If movies were judged by the strength of their cast, Mars Attacks would be an all time classic. The film is a lineup of recognizable Hollywood faces, both young and old. It's also filled with little men from Mars, laser guns, and flying saucers.
Given the film's premise, it remains a mystery as to why so many stars signed on board. Jack Nicholson (playing two characters), Glenn Close, Jack Black, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Pierce Brosnan, Natalie Portman, Annette Benning, Martin Short, Pam Grier, and Jim Brown constitute only the first part of this cast. On the side of evil we have, well, a lot of aliens.
As a tribute/parody to the sci-fi films of the '50s, Mars Attacks hits many of the needed clichés. The alien ships are a direct lift from the Ray Harryhausen classic Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Pierce Brosnan takes on the scientist role complete with a constant pipe in his mouth, and the overzealous army General screams "nuke 'em" at every opportunity. Of course, this is a Tim Burton film. Staying par for the course is not a possibility.
As the Martians begin their relentless and often hilarious laser gun war, a woman has her head replaced with a Chihuahua, disembodied heads continue to live, the extraterrestrials create a human suit, and people are charred down to their red and green skeletons. You'd be right to think that almost nothing here is logical, but with Burton at the helm, the charm and dark humor take over.
Mars Attacks does suffer from jokes that go nowhere and special effects that have aged poorly. It's easy to say the CG aliens look cheap on purpose, yet the $70 million budget says otherwise. Attacks doesn't shy away from keeping the alien attack moving. Once past the 40 minute mark, it's a non-stop war.
Aside from a few Burton twists that definitely stretch things, Attacks' key flaw becomes the green invaders. They lack much of the charm of Gremlins. Their antics are rarely laugh out loud funny, and it's more entertaining to see the ways they're wiped off Earth than it is to see them wreak havoc. Their design is flawless, right down to the windshield wipers (helmet wipers?) on their space suits.
This is the type of film that requires a few things before you go into it. You'll need some knowledge and appreciation for '50s-style science fiction. Secondly, it may take a repeat viewing to "click" before you realize how everything comes together. Third and finally, it has Tom Jones. Actually, it has Tom Jones being shot at by aliens while singing "It's Not Unusual." It's hard to go wrong with that combo.
Limited print damage is the first failing of this DVD presentation. While not excessive, it does prove annoying in spots. Long shots fail miserably with a fuzzy quality that pushes any fine detail out. Up close, some inconsistent grain hides a better level of detail. Compression is heavy, especially when it comes to the reds. The alien ambassador makes his appearance cloaked in a red cape, and it bleeds out badly in addition to the compression artifacts.
Disappointingly, the film is almost completely front loaded. Music is the only audio that finds its way to the rear channels. Positional audio from the front speakers is rare, though noticeable when used. Thankfully, the bass is strong enough to save some aspect of the audio. Alien death rays prove highly explosive, and the audio mix is happy to help.
Even though this was one of the first DVDs to market, it has yet to receive any re-release in special edition form. It's a movie screaming for detailed behind-the-scenes features, including one on the cult Topps trading card set that inspired it. While a box office disappointment, that's hardly a reason to sell this one without some form of extras.