"It is an awesome sight. The Martian spacecraft hovering in the
Nevada desert like a giant hubcap," reports breathless and brainless TV
talk show host Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Yes, Tim Burton (ED WOOD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and BATMAN) is back,
and this time he turns his considerable creative talent to a spoof
called MARS ATTACKS!. He tries to make a parody of a science fiction
movie, but instead comes up with a film that plays more as a parody of
a parody. The picture is laced with sag gags from end to end, but most
manage to fall as flat as the spoken humor from screenwriter Jonathan
Gems. Like a well-constructed bad painting, there is much to admire in
the film, but the net effect leaves you dispassionate.
The movie, which has some similarities to the vastly superior
INDEPENDENCE DAY, has the president as the central character. Jack
Nicholson plays President Dale as well as hard drinking, Las Vegas
developer Art Land. Actually, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson
doing his usual shtick.
Like the president in INDEPENDENCE DAY, President Dale has his big
speech to the nation when the aliens, in his case Martians, are
spotted. In a singularly trite address, he proclaims to his people,
"It is profoundly moving to know there is intelligent life out there."
Accomplished costume designer Colleen Atwood (LITTLE WOMEN, THAT
THING YOU DO!, and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) designed the costumes for MARS
ATTACKS!. She uses badly contrasting pastel colors to make the already
ditzy cast seem even more so. Parker plays a role reminiscent of her
kid's TV show part in THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE. Here, her clothes are
even more outlandish. The sets by Wynn Thomas are a panoply of bad
taste. Parker's character, for example, sets in egg shaped black and
white checkered chairs while doing her interviews. The chair's
contrast with her clothes will probably short circuit a few picture
tubes when the movies goes to video.
Lukas Haas as Richie Norris is the only sincere character in the
movie. He also gets the best line. When the Martians land, everyone
assumes that they are friendly. After the Martian Ambassador makes a
circular motion, Richie says, "Wow, he made the international sign of
Most characters in the film do little set pieces having only
tangential relation to the rest of the story. Annette Bening plays a
rich new ager named Barbara Land. As the Martians disembark for the
first time, she sets lotus position on top of her Mercedes convertible
while holding a Crystal pyramid.
Martin Short is presidential press secretary Jerry Ross. After
the Martians slaughter hundreds of army soldiers and innocent
civilians, he wants the president to hold a town meeting to get
America's opinion before making a decision on how to respond.
As shown in the trailers, the Martians vaporize the entire
congress. Not unpleased, the President says, "I want the people to
know that they still have two out of three branches of government and
that ain't bad."
This is one of those Hollywood casts of thousands movies.
Everyone who is anyone gets a part. Even Tom Jones, playing himself of
course, comes to the rescue. For the record, the movie also has Glenn
Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger,
Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Christina
Applegate, Joe Don Baker, Pam Grier, and Paul Winfield. See what I
I am not against using large numbers of stars in a picture.
Earlier that day I saw the new and absolutely marvelous four hour
Hamlet. In it Kenneth Branagh uses a large cast of acting's luminaries
to great effect.
MARS ATTACK! is a violent film. Most of it is semi-cartoonish
with hundreds of people vaporized with their skin being eaten away
until only a red or green skeleton is left. Why some end up red and
others blue is the story's chief conundrum. In a scene lifted straight
out of an R rated horror movie, one character's finger is realistically
eaten and then the bloody stump is thrown in a fish bowl. The camera
moves in for a close-up to make sure we see it.
Taken as a film for adults, the violence is not a problem, but
considering this film is rated PG-13, there will be many frightened
grade-schoolers. It certainly frightened my son badly, and I have not
seen him scared at a movie in over a year. As a son of movie critic,
he sees many films. He has been to the theater 26 times this year, but
none of them affected him as this one did.
I did enjoy portions of MARS ATTACKS!, but its whole is less than
the some of the few good parts. At least it has a totally
unpredictable ending. Even an experience alien fighter will not be
able to figure out the Achilles' heel of these Martians.
MARS ATTACKS! runs 1:42. It is rated PG-13. There is no nudity,
but there is brief sex, some profanity, and lots of violence. My son
Jeffrey, age 7 1/2, gives it a "thumbs 55 percent down and 45 percent
up." My ever affable son, tends to like every movie, but not this one.
He said the film is "for kids 7 1/2 and up because I really was scared,
and I get scared easier than most kids my age." I think the film is
for kids 9 or 10 and up. I can not recommend it, but I do give it **.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes