Movie Review: Mars Attacks!

© 1997 Dan Heller

Quick Review: eh. Some great moments, but all in all, a 4 or 5 out of 10.

Synopsis: Mars attacks the earth and, after they've killed most people and destroyed many cities, we end up defeating them by exploding their brains by playing Slim Whitman music.

Review: If this movie wasn't made at the same time as Independence Day, you'd say that this movie was an intentional pardody of ID4. But, despite the similarities, the dissimilarities are stronger. Mars has a hard time figuring out what it wants to be. It's not a rip-roaring comedy, even though there are a few hilarious moments. But, there is too much down time spent in long drawn out dialogs that don't mean anything and aren't funny (nor are intended to be). There is "ultraviolence" in the sense that the martian's ray guns completely (and graphically) dissolve a human to its skeleton, but I was more fascinated by the incredible special effects (computer graphics) used to depict this than the over-the-top comedic satire it was intended to portray. (The kind of over-the-top violence that works as comedic satire is found in Robocop.)

The movie makes a great departure from ID4 by, instead of having the Earth (and the US military) go ballistic on the invaders, they take a very peaceful and friendly stance with the martians, despite the repeated attacks. This is clearly a satirical stab at peace-loving new-age crowd, and is the only theme of the movie that repeats throughout. It starts when, in the beginning of the movie, the martians land and tell everyone they are here in peace, a by-stander releases a dove, and the martians immediate vaporize it. They they begin killing everyone else. As the movie goes on, they continually apologize for what they do, meet with diplomats again, then kill them all.... once in a while, they take a few people (and a dog) and perform experiments on them by dismembering them and reattaching their parts to other people or animals. This has hilarious imagery, but again, I was more fascinated by the impressive computer graphics than the satire of the scene. Rod Steiger plays General Decker, the highly militant secretary of defense who wants to use nuclear weapons from the start, but is always put down for a more peaceful approach. (His performance is excellent, BTW.) In one of the funnier scenes, he finally gets his chance and the nukes are deployed. As the bomb explodes near one of the ships in space, the martians "suck up" the blast into a balloon, bring it into the ship, and then inhale it and speak in really high voices, like we do when we inhale helium. The martians are very funny looking, a joy to watch, and they have more fun than everyone else in the movie!

Jack Nicholson plays the president and, in a dual role, plays a Las Vegas developer, who wants to put up a new hotel called the Gallaxy. None of this has anything to do with the movie, and its development (and a few other subplots) really have no purpose other than to show an *enormous* cast of top-name tallent doing silly things in front of a camera. This would all be just fine with me if what they did was really funny. It's "ok", just not the hilarous comedy it needed to be. There is an undertone of dark humor and satire that might have worked had they not also tried to be blatantly funny at the same time. The audience can't predict what mood it's supposed to feel so spontaneously. We need to be guided by our director, who, in this case, is Tim Burton, who also did Ed Wood. Had the Zucker/Abrhams/Zucker team of Airplane! fame done it, it would been great. It needed to be that type of rapidfire humor for the movie to work.
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