He’s Mister Snow Miser

Your seasonal reminder that I have operated a Snow Miser fan site since the twentieth century.

Snow Miser

The Snow Miser is a character from the 1974 Rankin-Bass holiday special The Year Without a Santa Claus – one of dozens of holiday specials I watched over and over as a kid. I created The Snow Miser’s Cooler in response to a Geocities Heat Miser fansite that is long gone (sort of still around, I guess?). I am a Snow Miser partisan, and it bugged me only the Heat Miser had a fansite, so I decided to use my fledgling HTML skills to correct that.

When I first created the site in 1999 while in in college, it was just hosted on my college account. Eventually I was able to purchase snowmiser.net, but snowmiser.com was taken. But when you keep a website up for decades, you can wait them out and eventually you’re able to nab snowmiser.com.

You can view a very early version of the site at the Internet Archive here. By this time, I had moved it to my parent’s Adelphia internet cable account.

I did not, at this time, understand what “the Big Chill” actually meant (i.e., death), as I had not then and still have not to this day watched the movie, and so I assumed it meant something like “chilling out,” and so I viewed “The Snow Miser’s Big Chill” as being something like “The Snow Miser’s Hangout.” More importantly, I hadn’t struck on the obvious “Snow Miser’s Cooler” pun yet.

My favorite thing I ever did on the site was host “Rumble Vote 2000,” a contest between the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser. This was a “sequel” to a previous “rumble” between the Winter Warlock* (of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town) and the Bumble (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). As I recall, Heat Miser won by a few votes. The “results” page, which sadly was evidently never archived, was an odd little thing where I had edited an at-the-time CNN homepage to reflect the results of the vote. This was January 2001, so there were more than a few jokes about the recent controversy surrounding the Bush/Gore fiasco.

The other thing I love about the site, which has been on it since day one through every iteration, can be found at the bottom: This website is dedicated to my Dad, who used to dance around his college dorm room to the Snow Miser song.

*And if I’m being honest, my true favorite Rankin-Bass character.

The Absolutely Definitive Final Argument About Whether Die Hard is a Christmas Movie (Hint: It Is)

Bye bye Hans

Let’s get one thing straight first: the correct answer to “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” is “it is if you think it is.”

But lots of people enjoy arguing about this ad infinitum, and as a big fan of Die Hard who watches it every Christmas Eve, I am one of those people.

Before we go further, let me offer my personal definition of a Christmas movie (which is not the definition I will be using to argue my point in this piece): a Christmas movie is any movie that takes place primarily close to or during Christmas and/or features Christmas prominently in the film. Home Alone? Christmas movie. Batman Returns? Christmas movie. Edward Scissorhands? Christmas movie. Gremlins? Christmas movie. Santa’s Summer House? Absolutely dreadful film that takes place during a hot California summer but: Christmas movie.

On the other hand, the final scene of Spider-man: No Way Home (very mild spoiler here) takes place during Christmas – complete with decorations – but since most of the film takes place months earlier, I don’t classify it as a Christmas movie.

However, I understand my personal definition is a bit too broad for many people, and certainly makes it almost too easy to classify Die Hard as a Christmas movie.

So to offer a more rigorous way of determining what constitutes a Christmas movie, I propose using the same rule that is often applied to science fiction. Discriminating (read: snobbish) science fiction readers (and writers) often state that a true science fiction story is one that does not work if you remove the “science” element. Under this rubric, something like 2001: A Space Odyssey is science fiction because it involves humans going into space to investigate something, artificial intelligence, and an adherence to, or at least acknowledgement of, the laws of physics (alien monoliths and stargates notwithstanding). You can’t really tell the same story of 2001 by setting it in, say, feudal Japan.

