Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Sunday, September 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 69° Partly Cloudy
A&E >  Entertainment

Martian Comical ‘Mars Attacks!” Is Tim Burton’s Version Of War With Evil Aliens, Carried Out With Zany Humor And Stunning Visual Effects

It may be unfair it probably is unfair but we expect a lot of our more interesting filmmakers.

Amid the regular flow of John Hughe-stype flotsam that passes for popular entertainment, visual artists such as Tim Burton tend to carry the weight of our hopes for a more inspired cinema.

And that, of course, is a recipe for disaster. No one can bear up under such a sustained, Hollywood-created burden.

So it should come as no surprise that Burton’s newest film, “Mars Attacks!” is something of a disappointment. How could it be anything else?

It’s been more than two years that a film bearing his name as director - not producer or “creator” - has played at your local multiplex. Since1994’s “Ed Wood,” in fact. That uneven effort was his third directorial effort since 1989’s “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Batman Returns” coming in between.

But Burton’s worldview is so - the polite term is offbeat - determinedly different that his absence seems to have been longer. And “Mars Attacks!” has been one of the most-awaited films of his holiday season.

This is particularly so because it follows in the alien-invasion contrails of 1996’s run-away summer hit, “Independence Day.” Burton’s film is both a campy throwback to the sort of science-fiction paranoia so prevalent in the 1950s and a parody of the very kind of film that “Independence Day” is so much a model for.

Briefly stated, the plot involves a massive grouping of flying saucers unaccountably heading for Earth. Just as in “Independence Day,” Burton’s film (based on Jonathan Gems’ screenplay) is set up in three main acts: the initial encounter, which most humans view as potentially friendly; the attack, which wipes out most everyone as well as such landmarks as Mount Rushmore and the Taj Mahal; and the payback, which follows more in the vein of “War of the Worlds” than in the Pearl Harbor kind of vengeance-seeking that crowds cheered on in “Independence Day.”

The difference is mainly in tone. “Mars Attacks!” is broadly - sometimes wildly - humorous, with aspects of Burton’s eccentric obsessions presented throughout.

Malformed creatures (“Frankenweenie,” “Edward Scissorhands,” the Penguin of “Batman Forever”) are represented this time by big-headed alien creatures who prance around their saucers in the very briefest of bikini briefs. (Then again, the humans themselves are barely more than bizarre caricatures themselves.)

Amputations (again, “Edward Scissorhands”) occur continually, whether they be of fingers, hands or even heads.

And unusual images abound: a stampede of blazing cattle, a 100-foot-tall robot loping after a racing pickup, a dog’s head transplanted on a shapely woman’s body (and vice versa), disembodied heads locking lips in desperate passion. And that’s just the beginning.

Supporting his visuals, Burton has collected a virtual who’s who of actors, from Jack Nicholson doubling as the whacky president and as a cowboy-type, Las Vegas casino owner to Tom Jones (yes, the Tom Jones) as himself. In between, we have Annette Bening as a new-age groupie all set to welcome the extraterrestrials, Michael J. Fox as a newscaster, Pierce Brosnan as a particularly clueless pipe-sucking scientist, Sarah Jessica Parker as a post-adolescent talk-show host, Jim Brown as a boxing-champ-turned-casino-ornament.

And more, all of whom serve the function of demonstrating Burton’s thesis, which is that while alien life may be aggressively evil, typical Earthlings are aggressively stupid.

And the mix works well enough, though never well enough to make up for the fact that Burton ultimately settles for less. There’s never any reason given for the invasion (the question is barely asked), which is OK except that it simply mirrors the loose way in which the film’s plot moves along to the obligatory ending - in which Slim Whitman’s yodel proves every bit as deadly as the germs of H.G. Wells.

The funnier moments include Lukas Haas’ low-key speech to the post-apocalypse world, Brown’s video-game-loving sons using their skills to save the president, Lisa Marie as a glider-like Martian callgirl picked up by White House advisor Martin Short and anytime Bening or Jones take the screen.

Overall, “Mars Attacks!” is an enjoyable view, one that is bound to make a lot of money - at least initially - because it is Burton and because it is so different than anything else out during this holiday season. But it likely won’t go down as one of Burton’s greater efforts.

That would be expecting far too much.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Mars Attacks!”: Jay Boyar/The Orlando Sentinel: … the sum of the parts in “Mars Attacks!” is greater than the whole. You walk away from this film feeling as if you’ve seen a bunch of terrific short movies rather than a great feature-length one. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, by the way. Comedy often works best in small doses, and the ingenious Burton has figured out how to package a bunch of small, silly doses as a feature film. As motion pictures go, this one is my favorite Martian. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: There is something lacking about Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!” Enjoyable as it may be on grounds of horror, hilarity and movie-star gazing, the film plays out more like a pageant of skits than any cinematic accomplishment. The ending suggests that the camera simply ran out of film.

“MARS ATTACKS!” **-1/2 Locations: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat Cinemas Credits: Directed by Tim Burton, starring Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Jim Brown, Michael J. Fox, Pam Grier, Rod Steiger, Lukas Haas, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, Danny DeVito, Sylvia Sydney, etc. Running time: 1:45 Rating: PG-13 Web site: www.marsattacks.com

These sidebars appeared with the story: OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Mars Attacks!”: Jay Boyar/The Orlando Sentinel: … the sum of the parts in “Mars Attacks!” is greater than the whole. You walk away from this film feeling as if you’ve seen a bunch of terrific short movies rather than a great feature-length one. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, by the way. Comedy often works best in small doses, and the ingenious Burton has figured out how to package a bunch of small, silly doses as a feature film. As motion pictures go, this one is my favorite Martian. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: There is something lacking about Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!” Enjoyable as it may be on grounds of horror, hilarity and movie-star gazing, the film plays out more like a pageant of skits than any cinematic accomplishment. The ending suggests that the camera simply ran out of film.

“MARS ATTACKS!” **-1/2 Locations: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat Cinemas Credits: Directed by Tim Burton, starring Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Jim Brown, Michael J. Fox, Pam Grier, Rod Steiger, Lukas Haas, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, Danny DeVito, Sylvia Sydney, etc. Running time: 1:45 Rating: PG-13 Web site: www.marsattacks.com

Wordcount: 951
Tags: movie review

Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter

Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com