Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Blu-ray delivers stunningly beautiful video and superb audio in this exceptional Blu-ray release
In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up! This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.
For more about Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and the Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Blu-ray release, see Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on October 23, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
As the trailer says, forget everything you know about Santa. It's all lies. And yet the ingenious
twist of Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander's horror comedy is that the story's true hero is a
boy who never stopped believing in Santa Claus. It's young Pietari Kontio, the son of a reindeer
herder (isn't that an irony?), who's immediately able to look past the daily concerns with which
the adult world is preoccupied and grasp the reality of the situation when Santa comes calling --
not the benevolent St. Nick of legend, but the demon whose malevolence the legend was
invented to conceal. Ultimately, it's Pietari who helps the adults escape the deadly predicament
in which their unbelief has trapped them. A child shall lead.
Helander's film is a reimagining of two internet shorts released in 2003 and 2005, both of which
are included on the Blu-ray. The shorts told a different story with a different approach. The first
was a deadpan hilarious parody of a nature documentary in the style of an extended Monty
Python sketch, but with a loopy internal logic all its own. The second short built on the first, and
it is difficult to describe. It's styled as an "instruction manual", but by the end it's arrived in a
uniquely magical place.
In 2008, Helander began production on a feature film, which could fairly be described as a
"reboot" of his notion of "the truth about Santa". The film stars rugged Finnish actor Jorma
Tommila, who had appeared in both shorts, and his son, Onni, who first appeared in the 2005
short. The natural rapport of this father-and-son acting team is the film's secret weapon.
Helander borrows liberally and creatively from various sources; I spotted elements from The
Thing, Godzilla and Jurassic Park, and I'm sure there are others I missed. But no matter how
outlandish the film's story becomes -- and it's still primarily a comedy, even when the gross-out
factor is high -- the Tommilas anchor it in something solid and real and provide the movie with
an emotional core that, while it may not leave you in tears, should warm any heart that isn't made
"We have Santa Claus!"
It's twenty-four days to Christmas. In the Korvatunturi mountains inside Russia, just across the
border from the northern Finnish province of Lapland, a secretive drilling operation is underway,
sponsored by a multi-national corporation called Subzero, Inc. The local Laplanders refer to it as
an American company, but the foreman, Brian Greene (Jonathan Hutchings), has a distinctly
British accent as he reports on the latest samples to a visiting executive known only as Riley (Per
Christian Ellefsen). The samples are odd, but Riley tells Greene to keep drilling. Then Riley
assembles the team and tells them they're on the verge of a great discovery, one he's been
pursuing all his life.
Unbeknownst to Riley and Greene, two local boys are hiding behind crates, observing the whole
scene. Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his older friend, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), have cut a hole
through the wire fence at the border and snuck up to the mining operation, curious to know
what's happening. After hearing Greene tell his men that they have "a grave to rob", Pietari
becomes convinced that they've found Santa Claus. Juuso mocks his younger friend as a baby
who hasn't yet outgrown childhood superstitions, and the two head home as explosions rock the
Both boys are sons of reindeer herders, who live a rugged life in this frozen clime waiting for the
end of the year, when it's time to gather the herd and butcher the meat for market. But as
Pietari's father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), along with Juuso's, whose name is Aimo (Tommi
Korpela), and a third herder named Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen), discover to their horror, most of
the herd is dead. It's apparently been ravaged by wolves, but of a size and strength unlike any
they've encountered before.
Convinced that the mountain excavation has driven some sort of Russian super-wolf their way,
the herders go tearing up there to demand compensation, but they find the place oddly deserted.
All that remains is an enormous hole in the ice that descends farther than the eye can see. The
miners have removed something from the depths, but what? Pietari knows, because he's been
studying the ancient myths of Santa's true origin. (If it seems odd that he should have books on
the subject, bear in mind that Lapland has long been regarded as Santa's home.) But Pietari can't
get anyone to listen, even the next morning, when local children start to go missing (including
Juuso), and the sheriff (Risto Salmi) begins making rounds because he's been getting strange
reports from everywhere. Among other things, an entire potato crop has been stolen, but not the
potatoes themselves, just the sacks in which they were stored. Also, these weird straw dolls keep
turning up, including one in Juuso's bed, where he was supposed to be sound asleep: primitive
child-sized forms, almost as if they were talismanic replacements for the missing kids (which, in
fact, they are).
