Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Oscilloscope Laboratories
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (30th October 2011).
The Film

Is there anything worse than finally seeing a tremendously hyped film, only to have your hopes of a masterpiece scuttled once the end credits begin to roll? That’s how I was feeling recently after taking in a screening of “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010), the Finnish holiday horror movie that everyone (at least the people I know) seems to be talking about. I’m going to chalk this up to being another case of everyone losing their sh*t over a film because it’s foreign, and it’s different. This has been an ongoing problem for some time now. I’ve watched a lot of international horror films over the years, and I can safely say that the majority of them didn’t match the hype which preceded them. I realize that American horror has been in something of a slump for the past… well, ok, I’ll admit we’ve been churning out more crap than quality, but a few gems manage to sneak out every year. I think it’s mostly a case of people hearing about a film’s unique concept or approach to a genre plot, then everyone runs wild with the good reviews that trickle out. A few years ago, nobody could shut up about the incoming crop of French horror films. I watched most of them and found that they all followed the same basic formula: paper-thin plots stretched out via liberal amounts of gore. Sure, they’re bloody and horrific and far more graphic than most films here, but that doesn’t make for a great film.

That isn’t to say that “Rare Exports” follows this formula, because it doesn’t, but the film lies on a plane of existence where its hype wasn’t able to match its reality. The concept is fantastic, though. What if Santa Claus wasn’t a portly, jolly fellow making his rounds on Christmas eve delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls? Maybe he’s actually a malevolent alien life form that relishes in tearing naughty boys apart and punishing children. Sounds fun, right? Of course it does. That’s the premise of director Jalmari Helander’s film. A group of reindeer herders find their stock dead soon after a local construction crew begins to excavate a mountain top which is home to the “world’s largest mass grave”. Buried beneath the snow is a small army of elves (their image is that of Santa, but imagine if he were homeless and ultra creepy) who are rising up out of the ground to feed on local animals. Also down there with them - Santa, who resides in a large cube of ice for most of the film, his obscenely large horns protruding from either side of his wintry tomb. Seeing as how the corporation responsible for the excavation caused them to lose money on reindeer, they decide to hold Saint Nick for ransom, assuming they’re able to fend off his horde of evil elves.

How friggin’ cool does all that sound? The problem I have is that much of the film’s lore regarding Santa fails to materialize. Things progress nicely as we learn of the elves being released and feasting upon severed pigs heads and reindeer, but all that evil, vile material on Santa never comes to fruition. I wonder if the filmmakers simply didn’t have the budget, but that still wouldn’t explain the fantastic production design and ambitious storyline. Santa spends the whole film lodged in a block of ice, and he never leaves the damn thing! I kept waiting for the pace to quicken, but things slowly meander along until the thrill-less conclusion. Santa is painted to be this massive, otherworldly demon that shreds apart naughty children and eats their bones. Didn’t someone on the production team think viewers would want to see that stuff? It puzzled the hell out of me why the film’s ace of spades is never played.

Luckily, we‘re treated to some excellent acting across the board, but the two highlights are easily the father-son duo of Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and Pietari (Onni Tommila). I’m not sure if they’re actually related since both share the same last name, but I completely bought their relationship. Rauno is stressed out, having just lost his entire herd of reindeer (and all the money they would have brought in), but it’s Pietari who is able to comfort his father in this rough time. Jorma Tommila is particularly fantastic because his character is a man of few words, leaving his emotions to be worn on his rugged face. On a quick side note, he possesses one incredibly manly beard. Seriously, Chuck Norris would be proud; someone needs to cast him in “Thor 2” (2013). Pietari’s love for his father feels genuine. He shows more concern for his father’s problems than his own, which are considerable when you take into account the fact that local children have begun to go missing, and he’s convinced that he’ll be next. Now, Onni Tommila might not be the most handsome youth in Finland (he looks like a mini version of Björk), but the kid shows a great ability to convey depth and emotion within his character. He’s also our guide to the world of the true Santa since he – conveniently – owns a book explaining the lies of Santa and what his true motivations are during the holiday season.

I don’t want anyone reading this to think the film is supposed to be a straight horror picture. This isn’t along the lines of “Silent Night Deadly Night” (1984). While there are some elements of horror at play, the film is much more a dark comedy with horror overtones than a simple genre picture. That might have been part of my initial lukewarm reaction, as everything I’d read seemed to indicate this was some twisted holiday horror fare. And while it may be twisted, the affair is decidedly more black humor than anything else. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that the film is one huge cock tease, leaving me with some serious blue balls after all the buildup. I’d love to see someone tackle the film by putting a much more sinister edge to it, and, for the love of all that is holy, if you’re going to tease us for over an hour about how nefarious Santa Claus really is then you’d better damn well show us, too!

Video

Hmmmm… do you really want a string of superlatives to describe the film’s 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image?

How about one: perfect.