Star Wars, on the other hand, is famously inspired by the movie The Hidden Fortress, which is set in…feudal Japan. Yes, Star Wars features spaceships, robots and laser guns, but it also features magic (the Force is magic, let’s not argue here), princesses, and faster-than-light travel that makes the vastness of outer space easier to traverse than Beaver Lake. And of course the movies feature sound in space.*

So here’s my proposed definition: a Christmas movie is any movie where, if the Christmas element is removed, important aspects of the story no longer work.

I want to offer some flexibility however. I suspect you could find a torturous way to make any story work without Christmas if you really wanted to, but in many cases this would leave a number of coincidences or plot holes that stretch belief. If simply setting it at Christmas resolves those plot holes easily, then I believe that counts as Christmas being integral to the story.

So let’s look at Die Hard. What are the Christmas elements of Die Hard (and of our experience of Die Hard) and if they were removed, would it still be, in essence, the same film? Would its star** still shine just as brightly in the pop culture firmament?

Let us consider.

John’s visit to LA: John McClane and his wife Holly are separated at the beginning of the film, with John still living in New York and working as a cop, while Holly has a big-time Business Job of some sort with the Nakatomi Corporation in Los Angeles. As the film begins, John is landing at LAX to visit his family for the holidays – and see them for the first time in several months.

Now, obviously John could come visit his family at any time, or for any holiday. But he has to take significant time off work (as an essential worker, mind you) and fly across the country – an expensive and time-consuming proposition. So why would John put so much effort into flying out to see his family? What time of year, more than any other time of year, would he want to be there for his children? Seems like Christmas works pretty well, right?

The Nakatomi Office Party: The Nakatomi Christmas party is a key element to the story. The terrorists’ plan requires the building to be mostly empty, but for some of the Nakatomi staff – particularly its president, Joe Takagi – to be present. There are two reasons for this: one, for the small chance that Takagi can give them the codes for the safe, and two, so they have enough people to create a hostage situation worth bringing in the FBI (but not a building full of people, as trying to track and control them all would be impossible – hell, they couldn’t even keep track of the one guy they missed at the party).

It’s possible the Nakatomi Corp could have parties for other reasons (such as landing a big account or something), but if you’re trying to plan a terrorist operation months in advance, it’s a lot easier to just wait for the inevitable Christmas party.

“Now I have a machine gun – Ho Ho Ho”: After dispatching one of the terrorists, John takes his weapon and sends him back down to the terrorists on the elevator, having written the above message (in blood) on the man’s sweater. While this is one of the most memorable seasonal elements in the film and often quoted (and the corpse is wearing a Santa hat), I will admit this particular element isn’t necessary to the plot. John could have written any taunt – such as “yippee-ki-ay mother****er” – on the sweater (with maybe a cowboy hat?) and the gag would still have worked.

The Taped Gun: At the end of the film, John is able to fool the villains by taping his gun to his back with packing tape labeled “Season’s Greetings.” This is a distinctly Christmas touch, but the question is, would it work without the Christmas aspect?

I think the answer is probably yes – although a small part of me wants to argue that that tape might not have been there without the need to wrap holiday packages.

The Soundtrack: The soundtrack isn’t part of the story, but it is an integral part of the experience of the film. And composer Michael Kamen leans hard into the Christmas theme. Most distinctive are the jingle bells that are often heard at important beats (such as when John spots the packing tape as described above). And of course, there’s “Ode to Joy” (not originally a Christmas tune, but now often associated with it), which sneaks into the score several times before culminating in the iconic sequence when the safe is opened (tagged with Theo’s “Merry Christmas” line). Kamen also weaves motifs from “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” into the score.

Finally, there’s the presence of Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” (which McClane explicitly objects to as Christmas music) and then the full “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” playing (ironically, given the Los Angeles setting) over the credits.

I do think Die Hard would be a different film without the Christmas aspects of the soundtrack. These touches add a memorable charm to the film that stands in stark contrast to its increasingly inferior sequels.

The Film’s Continuing Pop Culture Prominence. My final argument is admittedly even less tangible than the soundtrack, but here it is: the Christmas setting is why Die Hard has remained so prominent in pop culture.

