It may only be the beginning of November but today see’s the DVD & Blu-ray release of the creepy Finnish movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale written and directed by first time filmmaker Jalmari Helander.
Young Pietari (Onni Tommila) lives with his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) in a settlement just off the Korvatunturi mountains. On a nearby summit of one of the mountains a group of archaeologists excavate feverishly for something mysterious, but as the digging strangely stops unexplained events start to happen and all the children disappear on one night Pietari is sure that the archaeologists have awoken Santa Claus from his icy prison. But this isn’t the jolly old Saint Nick that you and I know, local lore tells of a Santa Claus who is a supernatural being that cruelly punishes any children who are naughty.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale received a decent amount of critical acclaim on its Theatrical release and is sure to find a second wind of fan praise over the coming months with it now being available in the home market. People love seeing something different and Rare Exports is definitely that, a great little movie that has everything seasonal films of that last few years has been lacking. An original concept with a creative script handled intelligently as it manages not only to be creepy but keep the warmth of a family drama. If you look at this film closely and strip it down to the basics it is simply a coming of age story about a son and his single father.
Although dark and brooding at times it always has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek; it’s a film that’s meant to be a fun and entertaining experience and not to scare you senseless, in a way harking back to those fantastic 80’s silly Joe Dante type horror/comedies. Even though given a 15 certificate in the UK I wouldn’t have any issues showing this to a 13 year old, start them off with Gremlins and if they can cope with that they’ll be fine for Rare Exports.
With a runtime of 76 minutes before credits it tells its story efficiently, managing its time well and saving from having to cut any fat. The opening credits is a great example of this, it’s basically Pietari flicking through some books about the truth behind Santa Claus but what that does is use what many see as dead time on screen as an opportunity to build the world by adding simple visual exposition, it tells the audience the threat Santa has and the consequences of what would happen if he was to be freed, and that’s all in the credits. No need for 5 minutes of dry and uninspired monologues about what is at stake. It concentrates solely on the plot and the quickest way from A to B. Starting off minimalistic it’s given a sense of scale by the isolated location but the action grows to a finale that is surprisingly epic, Helander obviously using his small budget wisely.
The 1080p/AVC transfer is top notch; the white wash of the snow looks glorious in high definition and the level of detail of small things like snow on the ends of beards is fantastic, it’s a consistently great from long shots to close ups and even keeps its quality in the darker scenes at night. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also sounds great, well mixed and with plenty going on in the back ground it’ll be sure to get you’re speakers working.
It’s the rather shocking exclusion of any extras whatsoever that really hurts the disc; it’s the very definition of a bare bones version of the film. Released through Icon Home Entertainment it’s embarrassing when compared to the US Blu-ray release. That version distributed by indie company Oscilloscope Pictures is jam-packed full of special features including the original shorts of which the film is based, a half hour ‘making of’ documentary, some little technical features as well as the entire version of 1964’s so-bad-it’s-good film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It basically seems like Icon didn’t even try and looking at the release itself it stinks of ‘it’s getting close to Christmas so let’s just stick it in a box and get it out there’ which really isn’t good enough.
I can’t fault the specs of the disc, it looks great, sounds great and in my eyes the film itself has the potential of being a future cult classic. It has a lot more heart than I thought possible with a really enjoyable emotional core and a touching finale. But for any real fans I would honestly say that either hold out for a better release (which in all honestly will probably never happen) or if you’re lucky enough to own a multi-region Blu-ray player import the US version.