What to watch in this holiday season: Christmas movies

It’s this time of the year again! Spooky season is coming to an end, and with this marks the beginning of the Christmas frenzy. Get ready for the return of Mariah Carey, snazzy jumpers, fairy lights and tinsel! While it is usually associated with holidays, relaxation and fun, it also is, for us engineering students, the approach of the dreaded midterm exams. But worry not! As I will be giving you a list of some classic movies that will hopefully give a nice and well deserved break in between two intense studying sessions. 

Here are four of my recommendations:

“The Polar Express” 

Did you know The Polar Express was the first film to be entirely shot using motion capture? The actors used special suits covered in sensors that multiple cameras at different angles could catch in order to then reproduce a 3D model of the actors, allowing for high fidelity in movements and expressions, except for the movement of the eyes which had to be animated separately. This and the way the movie is animated makes for a great example of the phenomenon of uncanny valley where something that looks really human like but has some slight but noticeable traits differing from us gives a feeling of eeriness and discomfort.

An adaptation of the book of the same name written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985, the movie tells of a young boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus and embarks a magical steam train – the Polar Express – in Michigan on Christmas Eve after seeing it stop outside his window. This train is on its way to the North Pole at high speeds and on a very tight schedule. The young boy lives an eventful trip across snowy lands, mountains and glaciers, and befriends two other children travelling in the same train. The movie stars Tom Hanks in multiple roles such as the train driver, Santa, and as the narrator. 

“Gremlins” 

If you like pets, don’t get a mogwai. If you do, don’t expose it to sunlight, do not let it come in contact with water, and above all, do not feed it past midnight.

The story is based on the legend of tiny mischievous creatures – Gremlins – that would cause malfunctions in the planes of the British air force during WWII. 

It was released in 1984 with a sequel a few years later, and was adapted into a novel.

The story starts in a creepy antique store owned by an old Chinese man, helped by his grandson. There, the grandson secretly sells the mogwai, a very small, furry and cute looking animal, and warns of the 3 rules, all while not knowing the extent of the danger. The rules are accidentally broken, leading to complete havoc and a race against time to get the situation under control.

The movie can be interpreted, through the behaviour of the gremlins, as an extremely exaggerated satirical depiction of western society and as a statement against dependence to technology as some characters cannot work without their tech all while the wiser character is shown to have a complete disinterest for television. 

“The nightmare before Christmas” 

This is a movie for those who like to blur the line between Christmas and halloween, or who would like to know what happens when the king of “Halloween Town” Jack Skellignton stumbles upon “Christmas Town” ruled by Santa Claus – or as Jack mistakenly says: Sandy Claws – 

It is based on a poem of Tim Burton, dating from 1982, and was released 11 years later in the form of a stop motion animation.

After seeing “Christmas town”, Jack spends time trying to understand and rationally explain the holiday and decides to take over Christmas in order to improve it. But several key parts of his plan end up going horribly wrong, putting everything in jeopardy. 

The movie is widely seen as a stunning work of stop motion animation and timeless movie magic, gaining the title of “cult film” with its release on VHS in the mid 90’s. 

The fanbase speculate on the theory that “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is in fact the third of a series of films starting with “Frankenweenie” followed by “The Corpse Bride” all three written by Tim Burton. The theory goes as follows: The main character starts as young Victor and his dog Sparky in “Frankenweenie”, then when Sparky dies Victor accidentally marries a skeleton like creature in “the corpse bride” that takes him onto the land of the dead where he is reunited with his dog in skeleton form, now named Scraps. In “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Victor is dead, he is finds himself in the forest where he met the corpse bride, and finds colourful doors. He chooses the pumpkin door, his name becomes Jack Skellington, and is joined by his dog Sparky/Scraps whose bones have now turned to dust and is in a ghost form. To add to the similarities, Victor is, in all three movies, quite a brilliant scientist and drawn in a manner that makes him look very similar.

This theory is spotty and has never been confirmed, nevertheless, it is an interesting take that I personally like to believe as it makes for a story of Victor’s life from youth to afterlife divided into three movies.

« Edward Scissorhands” 

Released in 1990, also directed by Tim Burton, the movie stars Johnny Depp as Edward, an almost completed humanoid built by his Frankenstein like father in a gothic castle who died before giving him real hands, leaving Edward to live with scissors in place of fingers. A door to door saleswoman takes him home, he is then adopted by the neighbourhood for his talent with bush sculptures and hairdressing. We get to see the rise and fall of Edward’s reputation from where everyone wanted to meet him and requested his help to a series of incidents caused by his lack of judgement and misunderstandings making him look like a real monster. 

This movie touches on subjects such as isolation and the difficulties faced by someone who doesn’t “fit in”, but also the wish to be accepted and the risks one can be willing to take to achieve this. 

We are now led upon a far-fetched but with some interesting justifications theory that every single one of Tim Burton’s movie is in fact interconnected. Not just the ones listed here, but all of them. Just like living in a mysterious universe where multiple genre collides, animation and real life  merges and the craziest speculations are held up with unexpected discoveries.