22 February 2002 | bob the moo
Very enjoyable sci-fi spoof
When Martians make contact with earth opinion is split into two camps between seeking peace or preparing for defence. When the inital meeting is turned into a massacre by a misunderstanding surrounding the dove of peace, the camp seeking war seem to have the stronger case. However the Martian Ambassator apologises and is allowed to meet before the joint houses in the US. However when the Martians use this as an way to wipe out America's leaders in one move. Security is stepped up and the world is put on a war footing, however the martians seem only interesting in destruction and death and deliver both with a wickedly cruel sense of humour.
We all know that Tim Burton and sci-fi blockbuster movies don't always deliver the goods (planet of the apes anyone?). This was released in the same summer as Independence Day and ID came off much, much better. That was mainly because ID gave the people what they wanted - they wanted a little comedy, lots of fancy FX and explosions, nothing different that would cause them to think in any way, and the good guys (the Americans) must win and save the earth! Burton gave them most of that, but it was just too different!
What we have here is a ID style story but it is infused with Burton's manic vision. This takes away from the blockbuster appeal of the average ID, but it makes it a much funnier, wierder experience. Some of it doesn't work, Nicholson's multirole performance is nowhere near the standard of Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove (which he clearly aspires to) and some of the cameos are forced and silly. However all the stuff with the aliens works really well because it is so OTT and it knows it - Burton just lets his vision run wild. In place of ID destruction of the white house, we have the aliens knocking down the Easter Island statues like 10 pin bowling etc. Where ID took itself very seriously, Mars Attacks plays like a spoof of the 1950's sci-fi and comes off much better for it.
As for the ending - of course it's absurd! Yes it's a bit of a leap to imagine that the aliens would be defeated in this way, but it doesn't matter because it's all tongue in cheek. It is no more stupid than ID which sees the aliens destroyed by Goldblum and Smith flying a spaceship (Smith flies it because he's seen one before - the scientists who have been studying it aren't allowed, even though they know how it works), into the core of the mothership, downloading a computer virus from Windows 98 onto the alien system and clearing off! Both endings are dumb, but at least Mars Attacks doesn't try to cover it up.
There are so many actors here that to try and say who does well and who doesn't would take ages. So here we good. Good -Nicholson (as the president), Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, MJ Fox, Steiger, Pam Grier, Lukas Haas, Jim Brown and Lisa Marie. Bad - Glenn Close, De Vito, Short and a pointless "oh look it's...." cameo from Tom Jones. The actors given screen time are good but stars wheeled out for novelty value are a bit wasted generally.
Overall this may not be to everyone's tastes. When it come out everyone seemed to expect another ID style film. However Burton's mad vision and comic touches make this a very enjoyable spoof.