Stacked Cast Slaughtered By Martians
Mars Attacks, a horror comedy spoof of a 1950’s science fiction film, has small laughs to offer for a comedy and few scares to offer for horror. The film instead hopes it’s able to distract the audience with its long list of celebrity names that appear in the film, but even this stacked cast can’t over come what is a yawn fest of a movie.
The movie attempts to illicit surprise on viewers by killing or disfiguring a number of its celebrities. Most of the time, though this isn’t entertaining, and even worse its boring. The most surprising thing about this film is the fact that many of the immediately distinct visuals of auteur director Tim Burton are absent … making this movie look nothing like you would expect from him.
For all its flaws, Mars Attacks has a few moments, and it was fun to watch, but to say I liked the film or that I would watch it again is asking a bit too much.
A fleet of flying saucers that originated from Mars begins hoovering over Earth. The film follows a number of different characters that parody different aspects of American society. Some of these characters include the U.S. President (Jack Nicholson) as he prepares to lead the U.S. through the extra-terrestrial encounter, a group of workers and gamblers from Las Vegas, a military family living in a trailer park, a single mother raising two kids in Washington D.C., and a couple of married reporters with a dysfunctional marriage.
The best thing Mars Attacks has going for it is action. There are plenty of alien laser fights and and people getting vaporized by blasters. The film never gets gory and the violence never goes all out, but the action can be entertaining at times.
With a large cast, not a lot of time is spent on character development, which means many of the characters you do see in the film never get past the stereotype they were intended to be. The only two characters that manage to develop into anything interesting are the U.S. President (Jack Nicholson) and the grandmother of the family living in the trailer park, Florence Norris (Sylvia Sydney).
Nicholson is largely entertaining though because he subtly displays a twisted, public perception obsessed, egomaniac leader. Sydney is entertaining as the grandmother who listens to loud music and has memory issues, although it’s often implied that she’s just messing with her family.
The visual design of the aliens works, and the wide array of characters feels like the right idea for this film, but again Mars Attacks never really utilizes the full potential of all the different situations it has created.
A lot of the jokes in the movie are never well thought out or developed. For example, the martians speak in a weird sounding gibberish. Nothing comedic is added to this or used to capitalize on this, rather the punchline of the joke is they speak a weird sounding gibberish … and that’s supposed to be a funny recurring joke that runs through the rest of movie? Another example is when any of the big named actors are killed. The film just assumes audiences will think it’s supposed to be funny because it’s a big named actor being killed, rather than creating a scenario where the death of the person would be humorous.
This film pays tribute to a number of B-science fiction movies, and some bigger movies as well. For instance, Dr. Strangelove is emulated with scenes that are reminiscent of scenes that took place in the latter film’s war room. Unfortunately Mars Attacks can capture none of the humor that was found in Dr. Strangelove, and the tribute, only ends up serving to frustrate fans of that classic movie.
Mars Attacks gives viewers the feeling that’s its big budget and high profile cast should be all that it takes to satisfy audiences. This film is a textbook case for why that is not true. Other aspects of this film are mildly entertaining, but Mars Attacks never got me to laugh out loud, and that’s the fundamental sign for me that this film has failed as a comedy.