Honestly, I could sit here and gush, but I don’t see the point. Cinematographer Mika Orasmaa has shot the gorgeous vistas of Norway (standing in for Finland) with such breathtaking clarity that words don’t really do it justice. Right from the opening frames, you almost feel like you’re watching a nature documentary rather than a theatrical feature. Oscilloscope has done a remarkable job of transferring the film to this high-definition Blu-ray, and the resulting image is nothing short of being among the best I’ve ever seen.

Audio

There’s a great deal of activity in the film’s Finnish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. The film immediately begins with the drill team hammering away on the mountaintop, and your subwoofer will be humming with such intensity that you’ll think it’s trying to bore through the floor. Dynamite charges and other explosions aid in the thunderous assault. A good majority relies on atmosphere – building up the tension with surround sounds designed to keep you unsettled. The film excels in this area with effects like the gentle sounds of the wind played up to maximum effect. The film takes place in a frozen, and something as simple as the whistling of wind can bring on a chill when heard alongside the views of a frozen tundra.
A Finnish LPCM 2.0 track is also included. Subtitles are available in English and English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Oscilloscope always makes sure that each of their releases comes packed with all the bonus features fans of their films would want. “Rare Exports” is no exception, featuring a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD set that includes both short films that preceded the feature, behind-the-scenes featurette, computer tests, photo gallery, theatrical trailers, bonus trailers and – on Blu-ray only – a bonus film from the 60's!

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“Rare Exports Inc. Short Films” contains both of the short films that ultimately led to securing the financing necessary for the feature. I don’t think it matter much if you want these first or not. It really comes down to how surprised you want to be once the film gets going, but since these came first, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to watch them prior. They are:

- “Rare Exports Inc.” (2003) (480p) runs for 7 minutes and 20 seconds. This is the original short that got the ball rolling. It’s quite hilarious, playing things straight like a real nature documentary… that is, until a nude, wild Santa is found in the brush and captured for processing.

- “Rare Exports Inc. – The Official Safety Instructions” (2005) (480p) runs for 10 minutes and 52 seconds. This short is intended for those who have made a purchase through Rare Exports, instructing the viewer on the best way to care for their newest acquisition.

“The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 28 minutes and 22 seconds. This is a typical behind-the-scenes piece, featuring footage from early rehearsals, on-set direction, actors having fun and discussions about the film and characters from the cast & crew. The dialogue is a mixture of English and Finnish, with subtitles were applicable.

“Blood in the Snow: A Look at the Concept Art” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 3 minutes and 10 seconds. This brief segment gives us a look at some of the film’s early concept art along with comparisons to how it appears on screen. Much of the art seen was used in the pitch to potential investors.

“Animatics and Computer Effects Comparison” (1080p) computer tests contains a look at some of the film’s CGI FX work during and after rendering. Two scenes are covered:

- “Comparison 1” focuses on some of the helicopter footage seen in the film, running for 3 minutes and 59 seconds.
- “Comparison 2” focuses on a crowd of, well... you’ll see for yourself, running for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

A photo gallery (1080p) contains 36 images.

The film’s original Finnish theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 59 seconds.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” red-band theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 54 seconds.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” green-band theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 12 seconds.

bonus trailers (1080p) are included for the following Oscilloscope releases:

- “The Law” runs for 1 minute and 12 seconds.
- “Terribly Happy” runs for 2 minutes and 23 seconds.
- “The Messenger” runs for 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
- “Meek’s Cutoff” runs for 1 minute and 53 seconds.
- “Bellflower” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.

Finally, the Blu-ray contains an exclusive extra that I find to be incredibly awesome, even if only as a morbid curiosity: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964), the full-length psychedelic bonus feature, which runs for 1 hour and 19 minutes, is included here for your alternative holiday viewing pleasure. The 1.33:1 image is rougher than a rhino’s ass, but I think that only adds to the unique charm. The source material has been in the public domain for eons, which is probably why no one has bothered to clean it up in any way.

DISC TWO: DVD

The DVD contains the feature film, along with all of the bonus features listed above sans “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”.

Packaging

If you’ve never seen an Oscilloscope release, then prepare for a packaging fetishists wet dream. No, it’s not a Steelbook (nerds), but the 2-discs come housed in a fold-out digipak (which itself is made form recycled materials) that displays large artwork from the film across every panel. The discs themselves rest inside cutouts within the inner sleeve. Sure, plastic packaging would have a longer shelf life, but it won’t look as beautiful as this.

Overall

Even though I found my initial viewing to be less than what I expected, I have a feeling this is a film I’ll warm up to upon subsequent screenings. I love black comedy, don’t get me wrong, but I think I was mentally expecting one thing and in the end I got another. There is some definite room for improvement, but the story is so fun and twisted that this will make a great film to show yearly to unsuspecting friends. And it doesn’t hurt that the picture quality is out of this world good.

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: B

 


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