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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 Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

Tim Burton loves to indulge himself. His BATMAN films steered the venerable superhero out of his usual comfort zone and into Burton's own brooding vision of Gotham, his ED WOOD was one man's homage to the worst movie director ever, and this film, MARS ATTACKS, is Burton's own bizarre, campy take on the science-fiction genre. Five months after INDEPENDENCE DAY, this movie offers an even more caricaturistic take on aliens attacking Earth, one which has a deliciously mod art direction and a great sense of humor.

Another thing linking INDEPENDENCE DAY and MARS ATTACKS is the star-studded ensemble cast that doesn't take itself the least bit seriously, although this film's cast blows ID4's out of the water. Jack Nicholson stars as both the President and a seedy Vegas land schemer. Glenn Close -- the second-billed star who has maybe five lines tops -- plays the First Lady, with Natalie Portman as their teenage daughter (if Chelsea Clinton was this cute, we'd have to throw the two-term limit out the window), Martin Short as the lusty press secretary and Pierce Brosnan as the professor optimistic about alien life.

Outside of the White House are Michael J. Fox and Sarah Jessica Parker are married journalists with jobs at competing TV stations. Blaxploitation star Jim Brown is an ex-boxer who makes a living dressed up as a pharoah at the Vegas casino Tom Jones headlines. Yes, Tom is part of the MARS ATTACKS ensemble, and even gets a few lines in when he's not singing "It's Not Unusual." Danny DeVito and Lukas Haas are also in there somewhere. With a cast this big, most of the stars don't get a whole lot of screen time.

The Martians themselves are a main part of the cast. A mixture of computer and stop-motion animation, they walk funny, have huge heads and bleed green. Obviously, they don't come in peace -- how much fun would it be if they did? No, these guys start an all-out war on the human race which includes disentigrating Congress (whether this is good or bad for humanity is debatable) and re-sculpting Mount Rushmore into their likenesses.

Certain parts of MARS ATTACKS are Burton at his finest -- brightly colored sets and costumes, juvenile sight gags and corny lines delivered straight. But don't mistake this for a parody along the lines of SPY HARD or HOT SHOTS, this is more of a satire of an entire genre, a satire that relies more on over-acting and a mixture of incredible and purposefully-bad special effects. The alien saucers are little more than spinning pie plates but, as in ID4, various worldwide monuments are convincingly destroyed.

MARS ATTACKS, serious or not, makes for a good disaster epic. That it actually has a sense of humor is a bonus. The rating on this movie would be much higher if not for the slow first half of the film. The last forty-five minutes or so is all four-star material, but MARS ATTACKS takes its sweet time to get started. It takes a certain amount of time to introduce the characters and set-up the invasion and attack. Here is where we could have used a lot of laughs, but Burton plays most of the opening scenes surreal yet basically serious. A lot of talent and potential comic material goes to waste there, which is a disaster in itself.

Copyright 1996 Andrew Hicks

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