Yes, it’s easily the best of all the films, but Die Hard with a Vengeance is considered to be a good action movie by many. I personally think Die Hard 2 is underrated. But ask yourself: do you know anyone who watches those movies annually? Now ask yourself: do you know anyone who watches Die Hard annually? (Hint: if you know me, then yes, you do.) If you do know someone who watches Die Hard annually, do they do it at Christmastime? (Again, if you know me: yes.)

I didn’t create the meme at the top of this article; someone else did. But I did make this (based on a design I saw online).

Die Hard ornament

And someone wrote this:

And finally, and most importantly, every single year at Christmastime, people around the world gather together…

…to argue endlessly about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. What I’m saying is that even those arguing that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie are contributing to the relevance of its Christmas-ness; that the film’s Christmas-ness (regardless of whether they think it should be classified as a Christmas movie or not) is a part of what they think about when they think of Die Hard.

There are many other well-known action movies set at Christmas, including Lethal Weapon, RoninFirst Blood, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and The Bourne Identity. But there aren’t lots of custom Lethal Weapon ornaments or children’s Christmas books based on The Long Kiss Goodnight. The Internet being what it is, I’m sure there are people who argue about whether those are Christmas movies or not, but there aren’t countless online articles about them every single Christmas. Why? Because the Christmas setting isn’t that prominent or important to their stories.

But that’s not the case with Die Hard. The strange magic of the holiday season is woven deeply in the fabric of the film, resulting in a film that bizarrely, and despite dozens of shootings, massive explosions, and a guy pulling glass out of his bloody feet, delivers a feeling of exhilarating joy.

And so I believe Christmas is an integral part of most people’s experience of Die Hard – which makes it a Christmas movie. Without its Christmas setting, it’s likely Die Hard would have enjoyed a status like other great action films such as Commando or Speed – popular in its time, forever appreciated by fans of the genre, but not the permanent pop culture touchstone it is today.

* Although the super-nerd in me is often tempted to explain this by positing that the Star Wars galaxy is filled with an unknown invisible substance that carries sound.

** of Bethlehem

Thoughts on Picard

Spoilers for Picard below.

I was excited as anyone for Picard, a series that served as a sequel to my favorite television series of all time (okay, it’s second to MST3K).

As hopeful as I was for it, I thought Picard was pretty uneven at best and downright bad at its worst.

One thing I realized was that Gene Roddenberry would have *loathed* this show. Not all of Roddenberry’s ideas about the future (e.g., that humanity would have moved beyond grieving) were great, and they certainly weren’t conducive to drama. But I have to say that I’ve quite had my fill of “the Federation isn’t the utopia you think it is” angle since Deep Space Nine introduced it in the ’90s. Every bit of Star Trek media since then has doubled down on this idea, including the reboot films.

I think there’s this sense among some people that the original Star Trek series was birthed in the midst of this period of optimism and big dreams for American society. This probably comes from the space race stuff that was going on at the time. But the show debuted three years after JFK’s assassination, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, at a time when American society was in upheaval. Star Trek offered a chance to see us as our best selves at a time when we weren’t.

I think we need that version of Star Trek again, and we needed the Picard of TNG, the humanist exemplar who represented our best selves. Instead, we got a show where that Picard is mocked, lectured and ridiculed (and sworn at) for those very qualities, and a Federation as incompetent and corrupt as much of our own world’s leaders.

I suspect the producers and writers were concerned today’s audiences would be too cynical to accept the TNG version of Picard, and that he had to be shown as flawed and arrogant and pompous or audiences would never take him or the show seriously. It’s the grimdark take on Star Trek, and it’s not something I’m that interested in.

