Today! Because if the Martians land, they’re going to need a place to stay, just like everybody else –
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Jack Nicholson (x2), Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Danny DeVito (x2), Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox (x2), Martin Short, Rod Steiger, Lukas Haas, Tom Jones, Jim Brown, Natalie Portman (x3), Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Jack Black (x3), Joe Don Baker (x2), Ray J, Christina Applegate, Barbet Schroeder (x2), Willie Garson (x2), Rance Howard (x3), O-Lan Jones, Brian Haley
I know some people were really turned off by Tim Burton’s trading card adaptation global invasion sci-fi comedy, but I really dug it in that epic winter of 1996. Ah, ’96! This is already the sixth movie from that landmark, okay-ish year for films! Coming a few months after Independence Day, I guess everyone really wanted a wild action comedy of international destruction, but Tim Burton is not that director. He can give you quirky odd-ballery, but as for fight scenes or action sequences, well, look at that track record. His Batman movies are far more mood and atmosphere than slam-bang thrills. Sleepy Hollow – better, I guess, what with Ray Park as the Headless Horseman, but the staging didn’t vastly improve. Planet of the Apes – come on. So really, anyone wanting more out of Mars Attacks! was probably kidding themselves a bit too much.
What you get is a pretty fun, funny, throwback spoof of cheesy alien flicks, which quickly devolves into a cheesy alien flick itself, blurring that parody line until it basically disappears. I was really amped for this film come my senior year of high school – figure, you’ve got Nicholson playing wacky duel roles, in a roundabout nod to Dr. Strangelove’s end-of-the-world grapplings, as the president and a huckster casino owner, plus it reunited him with his Batman director, never mind the all-star cast reminiscent of ’70s disaster films, including a James Bond, a Teen Wolf, Foxy Brown, Ed Grimley, and the Penguin.
And sure, the sum of the parts doesn’t quite coalesce into a complete film, but it never really drags or tires. It rips right along, with its gigantic cast, providing lots of color and zing along the way, before falling more or less flat in the finale. And is it stupid? Sure, it’s kinda stupid, but it’s never boring. How much can you ask from a movie based on a series of trading cards, for Chrissakes? This was pretty much the end of Tim Burton’s creative storytelling, too, so that didn’t help. After this it would be a ton of adaptations (Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) with little good result. It’s almost like the ’90s Muppet strategy – let’s see what this existing property would look like if Tim Burton did it! For the most part, it wasn’t great. So I can look back fondly on Mars Attacks!, as at least it delivered more or less what I expected, and no beloved or semi-beloved property was ravaged in the doing.
This giant cast produced a ton of Two-Timers – Jack Nicholson (#368 Anger Management), Danny DeVito (#375 Romancing the Stone), Michael J. Fox (#344 Back to the Future Part II), Joe Don Baker (#360 Cape Fear), Barbet Schroeder (#319 The Darjeeling Limited), and Willie Garson (#313 Fever Pitch), as well as inducting Tim Burton as the 12th member of the Director’s Two-Timer club, after #371’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure), so sorry about the lack of spotlighting, fellas, but it’s probably best to focus up on the three Three-Timers joining the squad today – Natalie Portman is in, after her appearances in #332 Star Wars Episode I and The Darjeeling Limited, along with Jack Black from #352 Be Kind Rewind and #372 Walk Hard. And maybe more unexpectedly in the club, the great Rance Howard! His second movie of ’96 on the list, after #318 Independence Day, and third overall, after also appearing in Walk Hard. Big group! Stats piling up!