more like an alien creature genre film, but with Santa Claus. The movie's weirdest moments don't really take place until the final 20 minutes or so, which makes it difficult to elaborate upon without giving anything away. To keep it vague, I'll say that it will undoubtedly leave some viewers nonplussed. It certainly rubbed me the wrong way at first, but having thought about it for some time after the movie now, the strangeness has a beguiling charm to it.
Not everything about this movie works well. The characters, as watchable as they may be, remain fairly undeveloped. The character arcs that do exist feel forced and implausible, even in a parody filled with some ridiculous plot developments. I didn't buy into the father-son relationship aspect as much as some film critics have. The supporting characters are just there. Infusing them with some sort of personality could've raised my enjoyment level. I try not to demerit a film based on poor special effects, especially if its a low budget foreign film and the effects are difficult to achieve through practical means. But Rare Exports reaches well beyond its budget in some of the climactic scenes, and I must admit that it took me out of the movie a bit. Despite it's evident problems, I'm still very happy that I took the time to watch it. If you're a Jeunet's odd tonal mixtures or admire a movie that's willing to take its silly premise into delightfully intrepid territory, give Rare Exports a rent and see if it's for you.
Oscilloscope does well by this film, giving it a gorgeous 1080p transfer. The film's palette mostly consists of cool blues with a warm colour (usually red) standing out. Shot on 35mm, the film has a nice soft grain that gives it a very natural appearance. It's never too harsh against the light blue skies like many grainier transfers are. Blurry angle effects are occasionally used by the cinematographer, giving the film a soft look in a lot of warmer lit scenes. When these effects are not at work the detail is quite good. You can see all the detail in the captured Santa's long twisted beard. Black levels are nearly reference quality. I noticed a couple incidents of damage specks that were hardly intrusive, and at least once instance of haloing, but fans should be very pleased with this video presentation.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gets a pretty good work out in the beginning and end of this film. At the start, there is a lot of construction going on at the excavation site near the home where our main characters live. You can hear a lot of off-screen equipment and drilling filling the extra speaker channels. The middle portion of the movie, as the story is developing, is fairly quiet. Aside from a few tense scenes, including one at the previously mentioned excavation site and one involving a chimney, things are kept front and center. The finale of the film features a wide range of noises that occupy the room, such as the whir of a swooping helicopter, taking full advantage of the 5.1 mix. The score, though not particularly memorable, sounds quite good in the mix. Dialogue is appropriately leveled and perfectly clear, though many viewers will be reading English subtitles anyways.
Rare Exports Inc. (HD, 07:19): Though it's encoded in HD, this special feature has more of a DVD-like quality to it. This is one of two short films from director Helander that eventually lead to a feature long film. This short follows a group of hunters (some of which star in the feature length version) as they hunt for "Father Christmases". I found it very enjoyable to go back and see the early stages of the ideas that are further developed in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. In many ways, the humour of the feature film works better in these short parodies.
Rare Exports Inc. - The Official Safety Instructions (HD, 10:51): This one is also close to DVD quality. This short elaborates on the ideas in Rare Exports Inc., adding some characters to the mix (who appear in the full length film) instead of just having narration over a series of images. The main focus here is the safety rules that one needs to follow when interacting with these wild Santa Clauses. There is some comedy gold in here. If you're a fan of the film, you'll eat both of these shorts up.
The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (HD, 28:21): This is a lot less structured than your usual "making of" extra. It's mostly comprised of footage from the set and some screen tests. It's fun to watch the filmmakers and actors joke around on set, but those looking for a wealth of information about the film won't find much here. Even without interview footage, you still get a good sense of how a lot of scenes were filmed.
Blood in the Snow - A Look at the Concept Art (HD, 03:09): I don't find a lot of concept art featurettes too valuable, but this one is pretty neat. The high-definition really helps you see the detail that went into the artwork. There is no talking here, just a series of concept images followed by the segments from the movie that they belong to. A lovely piece from the film's score plays over the segment.
Animatics & Computer Effects Comparison (HD): There are two comparisons, each running approximately three minutes, that show the raw footage and animatics side-by-side with the final product seen in the film. It's neat to see just how much of the image was special effects. Though some of the predominantly CGI scenes in the movie were a turn off for me, there are a lot of subtle effects that were used without me realizing it. This featurette helped me to appreciate them more.
Photo Gallery (HD): 37 hi-res images taken from the set of the film.
Original Finnish Trailer (HD, 01:58)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (SD, 01:19:55): What's this!? Without any mention on the Blu-ray packaging whatsoever, Oscilloscope has included a silly old Nicholas Webster film. It's not cleaned up at all, and it's easy to watch it online for free (legally), but it's very cool of them to use the extra space on their BD-50 to throw in an old title from their vault. I feel kind of spoiled!
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an insanely odd movie. It works best as a dry parody; twisting traditional Christmas lore and subverting the audience's expectations of what a holiday movie can be. It does this while also trying to maintain a heartfelt story of a father and son who depend on each other, but I was less impressed with this aspect of the movie. Oscilloscope has given the film a lovingly crafted Blu-ray release with crisp video and a loud spacious sound mix. There are also enough extras here to satisfy any fan of the film, including the two hilarious short films that preceded it.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Finnish, LPCM 2.0 Finnish
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Extras: Rare Exports Inc. and Rare Exports Inc. - The Official Saftey Instructions (Two short film prequels), The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, "Blood in the snow" - a look at the concept art, Animatics & Computer Effects Video Comparison, Behind the Scenes Production Stills Photo Gallery, Original Theatrical Trailer from Finland, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jalmari Helander
Cast: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila
Genre: Action, Comedy and Fantasy
Length: 82 minutes
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