To be clear, I’m not looking for a fairy tale. I think DS9 did a decent job, for most of its run, with wrestling with the ideas of utopia and its potential problems without dismissing the concept entirely. But similar to what happened to superhero comics in the ’80s and ’90s after Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the later Star Trek creators became obsessed with the idea of the Federation being flawed. Maybe this is a reflection of American anxieties for the last thirty years, or maybe it’s the libertarianism that has historically run through so much American sci-fi asserting itself over Roddenberry’s utopianism, I don’t know. But I hope the next season of Picard can get back to some of the more hopeful views of our future. I’ve had enough of the post-apocalypse.

And on a less philosophical note, the show was just badly written at times. There were unbelievable coincidences, completely superfluous characters and subplots, and many unearned moments of pathos. It just needs better writing (and to be clear, bringing in Ronald D. Moore is not the answer).

One final note: the whole ludicrous rift-in-space-with-robotic-tentacles was such a ripoff of both the first Hellboy movie and the Mass Effect games that I can’t help but think it was intentional.

Thoughts on the Hellboy reboot

David Harbour in Hellboy (2019)

I just purchased my tickets to see the new Hellboy reboot starring David Harbour and direct by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent). While I am a big fan of Hellboy, my introduction to him came through the 2004 film. I wish I had discovered the comic when it debuted in the 1990s, as I was obsessed with the X-Files and H.P. Lovecraft at that time and probably would have loved it.

It’s no secret that expectations are not particularly high for the reboot – even Hellboy creator Mike Mignola seems aware of that. The first trailer did not go over well, and the second, while better, did not wash away all the concerns. The film’s tracking is reportedly not looking so good.

My take on this film, especially with the most recent trailers and TV spots, is that while Hellboy is a character very associated with Mignola and his distinct style, the new film seems to ask, “What if Frank Frazetta created Hellboy?”

If Mignola and the producers are looking to create a new cinematic universe, I don’t see the wisdom of using this film to adapt two very late-era Hellboy stories, The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury. In the comics, both of these stories take place in the early stages of what is essentially the Apocalypse; Hellboy actually dies at the end of The Storm and the Fury, leading him into a Dante-esque journey into Hell itself.

This story would have made more sense if this was the final sequel to the 2004 film by Guillermo Del Toro (although the odd subplot of Hellboy’s children from Hellboy II would have had to be dealt with). Of course, superhero films often have world-ending stakes, so it’s possible – even likely – the film’s conclusion won’t go in the same direction as the comics.

Nonetheless, it’s not the direction I would have taken with the reboot, regardless of whether it was intended to be a standalone film or the start of a franchise. Not that anyone cares about how I would have done it, of course, but here’s my pitch.

I’d keep Harbour as Hellboy; he’s a good choice, and could anchor a franchise for years. But I would have made the film a period piece – maybe the 1960s or ’70s – and made the stakes fairly low (i.e., not the apocalypse). I would have sidestepped the whole “Hellboy’s destiny” storyline, which took precedence in the comics fairly early on. The “chosen one” aspect of Hellboy never interested me very much; my favorite HB stories are the ones where he basically takes the place of some figure from a folk tale.

That’s why my take would have been somewhat like Mad Max: Fury Road or the Fistful of Dollars trilogy. The idea would be something like this: a wandering Hellboy comes to some small town that’s having a supernatural problem, gets involved in a mystery that ends up involving a monster or supernatural threat of some sort. But while Hellboy is present and gets some action sequences, the story is as much about the other characters as it is Hellboy. And again, fairly low stakes, a low, almost indie film budget (and look), not too much CGI — largely a character piece / mystery. And I’d give it to someone like Travis Knight to direct.

Finally, I would have given Hellboy a different characterization. Perlman’s Hellboy was a bit goofy and somewhat self-absorbed; Harbour’s take appears to be sarcastic and angry. Neither represents the Hellboy of the comics, who is thoughtful, a bit world-weary, and whose sense of humor is mostly of the “dad” type.

Anyway, that would have been my approach. If the film is cheap enough, it doesn’t have to be a massive hit, and if it’s successful enough you can build from there.