Pietari's father finally starts getting a clue when the wolf trap he's dug near their home and baited
with a pig's head catches something else: a wizened old man with a long, white beard, a red nose
and . . . you get the picture. The poor geezer appears dead when Rauno and Piiparinen remove
him from the pit, but he quickly exhibits signs of vitality and strength, particularly when he sniffs
a child nearby in the person of Pietari. Despite the cold, the old man is naked, but he has random
items with him, including Greene's passport and a radiophone over which Riley's distinctive
voice can suddenly be heard asking for a progress report.
Rauno and Piiparinen, now joined by Aimo, finally realize that they have what Greene's people
dug out of the mountain, and they finally start listening to Pietari. They respond to Riley's
transmission and reply that they'll "sell" him Santa Claus for an amount sufficient to compensate
for the loss of their reindeer herd. They arrange a meeting and bring the tough old goat, now fully
recovered and regarding them with a sinister smile, to the exchange. And then all hell breaks
Anyone who comes to Rare Exports expecting a monster movie or a slasher film along the lines
of Silent Night, Deadly Night will be disappointed. Helander was clever enough to create
something that those already familiar with his previous shorts wouldn't expect, but the feature
film remains firmly within the dryly comic territory where the shorts comfortably reside. The
film's "R" rating is more a result of its language and the wild Santa's full frontal nudity than of
its explicit gore, although it has that too. But the gore is strategically placed, and the camera
doesn't linger over it. You're more likely to blanch from the scene of Pietari and his father
talking while the latter butchers a pig.
Nothing in Onni Tommila's appearance in the 2005 short suggested the extraordinary
performance he delivers in Rare Exports. It's appropriate that a Santa Claus movie be carried by
a child, but few child actors have the rapport with the camera and the emotional openness to act
with such simple, honest directness. Onni's Pietari dominates the film with his stalwart faith in
himself, which is what lets him see past conventional wisdom, understand the peril to
everyone, and take steps to meet it. By the end of the film, the grown-ups are taking their lead
from Pietari, and he's the one facing down the gravest danger and taking the biggest chances.
With just about any other pint-sized actor, you might not believe it. With Onni Tommila, you do.
Maybe it's because director Helander has taken the time to show you where Pietari gets his
strength from. There's a remarkable scene half an hour into the film where father and son (played
by actors who are a father and son) bid each other good night. Rauno, the father, has just learned
that his reindeer herd has been lost, and he's in despair at the prospect of financial ruin and of
failing as a father. Meanwhile, his son thinks he may not survive the night, because he knows
there's a monster on the loose who targets children. They're on different wavelengths entirely,
and yet, as they alternately look at and away from each other, it's clear these two remain utterly
connected, as only a father and son can be when they love each other deeply and have made a
pact to stand together against the world. The moment is both heart-rending and, at the same time,
uplifting, because you know these two will prevail.
Oscilloscope has delivered a wonderful 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray image that fully conveys
the impressive locations where Helander filmed his outdoor scenes, both at the mountaintop
mining operations and in the countryside below. (Though set in Finland, the film was shot in
Norway.) Detail is superb, whether it's the distant mountain ranges or the fraying patches in
Rauno Kontio's heavy wool sweater or the makeshift "armor" that Pietari fashions out of his
hockey gear to protect himself from Santa's attacks. Contrast levels are never excessive, so that
the bright whites of the vast snow expanses don't overpower other objects, and black levels are
appropriate for distinguishing essential visual elements at night and in dark interiors (although
there's also a game of concealment at work here, because some elements of the make-up and
visual effects need to be disguised). The color palette runs toward earth tones, with incongruous
bursts of primary colors (notably red) to remind us that 'tis the season to be jolly -- or afraid, very
The credits indicate that the film was digitally "graded", which is common parlance in European
films for the digital intermediate process. The Blu-ray was presumably sourced from the DI,
which is usually a reliable protection against high-frequency filtering, transfer-induced ringing or
other inappropriate digital tampering, and indeed I didn't detect any. Nor did I see any
compression artifacts. The image on this Blu-ray is utterly faithful to the source I saw projected
in the theater, and that is my principal criterion in judging Blu-ray picture quality.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is surprisingly active for a film that doesn't have many major action set
pieces. In the opening scenes on the mountaintop, the sounds of drilling and other machinery fill
the surrounds; later, the explosions of the excavation rumble and echo around the room. Wind,
snowstorms, snowmobiles and other ambient noise suitable to the environment can be heard,
along with a few surprises, including a steel animal trap in an unexpected location. The sounds of
various projectiles traverse the room in the final act, as does a company helicopter on which
Riley arrives for his meeting with the local herders. The dialogue in English is clear and well-rendered; I can only assume that the Finnish dialogue is equally
clear. The energetic score by Juri and Miska Seppä has a presence and urgency far superior to what I remember from the theater,
which I suspect has as much to do with the near-field experience as with the lossless
presentation. (There is also a PCM 2.0 version for those who have not yet upgraded to DTS
Rare Exports Inc. Short Films: If you haven't seen these previously, I recommend
waiting until after viewing the feature.
