Color, 1971, 65 mins. 11 secs
Directed by Bernard Gosselin
Catherine Leduc, François Gosselin, Marcel Sabourin, Guy L'Ecuyer, Roland Chenail, Paul Hébert
Canadian International Pictures (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Something of a legend in Canada for generations of delighted and often confused kids, the lengthy cinematic series Contes pour Tous (Tales for All) has run on and off till the present day since 1971 with over two dozen titles. A tiny handful of these got exported for international consumption, most notably two of its strangest and most infamous contributions, The Peanut Butter Solution and The Great Land of Small. Quebec company Les Productions la Fête made history with the first indie, non-state children's film in '71, The Christmas Martian (Le Martien de Nöel), which served as the unofficial inaugural entry from producer Rock Demers and was later appropriated into the series as the official first title. Essentially taking a page from the more oddball fringes of the U.K.'s Children's Film Foundation films, this film (and many of its successors) is a wild mixture of slapstick, sci-fi, sentiment, and surrealism that operates on the level of child logic and makes for compelling, bizarre viewing today. The film hasn't had a ton of exposure outside of Canada, but that has been corrected in 2023 with a Blu-ray release from Canadian International Pictures that should cause more than a few jaws to drop.
While braving the countryside snow one afternoon to run errands, brother and sister François (Gosselin) and Katou (Leduc) bear witness to a strange convenience store customer (Sabourin) who blows bubbles all over the place, chugs down lots of candy, and steals a few sundries. After talking to the cops, they go off for a sleigh ride with their uncle Ned but decide to keep their weird run-in to themselves. Meanwhile the eccentric stranger causes more confusion by lighting a giant match on a cop car and flying through the air while dressed up in drag as an old lady. Later that day, the children are out in the woods chopping down a Christmas tree when they catch the eye of the troublemaker who makes off with their tree and turns out to be a Martian stranded with his spaceship in the area. From there it's one adventure after another as they fly in the air, wallow in mountains of candy, and try to help their new friend get home while dodging the cops and a bunch of vigilante townspeople for a winter no one will ever forget.
Despite the title, The Christmas Martian makes only marginal use of its yuletide elements -- mostly the Christmas tree hunt, a few decorations, and a short climactic bit involving Santa Claus confusion. What you mostly get here is a strange wintry children's sci-fi film with veteran stage and screen actor Sabourin making for a truly confounding extraterrestrial covered in various forms of cloth netting. The entire film screams early '70s, which of course is a large part of its charm as children's entertainment really had an anything-goes quality around that time. The roster of Quebec talent on hand makes it a valuable piece of history as well, with many of the production crew sticking around throughout many of the official follow-up films for years.
Thanks to its kid-friendly tone and genre trappings, this one at least got a bit more exposure outside Canada than usual at the time with some play on Australian screens at one point. In Canada it was issued on VHS, got adapted into a French-language novel, and appeared in the third of the Tales for All DVD sets produced for the French-Canadian market as well as a hefty box set of all the films (none of them English-friendly). The CIP Blu-ray gives you a much better viewing option, sporting a pristine 2K restoration from the 35mm original camera negative by Éléphant - mémoire du cinéma québécois. It isn't a particularly vibrant film, but the colors and detail here are excellent and the 1.66:1 framing looks perfect. The film can be played in either its original French Canadian-language version or the English dub (with their respective title sequences), both DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles (SDH or translated). The English dub is really nuts, with our alien (who's given the impromptu name "Poo Flower") given a ridiculous voice out of a '60s comedy movie. A very informative and useful commentary by CIP regulars Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com and film historian Jason Pichonsky isn't scene specific, instead providing a thorough history of how this film came about, Demers' background and mission with these films, the state of the Canadian film industry at the time, and lots more. "Trailers for All" (32m1s) is a reel of English trailers for our main feature and the first 15 films in the Tales for All series (up to 1994's The Return of Tommy Tricker) with Corupe and Pichonsky commenting on all of them in order. Needless to say, we need all of these on Blu-ray. A new audio interview with Sabourin (12m53s) covers his drive to act in films and teach rather than do TV work, the similarities between this film and the later E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and his perspective on the efforts to create a significant industry for Canadian children's films. 1962's The Joy of Winter (15m5s) is a whimsical documentary short about the process of prepping and getting through the dead of Canadian winter for the National Film Board of Canada from this film's director and producer, Bernard Gosselin and Jean Dansereau. Then 1978's The Beach (La plage) (3m29s) is an impressionistic, pencil-drawn animated short based on a story by this film's screenwriter Roch Carrier, followed by the French trailer for The Christmas Martian. An insert booklet is also included featuring a new interview with NFB curator Marc St-Pierre and an essay on composer Jacques Perron by Fantasia programmer Marc Lamothe.
Reviewed on December 3, 2023.