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An Invasion of Mediocrity

  • Nov 13, 2010
  • by
     ** out of ****

 To its credit, “Mars Attacks” is better than it should be. But it’s also worse than it should be, and that’s exactly where it falls flat. “Mars Attacks” is Tim Burton’s attempt at either satirizing or honoring the “B Movie” (it’s too hard to tell which one he’s really doing). Sadly, “Mars Attacks” is neither funny enough nor entertaining enough to hold the interest of the audience. Sure, it’s watchable, and sure, it’s designed to be so crappy that it’s almost awesome. Fun, fun, fun! But in the end, it’s just not good enough. A film packed with so much potential visual flare and a great (but wasted) assemble cast should by all means end up being something that’s genuinely better than this. But alas, it isn’t. This film doesn’t quite make me hate Tim Burton any more or less, but it helps to explain why Burton isn’t completely out of the way of failure. This explains all too clearly why “Alice in Wonderland” wasn’t good. I have personally enjoyed Tim Burton’s films in the past, but here it feels like he took a day off from care in general. But look on the bright side! At least it’s not ridiculous enough to be a flaming piece of ugly crap. No, Tim Burton’s too good (or decent) for that. All that I really know is that I didn’t particularly enjoy “Mars Attacks”. Tim Burton made a film about Ed Wood already, and with “Mars Attacks”, he’s basically trying to make an Ed Wood-sort of movie. Luckily for Burton, he fails to create the wrist-slittingly bad cheesiness of an Ed Wood film. It’s not quite bad enough for that. Mission not quite failed, Burton. Go on and make something better and prove yourself to be anything but pretentious.

Oh, how Tim Burton can tell a story (not). “Mars Attacks” finds Burton once again reuniting with his “sentimental” story-telling and emotional boulevards (not). I am of course just kidding, because there is not such thing as a B movie with real emotion. Most B movies are pointless to the point where they are somewhat amusing. This is most definitely one of those times. Notice I said SOMEWHAT amusing. I said that because they’re never REALLY amusing, but sometimes the ridiculousness of the production gets to you in good ways. “Mars Attacks” has a story, but no substance that’s worth our precious time. The film bases itself upon invasion sequences and attempted satire. Kind of sad, isn’t it? So the President is concerned that Aliens indeed exist. He is of course right, and soon proceeds to contact these beings. The Martians then proceed to come to earth. First, it is thought to be a friendly arrival, but then comes the flesh-melting rays of intergalactic awesome. Soon, our so-called “friends” are friendly no longer, and are making every attempt to put a dent in our population. From then on, it’s all explosions, robots, and plenty of aliens. And you know what; I didn’t think the mix was all that effective. First of all, the story is unfocused in every way. Does it have a point? Yes, I believe it does. Does it revolve around one central character? No, certainly not. The film CLEARLY has a hard time deciding who the main character is and who the supporting ones are. In the world of “Mars Attacks”, nobody is important. Not even Tom Jones, who serves little more than a good laugh. More Tom Jones death scenes, damn you! So basically, “Mars Attacks” succeeds at having a typical B movie plot, which even includes a B movie ending (which includes Tom Jones making friends with animals, while (surprise, surprise) a Tom Jones song is playing). Joy!

“Mars Attacks” has a promising and colorful cast of actors, all who are squandered by near failure. Jack Nicholson, a talented actor, is transformed into a bleak and rather unlikable “character”. This is one of his worst performances that I’ve seen from him in a while, and….well, you know where it goes from there. Jack Nicholson’s on-screen wife is played by Glenn Close, who is charming in presence, but lacking in character. Even Pierce Bronsan, another promising actor, lacks the charm that he is capable of having. Martin Short feels as meaningless as ever, and Danny DeVito is there for the purpose of simply being there. There’s even Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, and Sarah Jessica Parker! What’s not to like? Many things, to be honest. They even got Tom Jones to join in on the “fun”. I mean, it’s nearly a crime that they got Jones to star in a movie as himself, and not get blown up by the occasional alien ray of awesome. It’s a damn shame.

