Mars Attacks! (1996)



Tim Burton and Martian films are not two things you would ordinarily put in the same bucket. Burton’s kooky and gothic, black comedy style would not seem to fit well with the alien invasion genre, but in saying that, this film is exactly how I would expect a Tim Burton Martian film to look like.

Jack Nicholson leads an all-star cast in the dual roles of Las Vegas real estate tycoon and president of America. When aliens arrive from the red planet of Mars, the whole world reacts differently. Some are welcoming with open arms and others want to pull the nuke trigger right away in case they are a danger. Obviously, the Martians end up having less than altruistic intentions, and are intent on invading the neighbouring planet of Earth. The world, or America for the most part, must band together to fight of this alien threat before they have taken over the whole planet.

The best thing about this film is the all-star cast. Jack Nicholson is joined by Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Annette Benning and Danny DeVito, to name just a few. The cast is great, but it is also one of the problems with the film. When there are so many actors clogging up screen time, it is hard to get to know the characters enough that you care about their plight. While this is a silly film that never takes itself too seriously, it would have been nice to maybe lower the number of stars in the film and focus on just a few of them more.

That being said, this film is pretty funny. The Martian invaders are quite funny. They are all CGI except for one lady alien (played by Burton’s then girlfriend Lisa Marie). I was really surprised how good they still look, considering the movie is almost 20 years old. Much of the CGI done during that period looks really dated by today’s standards (I’m looking at you, Jumanji), but Mars Attacks holds up well.

As I said earlier, this is not the type of film I would expect to see from Tim Burton. There are bright colours that one would never normally associate the gothic Burton with. It is nice to see him take some risks with his films and not just find an out there character for Johnny Depp to play over and over again. This is pretty much what Burton has become, but Mars Attacks is a reminder that there was a time when Burton was willing to go outside of his comfort zone. Mars Attacks is a quality B grade alien invasion flick with enough laughs to keep you interested.

Rating: C+

This is Tim Burton’s weirdest movie, and that’s saying something. Mars Attacks! is an homage to B-grade science fiction, but with an all-star cast including the likes of Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, and Annette Bening. On the one hand, I can see how something so delightfully terrible might attract them to this film. On the other, this movie is almost too strange to work.

Mars Attacks! is fun. It’s definitely does not take itself seriously. The premise is simple: martians come to Earth and start killing everyone. This isn’t a movie you need to think too hard about, which is sometimes welcome. It’s been a while since I’d last watched this movie, so a lot of the finer plot details and sight gags had been forgotten. However, the more unforgettable imagery– for example, Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua– was just as hilarious as I remembered.

The only real problem with the movie is its all-star cast. I love that Burton was able to assemble so many A-list celebs for this silly flick (Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, and Danny DeVito as star), but it ends up being too much. It’s hard to get invested in any of the characters’ stories, because none are given as much time as they deserve. I’m not looking for Oscar-level character development or anything, just a chance to get into the scene at hand before jumping to someone else. Several actors feel underutilized due to the cast size, though everyone seems to be having a lot of fun.

Mars Attacks! is ridiculous, but it’s also a fun homage to the sci-fi silliness of the 50s and 60s. It’s full of the strange, dry brand of humor that Tim Burton has come to perfect, but suffers from a overly large cast. But hey, this is one of the few Burton films to not include Johnny Depp or Helena Bohnam Carter. That’s actually refreshing.

Rating: C

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