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Mars Attacks!

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mars Attacks!

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genres: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

The absolute worst is expected when a celebrated Hollywood director is given the reins to a multi-million dollar project after having helmed a small-scale cult film like "Ed Wood." I hate discussing what the budget of the film is but "Mars Attacks!" cost $80 million to make, and was expected to gross over $120 million (which it didn't) - in other words, it should have been a financial blockbuster. Truth is that when you hand the reins to a dark, twisted genius like Tim Burton, anything goes. "Mars Attacks" did not fare well at the box-office and it is just as well - it is a hilarious, witty, nihilistic satire of those old Martian invasion movies from the 40's and 50's. This is not "Independence Day." Its tongue is firmly placed in its cheek.

"Mars Attacks!" begins when a flaming herd of cattle makes its way into a typical all-American small-town - a flying saucer has just had an accidental run-in, but are they here for peace? When the Martians land in the middle of the Nevada desert to be greeted by The President of the U.S. (Jack Nicholson) and other gleeful citizens, the aliens begin blasting everything in sight. When the President decides to greet them at the White House sensing that this was all a misunderstanding, the Martian ambassador proclaims, "We come in peace." Unsurprisingly, the ambassador and his cohorts zap everyone with laser guns and burn all Congress officials into toast.

"Mars Attacks!" doesn't just end there. Burton brings on his magic bag of tricks by mocking all those alien-invasion disaster movies and adding his own bizarre sense of humor. Based on the gory Topps "Mars Attacks!" cards that were banned in the 1950's, the movie is an assemblage of in-jokes, cheeky dialogue, offbeat gags, dozens of special-effects, and sheer comic mayhem and destruction. Nearly the whole cast is demolished but it filled me with cartoonish delight to see how they are demolished. Watch Michael J. Fox melt while trying to reach Sarah Jessica Parker's hand! See the incredible sight of a dog's head being grafted on Parker's body! The movie reads like an outrageously zany comic-book with amazing sights, indeed.

The cast is first-rate for this material. We have wicked Jack Nicholson as not only the straight arrow leader of the U.S. but also as a sleazy, leering Vegas businessman; Glenn Close as the nervous First Lady; Annette Bening as a New Age freak obsessed with meeting the Martians; Danny DeVito as an unctuous lawyer who tries to reason with them; Jim Brown as a former boxer who takes them on; Sarah Jessica Parker and Michael J. Fox as unctuous media reporters; Lisa Marie as the memorably slinky alien in disguise who woos Martin Short; and the hilarious (alien-like) Sylvia Sydney as the elderly grandmother of the trailer park family. There are dozens of other cameos, but the aforementioned actors are the most facetious.

What's most outrageous in Burton's fantasy are the Martians themselves - they are green, skeletal aliens with large brains and bulging eyeballs protected by a shield so they can breathe on Earth. They zap everyone and everything in sight, laughing like gremlins at the expense of human lives. All they have to say is "Ack, ack, ack, ack, ack."

"Mars Attacks!" doesn't start off well. For one, the Martians grow tiresome after awhile - all that "Ack, Ack" business is not very imaginative or funny. But then, the movie incredibly gains a fast-paced, inventive comic spirit and gets funnier by the minute. There are also some great lines, such as Lukas Haas's response to the Martian's interpretation of earth: "Hey. He made the international sign of the donut." I also like the President's heartwarming "Can't we all get along" speech to the Martians. And seeing Tom Jones playing himself in Vegas and confronting the aliens causes one to smile despite the ridiculous scenario.

"Mars Attacks!" is not Tim Burton's best film but it is more savagely funny and subversive than "Beetlejuice" or "Batman." Burton has fun with the sci-fi genre and cleverly attacks it at the same time. This is definitely no ordinary studio blockbuster film.

Copyright 1996 Jerry Saravia

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