In a hurry? Go right to the pictures
Hold on Earth, the Martians are here and they haven't come in peace, no matter what they say.
I'd rate Edward Scissorhands Tim Burton's finest work but Mars Attacks, the story that grew out of bubble gum cards, is the one I watch again and again. The absurd little Martians expose and exploit the abundant foibles of politicians, scientists, television personalities and regular earthlings to hilarious effect. And, as usual for a Burton work, the movie is visually imaginative, set against a fabulous Danny Elfman score and wall-to-wall with brilliant performers.
I seem to recall an interview in which Tim Burton referred to his Martians as anarchistic adolescents: out of control, prurient and disrespectful, taking advantage of human gullability without susceptibility to sentiment or reason. Modern special effects have transformed the trading-card Martians into bewitchingly life-like beings with spectally colored brains refracting within their glassy helmets as they glide around their hideous laboratories and leer at the centerfolds in their girlie magazines.
Riveting though the alien antagonists may be, the humans in Mars Attacks will not be outdone. Is there anyone in this thing that isn't a star? There's Jack Nicholson as President Dale, then there's Jack Nicholson as wheeler-dealer Art Land. The one is concerned about keeping the schools open during armageddon, the other intent upon becoming a wealthy casino owner. There's Pierce Brosnan, the slightly goofy Professor Kessler pursuing a crush on ditzy TV mouthpiece Nathalie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Annette Bening is a treat as Art's New Age-y wife Barbara and Natalie Portman plays a very self-possessed Taffy Dale. Jack Black's Billy Glenn ('an American Hero') is worth a chuckle too, as is Christina Applegate as his white trash fair-weather girl, Sharona.
But the real standout performances, in Mars Attacks, to my mind, are Lukas Haas as Richie and Sylvia Sidney as Grandma. Lukas' self-effacing Richie is understated yet touching—who doesn't sympathize with the kid who's doing everything right but can't ever measure up in his parents' eyes? And he's so lucky to have his grandma who emerges from her self-imposed dementia now and then to remind him that she sees him for what he is.
The best gag in Mars Attacks? People are so attached to the New Age notion of peaceful and advanced alien species that they ignore all evidence to the contrary, choosing instead to blame the invaders' violence on "cultural differences". Confident of limitless human stupidity, ultimately the Martians chase people through the burning streets shouting "Don't run! We are your friends." I'm almost sorry to see them go when their brains begin exploding.
If you haven't been to it, I urge you to visit the Warner Brothers Mars Attacks! site for info, pictures and, best of all, concept art from Tim Burton. I'm actually a bit surprised that it's still available after all these years; I hope that's a sign of continuing strong interest.
Sounds from Mars Attacks
|"They're not going to eat off the Van Buren china."||-||The visitors haven't impressed the First Lady.|
|"The International Sign of the Donut"||-||Richie must really love his work.|
|"Liberals!"||-||General Decker and his president are not seeing eye to eye.|
|"They blew up congress!"||-||Grandma won't miss her representative, apparently.|
|"... and that ain't bad."||-||President Dale is looking on the bright side.|
|"Don't run—we are your friends."||-||The Martians have a low opinion of humans.|
|"Should I go get grandma?"||-||Richie's family preparing for battle.|
|"I'll tell you one thing..."||-||Richie's mom has her priorities.|
|"I think these guys are very sick..."||-||The Martians have a weakness.|
|"Why can't we just get along?"||-||President Dale's heartfelt but ultimately futile attempt to sway the Martians.|
|"Thank you, Honey..."||-||Taffy bestows the Congressional Medal of Honor upon Grandma.|