Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton)

I remember seeing Mars Attacks! in the theater–in those days, the pre-Sleepy Hollow days, I was quite the Tim Burton aficionado. That affection has changed (changed is the polite word) in the last fourteen years, but Mars Attacks! has just gotten better and better on each viewing. At present, it’s my vote for Burton’s most accomplished film (Ed Wood being the other contender).

In fact, it’s almost unbelievable Burton made the film–during the war room sequences, one could feel Strangelove, something I don’t think of with Burton, and his handling of the cast is magnificent. In a lot of ways, Burton does here what Soderbergh tries to do with his populist films and can’t achieve fully–Burton makes a great time, but for himself. The film’s completely indifferent to its potential audience (something I sort of remember from the response when it came out) and just… enraptured with itself.

The Martians don’t show up for at least a half hour–it might be forty minutes–so the cast is instead given the opportunity to create these fantastic characters who may or may not matter later on. I think only Danny DeVito really gets to define himself after the invasion begins.

Everyone in the film is fantastic (I always forget Natalie Portman used to be good), but standouts are Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening… oh, wait, I’m just listing the cast.

Jim Brown’s really good.

Burton’s direction–his first Panavision, I think–is singular.

Simply put, it’s awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Jonathan Gems, based on his story and the trading cards by Len Brown, Woody Gelman, Wally Wood, Bob Powell and Norman Saunders; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Burton and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Nicholson (President James Dale / Art Land), Glenn Close (First Lady Marsha Dale), Annette Bening (Barbara Land), Pierce Brosnan (Professor Donald Kessler), Danny DeVito (Rude Gambler), Martin Short (Press Secretary Jerry Ross), Sarah Jessica Parker (Nathalie Lake), Michael J. Fox (Jason Stone), Rod Steiger (General Decker), Tom Jones (Himself), Jim Brown (Byron Williams), Lukas Haas (Richie Norris), Natalie Portman (Taffy Dale), Pam Grier (Louise Williams), Lisa Marie (Martian Girl), Brian Haley (Mitch, Secret Service Agent), Sylvia Sidney (Grandma Florence Norris), Jack Black (Billy Glenn Norris) and Paul Winfield (General Casey).


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