Today: February 21, 2024

Mars Attacks!

Tim Burton’s wonderfully over the top Alien invasion blasts its way onto Blu-Ray with delightful effect.

Tim Burton’s wonderfully over the top Alien invasion blasts its way onto Blu-Ray with delightful effect.

There must have been a few eyebrows raised when it was announced that
Disney was to adapt a theme park ride into a full-blown film franchise
in the shape of Pirates of The Caribbean. Imagine the jaw-dropping moment then when Tim Burton
told Warner Brothers that he wanted to adapt a set of trading cards
into a comic book frenzied feature film. In hindsight, Burton’s Mars Attacks!
was a no-brainer. Of the director’s entire back catalogue, it perfectly
encompasses his wacky love affair with cinema. From the outrageous,
almost Buster Keaton-esque, violence to the off the wall
characters, Mars Attacks! was Burton very much at the height of his
career after two hugely successful Batman movies, exercising his outlandish nature to side splitting levels.

A film that in many ways does exactly what it says on the tin,
Mars Attacks! sees earth come under the bombardment of thousands of
‘hubcap’ shaped flying saucers. As the aliens strategise their point of
attack a host of characters on earth try to predict what will happen
next. So while the US President (Nicholson) confers with his
aggressive General Dale (Stiger), Professor Donald Kessler (Brosnan)
flirts with talk show host Nathalie Lake (Parker) and Tom Jones (as
himself) tries to figure a way out of under fire Las Vegas. Others see
the chance for a brighter future like casino and hotel owner Art Land
(also Nicholson) who understands the invaders are going to need
somewhere to stay, once the attack is over.

Released the same year as Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996),
Mars Attacks! is the perfect antidote to cinema that refuses to take
its place in B-Movie glory. It is a hark back, even homage or love
letter, to the classic B-Movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space
(1959). The kind of films that inspired Burton to venture behind the
camera in the first place. Make no mistake, Mars Attacks! is never meant
to be taken seriously but is aimed at over the top slapstick comedy of
the highest order.

Burton’s aliens are not meant to terrify like a Ridley Scott’s acid bleeding Alien (1979), nor are they supposed to bully into submission like Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds
(2005). They are there, in many ways, to mock us humans and our
needless desire for violence and material goods. While they rejoice in
destruction Burton is surely poking fun at the war-mongering that is
both Hollywood and the world, itself. As the humans launch earth
destroying weapons, at the space armada circling Earth’s atmosphere, the
aliens gleefully absorb the explosion and use it to further mock
humanities futility in creating such weapons.

Meanwhile, they take ‘specimens’ of humans and dogs to splice them
together just for laughs as opposed to scientific endeavour. Anything quirky and over the top, like a dove being the key component in the Alien’s initial attack, is Burton’s way of letting chaos reign.

While the aliens, brilliantly realised in almost cartoon fashion by Industrial Light and Magic, scamper about, the human cast bring brilliant over the top acting to the fore. Brosnan, in between Bond movies,
delivers a wonderful turn as the always over sincere scientist
projecting theories, almost always wrong, about the aliens’ motives.
Nicholson relishes his dual roles; as the President he is always
alarmingly underwhelmed by the terror around him, as if it were all an
irritating distraction from his normal routine. He is wonderfully
supported by Steiger and Close, as the First Lady, who both bring a fist pumping sense of glee at the prospect of blowing the little green men up. J. Fox and Parker put all media types to the sword with their narcissistic interpretations of news personalities. Meanwhile, the young heads of Portman and Haas prove to be more pragmatic than all the adults and band together to find a way of dealing with the pesky invaders.

It may lack Burton’s gothic inklings (and Johnny Depp!), but
Mars Attacks is every bit off the wall fun as its enigmatic director. It
often presents too many characters for you to invest in but the overall
tone is one of endless enjoyment. Like a cartoon come to life, Mars Attacks is delightful mayhem that blasts away to satire splitting effect.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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