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Mars Attacks!
directed by Tim Burton
Cast
Jack Nicholson President Dale/Art Land
Glenn Close First Lady Marsha Dale
Michael J. Fox Jason Stone
Paul Winfield General Casey
Rod Steiger General Decker
Martin Short Jerry Ross
Sarah Jessica Parker Nathalie Lake
Annette Benning Barbara Land
Danny Devito Rude Gambler
Pierce Brosnan Professor Donald Kessler
Lukas Haas Richie Norris
Tom Jones Tom Jones


Past Feature Reviews
by Tom Julian

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I wanted to love this movie walking in, I mean really love it the way I loved The Princess Bride or Star Wars. The satire on fifty's SF invasion flicks seemed so zany and lovable -- demented, ugly little alien tricksters destroying our planet with one bony hand on their disintegrator rays and the other on our funny bones.

That wasn't exactly the case.

Mars Attacks! is a Tim Burton film after all, with the comedy either very subtle and dark or very zany and dark. Like most Burton films, Mars Attacks! is destined for cult status -- which means it will be vastly inadequate for some while serving as a perpetual re-watch for others.

This flick comes across as two movies: the first sluggish and restrained as the ensemble cast gets introduced from all across the country, and the second zany and loose as the little freaks destroy us with no mercy.

Needless to say, the second part is ultimately more satisfying.

The cast, once it gets thoroughly introduced, supports the mayhem well. Led by Jack Nicholson -- playing both the dovish President and a cheesy Vegas developer -- it also contains the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Annette Benning, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Jones, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Natalie Portman, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield, Pam Grier, Sylvia Sidney and Lukas Haas.

Once the action starts cooking, the movie gets dementedly hilarious in typical Burton weirdo style. The Martians are essential speechless throughout the film, talking in dumb-dumb "Ack Ack" noises and obviously taking great delight in the fact that we're easy targets. They drop the Washington monument on a group of Boy Scouts, shoot the First Dog and chase terrified humans around with a faulty translator that keep announcing that the rampaging Martians are friendly and we shouldn't be afraid of them.

All this is OK. The cartoon Martians are so damn ugly and twisted that they're lovable. Burton slaughters his fellow humans with a lot of panache. He kills off his ensemble cast one after the next, tossing flaming casualties through the air with the greatest of ease.

Nicholson, in both of his roles, sets the tone for human reaction to the invasion. As the destruction of Congress occurs and further disasters begin to mount up, he constantly looks like he's going to throw his hands in the air and nonchalantly mutter, "eh, what are you going to do?" Once the characters are developed, the skill of Burton is best demonstrated as the situations dictate the reactions of the odd-lot group.

This is one film that keeps getting better as the running time goes on. It just needs a chance.

Copyright © 1996 by Tom Julian

Tom Julian is a teleplay and short story writer. He will be pitching to Paramount DS9 and Voyager in March 1997. Check out his web magazine, The Outpost


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