Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Tim Burton fan. Most of his movies, besides maybe his version of Planet of the Apes, have an awesome style that combines the macabre with dark humor, which really strikes a cord with me. Mars Attacks! isn’t quite as dark as his other films, but the dark humor is absolutely overpowering, which both helps and hinders Burton’s personal ode to a series of vintage trading cards and the style of classic 1950s sic-fi B-movies.
When it is brought to the attention of President Jimmy Dale (Jack Nicholson) that Martian ships have surrounded Earth, he leaps at the chance to make contact with these beings and begin to work together. During the first meeting that is held with the aliens, a huge firefight breaks out between the Martians and the military. Soon, the world is engulfed in an all out war with the Martians, who with their sick senses of humor and love of violence attempt to take over our planet.
Mars Attacks! is loaded with celebrities. Jack Nicholson plays both the president and Art Land, a money hungry casino manager. Glenn Close plays the first lady and Martin Short is the horny Press Secretary Jerry Ross. Anette Bening plays Land’s peace loving alcoholic wife. Michael J. Fox and Sarah Jessica Parker are sleazy news reporters, the latter having a strong attraction to Pierce Brosnan, who plays Professor Donald Kessler. Danny DeVito has a small part as a greedy gambler and Tom Jones is hysterical as himself.
These characters all made me laugh in their own way, but the really stars are the Martians themselves, who have really funny dialogue, even though all they say is “ack.” Even though we don’t speak their language, we as an audience know exactly what they are saying. These Martians try to conquer Earth in the most obnoxious way possible. They don’t only kill anything they see, but it is clearly evident they want to have as much fun as they can with the destruction of a planet.
Something I found really shocking about this movie was how violent it was, but don’t mistake me, I’m not condemning the violence in it. I’m merely saying it was a bit unexpected. Once the Martians arrive on Earth, the sic-fi shoot outs and destruction are pretty much non-stop. When a human gets hit with one of the lasers from the Martian’s, all the flesh disintegrates, leaving only a bright green or red skeleton. The effect is really cool and it was fun to watch. It was also fun seeing the Martian’s heads explode inside their helmets. Roger Ebert says that this particular gag was only funny the first couple of times, but I never got tired of it.
The only detraction I can really give this movie is that the storyline is INCREDIBLY weak. There really almost is no storyline besides “Martians attacks Earth and funny stuff happens.” None of the characters really go through any sort of change or discovery, and a couple characters in particular aren’t implemented enough. The characters themselves are pretty funny, but the real humor lies with the twisted Martians and how the human characters react.
While Mars Attacks! is far from being Tim Burton’s best movie, it’s still a really fun escape into a silly world where all of the important people of the world are ridiculous caricatures here for our amusement. The writing is average and the plot is pretty stupid, but I laughed at almost every scene. It may be silly, over the top, and juvenile at times, but it’s a fun ode to movies of the past.