Three years after the wierdo masterpiece that was Nightmare Before Christmas and five years after a certain freelance film reviewing intern was born, Tim Burton and the singer from Oingo Boingo teamed up again for a film that should be on every shelf in America: Mars Attacks!
Mars Attacks! is based on a trading card game from the 60s. It was gory and gross and raunchy in all the funnest ways. Some scenes in the film are direct recreations of some of the cards. Tim Burton is not necessarily known for standing too close to his source material, but this was a project practically tailor made for him. It is a goofy oddball, much like Burton himself.
The film opens with a sudden herd of stampeding, flaming cows, and maintains that level of wacky humor throughout. The tone is consistent: it holds steady in the goofy B-movie (or maybe even C or D) horror genre rather intentionally. Visually, Burton calls upon the tacky and campy sci-fi features of the 50s and 60s. His ever-loyal sidekick Danny Elfman does a great job of delivering a soundtrack that fits that setting, but also doesn’t necessarily feel dated on its own. The CGI is bad, but in a good way. The Martians are silly and grotesque, and the lasers have that signature old school camp as well, but it is well refined. It is an homage to those films of yesteryear, as well as a parody, and it walks that line to great success.
The cast is surprising. There are a bunch of stars who were already big at the time, and a few who would be household names only a few years outside of this production. Jack Black and Natalie Portman would both find fame and fortune within the next few years with big budget films. Jack Nicholson plays a dual role, as both the president of the United States and the owner of an up-and-coming casino in Las Vegas. My only complaint with this is that he did not play more characters. Tom Jones plays himself here. I like to think that the real-life Tom Jones is a Martian-fighting falcon trainer on the side, and they simply filmed him doing everyday stuff for this. Danny Devito might as well be playing himself; his part is played almost as if they asked him to improv all his lines, and the result is a handful of memorable funny moments. Whether scripted or not, when he is on screen, you’re guaranteed to chuckle once or twice.
The best thing about this film is the little gags, and it is full of them. From the Martians’ fear of birds, to all the over the top ways they decide to kill people, to when they are using a translator device to tell the humans “We are your friends” as they proceed to murder everyone in sight, it is delightfully funny. I could go on for several pages just talking about the jokes, and I still wouldn’t spoil all the laughs that are packed into Mars Attacks!.
This movie is great. It is one of my favorite films of all time, and it is definitely some of Tim Burton’s best work. It is funny, it has an easy to follow plot, an all-star cast, a fun score…overall, it is just a great experience. It holds a lot of rewatch potential, as even watching it twice today, I saw a couple things I had never seen before.
I award it five Ack-acks out of five and two giant Jack Nicholson thumbs way up. What a freaking masterpiece.
Guest post by Josh Price.