There’s loads of Tim Burton imagery to be found in “Mars Attacks”. It’s not the most dazzling of visual spectacle, but it’s still solid none the less. First off, the aliens are reasonably dumb looking. If that’s what Burton was aiming for, then that’s great; that’s wonderful. But while it’s pretty to look at, there has to be an actual movie underneath the “prettiness”. The CGI looks dated (I mean, come on. 12 Monkeys released one year before this film, and it looked better), and the film’s action sequences don’t exactly explode with passion. In the end, it’s a dumb film with semi-good visuals. It’s another Burton film that doesn’t work as well as it should, although the fact that it works at all may satisfy “die-hard fans” of Burton. I am no longer a true fan of Tim Burton, as I do not respect all of his films. This is not one of his rare productions which deserve attention. It’s best to miss out on it. The music is one thing that’s good about the film. Danny Elfman sure knows how to cook up a mean opening credit sequence. His music for this film is pretty good aside from that, although nothing is truly “special”. The experience as a whole felt a tad dated. Perhaps that was the point. But that doesn’t make it right, does it?

This is not a bad film. No, it’s not bad at all. It’s decent, and nothing more (or less). While there are some things to enjoy, “Mars Attacks” lacks a solid amount of fun. It’s not a shockingly good homage to B movies, but it’s better than most B movies actually tend to be. It’s dumb, and often times irrelevant fun (but only sometimes). If you’re not a fan of Tim Burton, then you aren’t going to enjoy this. However, if you are, you may have a semi-good or decent time. I have liked Tim Burton’s films in the past, but it’s too bad that “Mars Attacks” just didn’t do it for me. If it counts for anything, this film is almost “so bad that it’s good”. Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to that statement. But it doesn’t fall flat on the ground either. None the less, I know that there have been better days for Tim Burton. I think that “Mars Attacks” was simply the result of a lack of devotion from Burton. If I’m wrong, then perhaps it was the result of an intended experiment, which nearly failed. Burton can tell a story, as far as I’m concerned. He co-wrote this film, but that still means there should have been some Tim Burton-type plot elements put in. I saw nothing of the like. The only thing “Burton-like” here is the visual style. And that’s not good enough for me.

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November 17, 2010
Hmm. Well, I'll give you that you raise some good points, but, personally, I enjoyed the overall spoof of MARS ATTACKS! I'd agree that it's Burton's one film that seems very anti-Burton. If you look at his resume of films, this is certainly one that appears geared far more for a mainstream embrace than some of his other works, which are far more artistic in nature (and not to say that they haven't enjoyed mainstream success). I think what Burton did very well was embrace that kind of Warner Bros-esque lunacy surrounding the MARS ATTACKS cards upon which the film was centrally based and brought that to the screen very well. Humor is difficult, though. If you've read or delved seriously into foreign films, then you know that horror, suspense, and action films tend to find almost universal appeal in all cultures, but comedies, dramas, and romances are more culturally driven. I think this was just a flick that certainly appealed to those who knew the MARS ATTACKS property for what it was and probably many mainstream comedy lovers, but, otherwise, yeah, it was a tough sell. Good review, though. "Great writing chops have you," says Yoda.
November 17, 2010
Thanks for the feedback. Most appreciated.
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Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space” was as dull uneventful and as worthless as any picture he had made, yet somehow it has established itself as the creator of the Sci-Fi spoof. Many films have followed it is footsteps but all have been labeled cheesy, uneventful, worthless and some of the worst films of all time. That is until  a visionary director named Tim Burton put his spin  on    Ed Woods trademark trait for making bad movies, his film, a homage to" …
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Entertaining, but most of the movie seems forced in its humor.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Mars Attacks!

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This article is about the film. For the trading card series, see Mars Attacks
Mars Attacks!
Theatrical release poster Directed by Tim Burton Produced by Tim Burton
Larry J. Franco Written by Jonathan Gems Starring Jack Nicholson
Lukas Haas
Annette Bening
Jim Brown
Pierce Brosnan
Sarah Jessica Parker
Glenn Close
Martin Short
Michael J. Fox
Jack Black
Natalie Portman
Danny DeVito Music by Danny Elfman Cinematography Peter Suschitzky Editing by Chris Lebenzon Studio Tim Burton Productions
Warner Bros. Pictures Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures Release date(s) December 13, 1996 (1996-12-13) Country United States Language English Budget $100 million Gross revenue $101.37 million

Mars Attacks! is a 1996 comic science fiction film directed by Tim Burton and based on the cult trading card series of the same name. The film uses elements of black comedy, surreal humour and political satire, and is also a parody of multiple science fiction B movies. Mars Attacks! stars an ensemble cast, which includes Jack Nicholson, Lukas Haas, Annette Bening, Jim Brown, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Danny DeVito, and Christina Applegate.

Director Tim Burton and writer Jonathan Gems began development for Mars Attacks! in 1993, and Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the trading card series on Burton's behalf. When Gems turned in his first draft in ...

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