A Special Christmas Review: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Original Air Date: December 8, 1974

Wikipedia Page

Synopsis: A sentient teenaged mouse named Albert sends an insulting letter to Santa Claus, causing Santa to spurn the entire town of Junctionville (sentient mice and humans alike). A clockmaker named Joshua Trundel concocts a scheme to build a big clock tower that will play a treacly Christmas song on Christmas Eve to placate St. Nick. The mayor not only signs on to this huge construction project but (presumably) spends a fortune in taxpayer money to get it built within weeks. Albert then breaks the damned clock, but fixes it in time for Santa’s arrival. Santa, pleased by this idolatry, rewards the townspeople with consumer goods they could have bought themselves for about 1% of the cost of building the clock tower. (more…)

Rapture: The Series

While I thought the premise of Caprica was a little boring, I think a TV series about the development of Rapture prior to the events of Bioshock would be riveting. Pun intended.

Visually, dramatically, and even philosophically there’s a lot to be mined from the Rapture concept. The ambition of Andrew Ryan, his power struggle with the growing criminal empire of Fontaine, the development of ADAM and splicing and the ethical quandaries of the various scientists involved, the advent of the Little Sisters and Big Daddies…ever since the first moments of playing Bioshock, I thought the game developers had created something that could be fleshed out into an entirely new sf franchise, spreading to books, comics, movies, and even TV shows. So far, all we’ve had are two games, an art book, a soundtrack and a novel that may never come. That’s a crime.

Man or Saruman?

While they still seem like a long ways off, Guillermo Del Toro is hard at work on a pair of films based on The Hobbit. They haven’t officially cast anyone for the films yet, though Ian McKellen is very clearly on board. But what about that other wizard, Saruman? (more…)

On “On Stranger Tides”


Author Tim Powers has confirmed that Disney optioned his novel On Stranger Tides and is planning to use elements from it for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I find this really interesting, because right after I saw the first Pirates movie I went looking for some ghostly pirate fiction to quench my newfound thirst for ghostly pirate fiction, and the only thing I found (somewhat to my surprise) was Powers’ book. It’s a great novel, like most of Powers’ work (if you’re an H.P. Lovecraft fan, I recommend Declare–which would also make a great movie).

If I remember the story correctly, On Stranger Tides also offers a perfect chance to replace Orlando Bloom’s character with another straight man–preferably one who can be more evidently the straight man and not the ostensible hero (Norrington notwithstanding, Jake), but I suspect his character will simply be replaced by Jack Sparrow.

Still, it’s great that Powers is getting some notice. I highly recommend you pick one up–try On Stranger Tides (which, incidentally, was long out-of-print when I went looking for it), Declare or The Anubis Gates.

The Lost Swayze Movie: “Road Dawn”


What, me Curry?

Karen and I went to a dinner party Friday night, where we played a game–it was some sort of variant of Twenty Questions. It was introduced to us by our friends Andy and Ruth, who are a mathematician and an astronomer, respectively, so you know it had to be a little more complicated than that. Explaining the game would take a while, so suffice to say part of it was that you had to choose a person and then say what their last name started with.

When it came to my turn, I racked my brain for a good celebrity. We’d had Indian food for dinner, so while looking at the table I came up with Tim Curry. I figured the game would be over fairly quickly–Karen and other people who knew me well were in attendance–but my round took the longest by far.* It got to the point where they knew my person was male, an actor, British, appeared in comedies, and had something to do with a Stephen King movie.

What amazed me was how many British actors with a last name starting with “C” they got through before Karen finally got Tim Curry: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Daniel Craig. But ultimately I just felt a little sad for Tim Curry, who’s apparently more obscure than I realized, despite his memorable performances in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue, IT, Legend, and of course his tour-de-force in The Worst Witch.

*If Kate had been there, though, she would have totally gotten it as soon as she heard “British actor.”

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