Warner Bros. // 1996 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 15th, 2010
Nice planet. We'll take it!
There was a time not long ago when Tim Burton dabbled in movies other than remakes (that's right, I'm looking at you, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland). In 1996 Burton tackled aliens in Mars Attacks!, a homage to 1950s sci-fi classics and, seemingly, the Zucker brothers. Mars Attacks! finally makes it to Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment in a bare bones edition.
Wake up, earthlings! It's later than you think! When hundreds of flying saucers appear from the seemingly vast emptiness of Mars, Earth suddenly finds itself at a crossroads: are these friendly explorers or do they mean mankind harm? When American President James Dale (Jack Nicholson, Batman, Anger Management) assembles a meet and greet with the Martian ambassador, things go well...until a single white dove starts an interstellar war between the throbbing green brained Martians and the citizens of earth. The Martians agenda is soon exposed: to kill and humiliate every last man, woman, child and Chihuahua! With a sense of humor rivaling a Sam Raimi movie and an arsenal of dastardly weapons at their disposal the Martians begin their reign of galactic terror!
Mars Attacks! had the pimple poor luck of being released the same year as the alien invasion juggernaut Independence Day. While that movie was a semi-series tale of man vs. extra terrestrial, Mars Attacks! ended up being it's wily and mischievous cousin, a parody of alien invasion movies based on the Topps trading cards series fondly remembered by baby boomers. Independence Day went on to score huge at the box office while Burton's Mars Attacks! floundered and eventually limped home with its tail between its legs. Even today the film is considered more a cinematic curiosity than an actual film; it's as if Tim Burton wanted to bring to life the movie Ed Wood was never allowed to produce.
This isn't to say that Mars Attacks! is a bad movie -- far from it. Burton's alien spoof is filled with odd sight gags (bowling on Easter Island, anyone?), amusing cameos by famous faces (Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Martin Short) and maniacal aliens who appear to have walked straight out of a Three Stooges short. The tone of the movie is never consistent, but that seems to be part of its charm -- at one moment it's a slightly touching romance, then it turns to pitch black humor and on a dime we're back to explosive F/X action scenes. You get the feeling that no one on this production was quite sure what kind of movie they were making. Is it a comedy? An action movie? A horror movie? Possibly a parody? A little bit of everything? Heck, throw in a few foreign subtitles and you'd have hit almost every genre imaginable.
The aliens themselves are ugly, comedic little critters who conjure up more laughs than scares, which I think was the filmmaker's final goal. Mars Attacks! was made in the earlier days of CGI which means that some of the effects come off as sometimes sub-par and silly. Luckily, this works in Mars Attacks! favor -- since it's supposed to be a throwback to those old sci-fi monster movies of Burton's youth, we forgive the computer effects of their trespasses.
The cast -- made up largely of A and B-list stars who mug, scream, quip and ham their way through the film -- seem to be having a lot of fun with the material. Nicholson in particular pulls of the risky task (with winning results) of playing two characters -- much like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove -- as both the US President and a chintzy, sleazy real estate investor. Other actors like Martin Short and Pierce Brosnan (as one of those standard, straight laced scientists) play things straight, which makes for bigger laughs in the end product. Again, homage seems to be Burton's intent here, as he wryly lampoons the big name casts of the classic disaster pictures from the 1970s.
Mars Attacks! isn't a perfect movie (it drags slightly in the middle as the humans figure out a way to defeat the alien menace), but overall it's a highly entertaining throw back to a simpler time of silver flying saucers and multi-colored ray guns.
Mars Attacks! is presented in 2.41:1 1080p widescreen. Overall fans of this film will be happy to upgrade their old DVD copy to a hi-def version. That being said, this isn't a transfer that's going to blow anyone out of the water -- there are moments where the picture isn't as crisp as it should be and the quality can sometimes fluxuate from scene to scene. Colors are deep and well represented with only a little bit of DNR popping up. Overall this is a moderately good picture that gets the job done but little else.
Much like the video transfer, the audio portions (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) of this disc do a fine job but won't set your surround sound system on fire. The impressive opening shot (featuring Danny Elfman's other-worldly music score) settles into some okay surround effects throughout the rest of the film. When the Martians show up to cause all kinds of mayhem the track picks up (those ray gun zaps do sound good in 5.1). Also included on this disc are Dolby 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, German and Italian, Czech and Thai 2.0 tracks and subtitles in French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Korean, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish, English and Thai.
Nary a supplement to be found on this disc -- no trailers, no commentary tracks, not even the isolated film score included on the previous DVD edition. For shame, Warner Brothers...for shame.
Burton enthusiasts will most certainly lap up this hi-def picture (even if it's not perfect), and casual fans will hopefully enjoy the absolute absurdity of the plot. An easy buy for fans, and definitely worth the rental for E.T. newbies.
Mars Attacks! is a fun space romp and a just okay Blu-ray effort from Warner.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Czech)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Thai)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13