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From 1996's "Mars Attacks!."

Mars Attacks! May 4, 2020


Tim Burton



Jack Nicholson

Annette Bening

Glenn Close

Pierce Brosnan
Martin Short

Sarah Jessica Parker

Michael J. Fox

Pam Grier

Danny DeVito

Natalie Portman

Lukas Haas

Sylvia Sidney

Rod Steiger

Tom Jones









1 Hr., 50 Mins.

nvasion-movie satire Mars Attacks! (1996) is much more fun to talk about than it is to watch. It’s Tim Burton doing an expensive, star-studded tribute to the schlocky, shoestring-budgeted sci-fi thrillers of the 1950s. Hear such a description and curiosity might be piqued. (It piqued mine). And on paper Mars Attacks! also makes sense as a companion piece to Burton’s previous project, Ed Wood (1994), a black-and-white biopic about the legendarily


ungifted '50s-era filmmaker who gave the movie its title. (One senses that while preparing Mars Attacks!, Burton was wanting to embody Wood, had Wood ever been given the chance to make a feature using gobs of money and with a wide release to look forward to.)


The film is a tacky visual pleasure. In a lot of moments it’s like we’re touring a handsomely gaudy, vintage sci-fi-themed Las Vegas resort on wheels designed by the guy who laid out Pulp Fiction’s (1994) Jack Rabbit Slims. But otherwise, Mars Attacks! makes a couple of mistakes from which a parody movie cannot really recover. It believes that its existence in general is something to be celebrated; it believes that if its costumes, accents, and character beats are strange enough, there is no need for clever dialogue. As much as I like the idea of there being an anachronistic sci-fi film from Burton, if its concept is more exciting than the product even after the product has been consumed, what is there to celebrate? And though it might tickle us to see Jack Nicholson (in a dual role — he also plays the U.S. president) dressed up in drag-queenish cowboy garb, Lisa Marie wearing a bouffant wig that looks like a giant cracked-open pistachio, or Sarah Jessica Parker’s head attached to the body of a chihuahua, these visuals should season the movie’s off-kilter comedy rather than be its meat. But they are the meat, and this meat hasn't been cooked or seasoned properly.


In Mars Attacks!, we oscillate to and from comprehensively uninteresting subplots set in various locales that find its unnecessarily talented cast doing its best to enliven lifeless material. (The movie jumps from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas, from Lake Tahoe to the midwest; characters are played by such A-listers as, in addition to Nicholson and Parker, Annette Bening, Pam Grier, Glenn Close, Natalie Portman, Danny DeVito, and Michael J. Fox.) Aliens from Mars invade — they look like the slobbering beasts from The Simpsons (1989-present) but a smidge cuter — and bring about a disaster event during which they introduce themselves by saying they’ve come in peace but then laser-beam anyone in their path to dust. (This "anyone in their path" inevitably widens.) The aliens only ever literally bark at each other, nonsensical to us humans. They have no detectable mission besides killing everyone on Earth for kicks and conducting Dr. Frankenstein-like surgeries on their high-tech spaceship in the meantime. The monotony of their behavior — a stab at comedy through repetition, probably — is reminiscent of the progressively annoying Minions from the progressively annoying Despicable Me series. There is no progression for the martians of Mars Attacks!.


The mayhem is tedious. None of the actors perform like they know what sort of movie this is supposed to be aside from Pierce Brosnan, who gamely makes fun of his typically suave image. One can initially admire the movie for its thorough audacity. But after a while the audacity loses its thrill and starts to feel wasteful — of our time and cash, naturally, but also of its stars and studio, respectively. C


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