Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks! (1996)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Rod Steiger, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito

Tim Burton’s movies have always had a different appeal than the average Hollywood movie and again, "Mars Attacks!" is no exception to this rule. It is a hilarious spoof on every Alien invasion movie ever made, most notably on those 50’s SF-movies I loved so much when I was a kid. Even though everything about this movie seems to be retro, it is a picture filled with the latest technology special effects and state-of-the-art computer graphics, supplied by the award winning ILM team.

The movie opens with a stampeding herd of burning cattle, incinerated by a small Martian scouting team. Obviously the Earth proved to be a suitable playground and the Martians send out a mighty armada of spaceships for invasion.

On Earth the president of the United States and his staff prepare a welcome committee for the arriving spaceships in the Nevada desert, not knowing whether the aliens are good or bad. Everything looks fine at first when the Martians announce in their harsh language that they come in peace, but soon enough, with mischievous looks and broad grins, it turns out they just lied. They disintegrate the welcome party, leaving behind only their colored bones. From there onward, the Martians start pillaging the Earth with their death-ray weapons (which, incidentally, look like water-pistols), and vaporize everything moving.

Even though it features some violent content, this movie depicts it in an extremely comic-book-style over-the-top way. Tim Burton’s ingenious conversion of the 60’s bubble-gum cards to an eye-popping, giddily satiric movie is a riot. It has everything you would expect from such a picture. Lame presidents (Jack Nicholson), unworldly military advisors (Rod Steiger), competing sensation-seeking reporters (Michael J. Fox and Sarah Jessica Parker), scientists (Pierce Brosnan), obnoxious gamblers (Danny DeVito), an undersexed press advisor (Martin Short), rednecks, heroic kids, and weird experiments on aliens – only this time we are the aliens. Gee, the movie even features Tom Jones as an actor… well, sort of.

Even though the movie features an all-star cast, Burton does not even waste the time to work on the characters’ depth. He sets them up and kills them right then and there, so don’t expect to see too much of your favorite actors here. But again, that is part of the fun, and somehow makes it a surreal spectacle that leaves you scared at how scandalously likable those Martians actually are, despite their rotten and horrid principles.

Danny Elfman’s soundtrack is incredible and puts you in the right mood for the movie from the first note to the last. It is the first collaboration of Elfman and Burton after their breakup following "A Nightmare before Christmas" and is an essential element of the movie. Burton movies need Elfman’s music to underscore their wickedness and twisted visuals, and this DVD’s wide soundstage does absolute justice to Elfman’s dynamic work. The surrounds are fully used with some really nice effects. The movie is dubbed in three different languages and as a bonus, the soundtrack has been fully isolated to allow music-only playback.

"Mars Attacks!" comes as a double-sided DVD containing both the <$PS,widescreen> <$16x9,anamorphic> and a <$PS,pan&scan> version of the movie. Unfortunately the <$16x9,anamorphic> picture results in a 2.21:1 image as opposed to the <$PS,letterboxed> 2.35:1 image. One important component of Burton’s movie is the use of rich, bubble-gum colors for the aliens to achieve the desired comic book effect and this DVD brings the movie to your screen with a razor sharp image and absolutely no <$chroma,chroma noise>. The transfer is fantastic, with a lot of detail and rich, vivid colors, doing absolute justice to the medium’s superior capabilities. Even the menu is hilarious with it’s small flying saucer icons.

If you have ever wondered why people find Monty Python funny while you think they’re simply stupid and insulting, then "Mars Attacks!" is probably not a movie for you. This movie is disrespectful and as such is exceedingly funny, starting with the flying saucer buzzing around the Warner Brothers logo in the opening credits. It is an inventive movie that pays homage to all the 50’s schlock and is one of the most imaginative and funny movies I have seen in a very long time.