Rare Exports Inc. (2003) (SD; 2.35:1; 7:20): The original short begins in the
manner of a classic nature documentary. From there it gets strange. The credits are
quite jerky, and I assume this is due to the origins of the piece as web video.
Rare Exports Inc. - The Official Safety Instructions (2005) (SD; 2.35:1; 10:52):
Styled as a strictly internal document for recipients of the "rare exports", this short
reflects a larger budget and growing sophistication in filmmaking.
The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale(HD; 1.78:1; 28:22): Though mastered
in HD, much of the source material appears to be standard definition video. The footage
is a chronological record of the production, beginning with rehearsals in 2008 and
proceeding through the world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in August 2010. The
only "narration" is a kind of running commentary by Helander, who is usually the one
holding the video camera. The cast and crew really did work outdoors in freezing
conditions, and some of the best parts of this "diary" show young Onni Tommila horsing
around on set and occasionally just getting tired of it all. At the very end, he's shown
recreating some of his father's scenes in a fake beard, while Ilmari Järvenpää, who played
Juuso, recreates other adult parts. In Finnish and English, with English subtitles.
"Blood in the Snow": A Look at the Concept Art (HD; 1.78:1/2.35:1; 3:10): Concept
art used for previsualization (and to woo investors), compared to the final film footage.
Animatics and Computer Effects Comparison (HD): Top and bottom juxtapositions of
key sequences showing the work done by the effects house, Fake Graphics. In some
instances, the "before" insert shows the green screen work; in others, it shows the pre-visualization footage.
Comparison 1 (3:59): Helicopter sequence.
Comparison 2 (2:20): Crowd sequence (it's a very special type of crowd).
Photo Gallery (HD): About three dozen photos. Most are true "behind the scenes"
photos, as opposed to publicity stills.
Original Finnish Trailer (HD; 2.35:1; 1:59): This is the trailer I saw shown at the IFC
Center in New York. Despite being billed as the "Finnish" trailer, it has both English
subtitles and English intertitles.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (Blu-ray exclusive) (SD; 1.33:1; 1:19:56):
A jaw-droppingly so-bad-it's-good cult classic kid's film made for about $200,000, this
one would have made Ed Wood proud. Martians kidnap Santa, because their children
have become obsessed with the jolly fat man via terrestrial TV shows, which, apparently,
are just as addictive on the Red Planet as down here. Among its other distinctions, the
film marked the debut of a then-eight-year-old Pia Zadora as a Martian child. (If you
don't recognize the name, look it up.) The source material is in pretty bad shape, but what
can you expect from a public domain film that's already been covered by MST3K?
Oscilloscope Releases (HD): In a separate section, the disc contains trailers and one-sheet images for Rare Exports:
A Christmas Tale (both red-band and green-band U.S.
trailers), The Law, Terribly Happy, The Messenger, Meek's Cutoff and Bellflower.
Some readers took offense at my critical breakdown of The Family Man, a "feel good" Christmas
movie that trades in cardboard villains, synthetic emotions and Hallmark sentiment. At the
opposite end of the spectrum from that brand of yuletide mawkishness is a Christmas film like Rare Exports,
which conveys genuine feeling and true family values -- and does so all the more effectively
because you're surprised to find such things in what appears, at first blush, to be a horror movie
spoof. Director Helander made his short films as parodies, but he was canny enough to realize
that a feature film needs more to remain interesting throughout its running time. For everything
weird, wild and funny about it, Rare Exports holds together because it's about a father and son
reaching out and holding on to each other at a time of great need. It truly is about family, and
isn't that what Christmas should be? The movie and the Blu-ray are both highly recommended.
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This October, Oscilloscope Pictures will release Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on Blu-ray. A mix of action, horror, political satire, and holiday fable, the film covers an archeological dig in a Finnish town that unearths Santa Claus; unfortunately, the real ...
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