Film Scouts Reviews

"Mars Attacks!"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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Dec. 11, 1996

Tim Burton's weird sense of humor is all over this holiday release, his best satire to date. If you remember all the Fifties sci-fi movies with cheesy pie plate 'flying saucers', and even if you don't, "Mars Attacks" will keep you laughing from first to last. When the little green Martians arrive they are greeted by a celestial cast of characters hitting every stereotype - including those which recent films like "Independence Day" helped to perpetuate.

After working with Burton on "Batman", Jack Nicholson was the natural choice for the bumbling President concerned about how he will put the right spin on the spinning saucers. Another Burton "Batman Returns" alum is Danny DeVito, known only as 'rude gambler'. Going from Dalmatians to aliens, Glenn Close is the fussy first lady. This being a violent sort of movie, you can try to figure out who is going to be left as bones by the alien ray guns and who deserves it most. Natalie Portman, who was the bright spot in this year's "Beautiful Girls", is also the bright spot in the White House as the First Daughter eating pizza in her black canopy bed. Over at the Pentagon, Rod Steiger is ready to nuke the newcomers while Paul Winfield tries to moderate the military response. And in Las Vegas, Jack Nicholson is also a wheeling-dealing hotel owner married to Annette Bening, a New Age nut case. Being in Vegas explains the presence of Tom Jones, singer, and Jim Brown, heroic big guy. Some of the funniest moments come from Pierce Brosnan as a scientist turned into a lab experiment (that's not a typo, you have to see it), and Burton "Ed Wood" alum Sarah Jessica Parker, reporter turned into - well, you'll see. And let's not forget the slacker, Lukas Haas, who loves his grandma, Sylvia Sidney, even though the rest of his trailer-park family don't love him. Truly a remarkable cast and given a super script by Jonathan Gems based on the Topps trading card series, of all things.

Tim Burton's warped vision permeates the film. The designers at Industrial Light and Magic (creators of the Martians) watched "Edward Scissorhands" and "Nightmare Before Christmas" to get a feel for what Burton would want in his aliens. It may not be easy to make a convincing modern B-movie, but Burton and company have succeeded in a big way with these nasty little buggers. Rated R

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