Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Mars Attacks! (1996)



Reviews and Comments

Mel Brooks once distinguished between tragedy and comedy thusly: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

This is a lesson that might have benefited Tim Burton when making Mars Attacks!, loosely based on a trading card series from the sixties but really a parody of all those alien invasion dime novels and B-movies from the middle part of the twentieth century. In it, martian invaders (hilariously fitting in appearance) blow away scores of people with their rayguns, causing them to dissolve bloodlessly into green skeletons. This is funny. There is also a scene where a martian bites off a guy's finger and another in which a man is skewered through the abdomen. This is not. A lot of the fun is dampened by a meanspirited air, a flaw which plagues most of Tim Burton's early films, even the best ones.

It would have helped if more of the characters were convincing caricatures. What few are (Jack Nicholson, Natalie Portman, and Pierce Brosnan spring to mind) are given too little to do. About one joke in ten hits home, which still leaves half a dozen good belly laughs and a few smiles.

I did like one satirical aspect of it all, though. I'm not sure how purposeful it was, as it's not usually a point that Hollywood likes to make, but this film makes a rather delightfully vicious mockery of blind pacificism. We've got plenty of anti-war films, some masterful, that dutifully teach us about how war is "bad." War is surely bad, but here's one that illustrates how war is sometimes necessary and how blanket pacifism can be downright idiotic sometimes, resulting in greater loss of life than standing up and fighting. In a post-9/11 climate, the film achieves a whole new dimension if one thinks of the martian leader as Osama bin Laden and most of the White House characters as...well, you know who you are.