Home Year 1996 Mars Attacks (1996)

Mars Attacks (1996)

I'd trust this face.
I’d trust this face.

Twitter Plot Summary: The trading card game is brought to life by Tim Burton and his eclectic cameo cast.

Five Point Summary:

1. Let’s just meet everybody. Literally everybody.
2. It’s all that dove’s fault. Maybe.
3. Jack Nicholson! Again!
4. Tom Jones!
5. That’s a potent defence against alien invasion.

In 1996 Tim Burton took on the alien invasion genre, and true to form his version is played entirely for laughs and encompasses his own very particular view of the universe. Suffice to say, it’s incredibly offbeat, frequently weird, and filled with a vast number of famous faces. Despite being planned years beforehand and being released in a few months after Independence Day, Mars Attacks manages to effectively spoof its big budget alien invasion rival, showing the lives of people from all walks of life in the United States as the alien menace arrives. Initial attempts at friendly contact are apparently ruined by the presence of an ill-fated dove at the landing ceremony.

The best part – and this will no doubt come as a huge surprise to many – is the cameo from Tom Jones. He’s in the midst of a typical Las Vegas performance when the invasion takes place. Whilst having no acting ability in the slightest, it’s this that makes him the most entertaining cameo by far. His is not the only big cameo role, however. Almost every other character is played by a big name star, including brief appearances by Pam Grier, Danny DeVito, Jack Nicholson (as two characters, the United States President and a white-toothed businessman looking to cash in on the alien’s arrival), Glenn Close, Michael J Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short and Pierce Brosnan. Each of them provide performances that are just on the right side of the knowing nudge-nudge, wink-wink barrier and would have only been needed for a few days apiece in order to film all of their segments. There’s no need to dial performances up to 11 as the script has already gone beyond that boundary.

Tom Jones' choice of backing singers was becoming decidedly awkward.
Tom Jones’ choice of backing singers was becoming decidedly awkward.

Plot points are raised but never resolved, such as how the aliens work out how to breathe in our atmosphere, but this is entirely in line with the 1950s B-movies upon which Mars Attacks draws its inspiration. That is, both the Mars Attacks film and the trading card series from which it was spawned. The special effects hold up surprisingly well, no doubt assisted by the almost cartoon presentation of the Martians, their vessels and the destruction they wreak.

And of course, there’s the Martians themselves, with their classic 50s sci-fi outfits, and equipment. Presented in stereotypical fashion with big brains, bug eyes and green skin, they are frequently hilarious, rampaging across the planet with a level of giddy amusement akin to kids being let loose in a sweet shop. Whilst their poorly translated English offers plenty of laughs in itself, their original language – a series of sharp duck-like sounds – is even funnier. Despite the carnage it’s hard to take them seriously, unlike their alien brethren in Independence Day, but then that makes their actions all the more entertaining. It’s just a shame for them (and lucky for humanity) that they’re not keen on our music. Furthermore, as a metaphor about US politics the Martians are perhaps a little bit too on the nose for comfort, but if you disregard the political satire you would still have an entertaining B-movie parody, although your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you appreciate the black comedy that is laced throughout Burton’s work.

Score: 3.5/5

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