Mars Attacks Review

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The Earth is invaded by Martians with irresistible weapons and a cruel sense of humour


If you were expecting another Independence Day, forget it. For while the story (Earth besieged by space invaders intent on wiping out mankind) is similar, the tone, approach and execution couldn't be any more different. Only a director with the clout that Tim Burton wields could be entrusted with $70 million and deliver a movie so distinctly personal on such an enormous scale; a giddily madcap, surreal, sardonic satire that sets out to be deliberately cheesy.

Closer in its scattergun approach to Beetlejuice than his two blockbusting Batmans, this is by turns inspired, lumbering, visionary, infuriatingly wasteful and truly astonishing, so while it certainly doesn't always work, the overall effect is one of delirious mayhem, Burton-style.

Burton and British screenwriter Jonathan Gems (with uncredited assistance from Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) have crafted a loving parody of 50s science fiction cinema, with its creaky flying saucers, bug-eyed aliens, and global annihilation, by way of cynical 90s sensibilities. The story, as you'd probably expect, is secondary to the effects. But what effects, as Burton fully exploits his CGI invaders; green, bulbous-brained, skull-visaged little buggers gleefully out for a bit of interplanetary argy bargy.

After a very slow first 30 minutes in which the film threatens to keel over and die, the action kicks into hyperdrive when the Martians land in the Nevada desert and, with a "We come in peace" declaration, whip out their laserguns and incinerate the gathered masses. It's a thrilling scene, both horrifying and humorous, which aptly sets the tone for what follows.

As the attack turns global, the military proves ineffectual, and it takes the efforts of a heroic band of disparate individuals to save mankind as we know it. And while the method with which they defeat the Martians is no less hokey than ID4's, it's certainly a lot more fun. The heavyweight cast (Nicholson in dual roles as US President and a sleazy Vegas tycoon, Close as the First Lady, Pierce Brosnan as a pipe-smoking scientist, Bening as the latter's clippie-hippie wife, Michael J. Fox and Sarah Jessica Parker as rival TV reporters, Tom Jones as himself) pitch themselves firmly in the camp marked, well, "camp", and act up for all they're worth, but are ultimately undone by the too slight script.

This is a Tim Burton film after all, a visual feast, both comedic and cinematic, he, like his invaders, is revelling in the planetary destruction he's unleashed, witness the massacre of Congress or the Martians defiling the Easter Island statues. And only in a Tim Burton film could two disembodied heads profess their love for one another.