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Friday, 27 January 2017

Retro Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Mars Attacks!
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny Devito, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker
Genre: Science Fiction Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $101 million

Plot: Earth is invaded by Martians with unbeatable weapons and a cruel sense of humour 

'Misunderstood Sci-Fi Parody Worthy Of Cult Status' 

First off, the all star-studded ensemble cast is made up of a who's who in 1980s and 1990s cinema such as Michael J. Fox, as well as Pam Grier of Jackie Brown. Jack Nicholson appears as two characters: the president and cowboy with a big fake prosthetic nose, moustache in a blue outfit, like a knock-off Burt Reynolds. Diminutive Danny Devito is his usual loud self in a minor appearance and there is even an early appearance by Jack Black and actress and singer Brandy's brother, Ray-J. 

This film has its tongue planted right firmly in its butt cheeks and pokes fun at the ''aliens taking over the world thing'' really well. I sort of get all that weird, Gothic, fantasy stuff Tim Burton evokes in his movies - Batman films, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas -, and here it works within the plot of this comedy. Mars Attacks is a parody/satire take on Independence Day with the alien invasion theme.

The comedy itself is not rip-roaring, pant-wettingly funny but it is occasionally amusing: one example is the transsexual reporter with a voice that sounds masculine, who asks the president 'does the Martians have two sexes like we do?'. And the president and his aide have that perplexing look on their faces. As is the scene where Glenn Close's wife character goes 'kick the crap out of them'. I really enjoyed it when she and Jack Nicholson played up to the cameras with their hammy antics. Tim Burton's trend in recasting actors from other films sees the Batman antagonist actors in Danny Devito, who played the Penguin in Batman Returns and Jack who was The Joker in the 1989 prequel film. Oh, and did I forget the part when the Martians infiltrate Tom Jones's Vegas gig by posing as backup singers - only for them to start blowing people up with their lasers.

The film builds up slowly but from the 40th-minute mark, all chaos breaks out and the aliens start killing people and the way it plays out, is virtually similar to that of Gremlins. I think the scenes where the aliens attack the humans are what elevates this film and are the most entertaining ones to speak of, as well. 

Mars Attacks baffled audiences and film critics when it came out and their criticisms towards it, was pretty much down to the fact that they hadn't realised at the time that this was a parody and mocking of classic sci-fi films. It's in many respects a very misunderstood comedy that functions as a parody where it takes pot shots at politicians, senior figures of authority, scientists, journalists, elderly people. 

Mars Attacks is a Tim Burton film that doesn't feel as though his brand of dark, fantasy- yet quirky tone is shoved in, nor forced into people's faces. But more like it is assimilated into the plot and story and it just allows it to do its own job. The designs of the Martian characters are quirky, creative and are cartoony in a way that hides that malicious presence. 

Though it is one of Burton's lesser known works, with fewer expectations, less hype and the fact it was overlooked in its original release, makes Mars Attacks a rather unique sci-fi comedy; despite the comedy itself being underplayed and its lighter, tongue-in-cheek approach on the alien invasion theme, is pretty refreshing. The special effects are out of this world, pun unintended, and still look great today. Though where it can benefit from is the humour and comedy being a whole lot funnier, and not just by being wittier. The humour is more sly and subtle and it won't hit you in the face. The satirical humour worked better in Galaxy Quest, partly because of the characters in that film, in addition to the story, are arguably far more endearing.

Otherwise, everything else but the humour is right on point in Mars Attacks

Final Verdict:

More absurdist and wittier comedy than your general farcical laugh out loud offerings, much like with Galaxy Quest, although that film is a celebration of the sci-fi world through Star Trek, Mars Attacks is a spoof take on the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and many other 1950s alien invasion B- films. 

It's irreverent, anarchic, especially with the Martians running amok and it's fun to watch in a comical context. It's a darn shame the critics at the time and general audiences didn't latch onto what Tim Burton was trying to achieve because it makes for a really interesting take on sci-fi. The cast turn in great performances, with arguably Jack Nicholson stealing the show. It's not a highly cerebral, highbrow film that demands a lot of over-analysing and pondering; therefore, if you're okay with that, then you'll enjoy this a lot more. 

But even so, those looking for a more heavy-handed dose of humour and comedy, may not get into this film as much. 

This is most definitely a cult sci-fi comedy and with the all-star cameos, they really add to the fun entertainment factor of Mars Attacks! 

It may not have the emotional depths of Batman Returns and Edward Scissorhands, but Mars Attacks! does share that same manic and wacky yet dark comedic tone of Tim Burton's other hit, Beetlejuice. 

Though not as highly amusing as I'd expected, this was still fun to watch. 


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