Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tim Burton #6: 'Mars Attacks!' (1996)

Fresh off of his dip into schlocky, low-rent science-fiction observation with Ed Wood, Burton came out on the other side rejuvenated with his own hearty appetite for camp and foreign invasion. The problem is that Mars Attacks!, even with its Irwin Allen-like scale and gaudy ensemble cast, manages to be more tedious than amusing, proving that parodies are a tough brew and that emulating a bad movie doesn't necessarily make yours good.

Based on the trading card series introduced in 1962, Warner Bros. bought the film rights to the property in 1993, just in time for screenwriter Jonathan Gems and his overseer Tim Burton to begin adapting Mars Attacks! for the screen.

The original budget for the production was set at $60 million, which then ballooned towards the $100 million mark in preparation for the extensive stop-motion effects that would be applied to bring the invaders to life. However, when Larry J. Franco pitched to Burton the possibility of using computer-generated effects to animate the Martians, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic (which brough the budget down to $80 million), Burton agreed.

Both Warren Beatty and Paul Newman were, at one point, slated to portray the President before Jack Nicholson (who also plays Las Vegas tycoon Art Land) eventually stepped in to the roles. Round out the impressive spread are Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Pam Grier and much more including Jack Black and Natalie Portman - but all are disappointingly mismanaged and upstaged by the invaders at hand.

Conceived as a classic sci-fi homage, political satire and modern disaster film, Mars Attacks! hopelessly comes up short in all regards. It's not particularly funny, nostlagic or concentrated, instead coming off as wearisome and slummy. Even the worst science-fiction films never fail to entertain, and whether weighed down by the talent involved or simply misguided, Mars Attacks! is surprisingly a chore to get through.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on Chase! I think you nailed this one. I have the original Topps cards and they are gruesome and profound: each card has a cool and sometimes violent image (sketeched by EC Alumn Wally Wood) and a paragraph that, when completed, tells a short story. It reads like a Cold War parable but when placed in a modern setting, loses its narrative tension.