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Amid speculation that a meteorite crashed to Earth from Mars some 15,000 years ago and contains indications of simple life forms, 'Mars Attacks!' offers definitive proof of life on the Angry Red Planet. No single-celled organisms, these alien invaders are the big-brained variety with a flair for ray guns and planetwide pandemonium. Citizens of Earth face their doom with gung-ho valor and brainless abandon as little green men from outer space gleefully terrorize the planet in an all-star, cross-country sci-fi comedy.
For more about Mars Attacks! and the Mars Attacks! Blu-ray release, see Mars Attacks! Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 2, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Jonathan Gems
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short
» See full cast & crew
Mars Attacks! Blu-ray Review
Nice planet you got here. We'll take it!
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 2, 2010
Tim Burton. Eccentric genius or colorful mad hatter? Every time I decide, every time I claw my way out of his head, he pulls me back in. When his quirky, candy-coated imagination and macabre sensibilities align -- Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, and Sweeney Todd leap to mind -- his films emerge as infectious works of art. When the two collide -- Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, most recently, Alice in Wonderland -- the ensuing misfires are gaudy, shallow, surprisingly bland blends of lofty concepts and seemingly uninspired execution. For me, Mars Attacks! lies somewhere in between. Based on the controversial 1962 Topps trading card series of the same name, his garish sci-fi comedy confused audiences and confounded critics. Was it a parody? Satire? B-movie homage? Dark comedy? Self-indulgent whim? All of the above? No one knew; least of all me, a seventeen-year-old fledgling film buff who walked away from his hometown cineplex cursing Burton's name. But that was 1996. Fourteen years later, I decided to give Mars Attacks! a second chance. And this time, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
I don't want to get ahead of myself though. Mars Attacks! is often an exercise in style over substance, and Burton seems distracted by everything from his A-list ensemble to his multi-million-dollar ILM special effects. The story, if it can be called that, is painfully simple: invaders from Mars attack, Americans from all walks of life panic, and cheesy, tongue-in-cheek hilarity ensues. The devil isn't in the details, he's in the characters, many of whom die untimely but amusing deaths at the hands of Burton's vicious martians. Jack Nicholson grins and gawks as the President of the United States and leers and sneers as a sleazy, Las Vegas real estate mogul eager to make a quick buck from the country's newest residents. Glenn Close steps into the high heels of his snotty First Lady, Natalie Portman is his droll daughter, Martin Short plays the White House's skirt-chasing press secretary, Rod Steiger raises hell as the President's bloodthirsty General, Paul Winfield is the Colin Powell-esque military man tasked with welcoming the martians, and Pierce Brosnan plays the presidential advisor and stuffy professor determined to prove the invaders are merely misunderstood. Not enough Hollywood elites and familiar character actors for you? Mars Attacks! also features Sarah Jessica Parker as a flighty talk show host, Michael J. Fox as her news anchor beau, Annette Benning as a New Age flake, Danny DeVito as a smarmy Vegas lawyer, Jim Brown as a boxer-turned-casino worker, Luke Haas as a sweet-natured country boy, Pam Grier as a Washington D.C. bus driver and single mom, Lisa Marie as a martian infiltration unit, and entertainer Tom Jones as... well, entertainer Tom Jones. More, you ask? Indeed. Jack Black, Christina Applegate, the late Sylvia Sydney, and countless others ham it up for Burton's cameras.
If Mars Attacks! was released even a year after Independence Day, I would applaud Burton's use of a ridiculously overstuffed, go-big-or-go-home cast, not to mention his endless supply of deadend, deadbeat subplots. Sadly, the countless similarities between the two films isn't the product of razor-sharp parody, but rather complete coincidence. Burton stretches himself and his story so thin that it's as if he took Jonathan Gems' screenplay, yelled action, shot whatever wide-eyed lunacy his actors came up with on the spot, and handed his dailies off to ILM to see what they could do with it all. Improvisation and haphazard special effects dominate the film, and the end result is as sporadic and scatterbrained as you might expect. There's method to Burton's madness, sure -- method that will be more clear to those weened on '50s sci-fi schlock -- but his blunt-force-trauma humor, face-value satire and quick-sand plotting is too wild and unwieldy to elicit much untempered praise. And yet the exclamation point in Mars Attacks! all but redeems his missteps. Burton and his ILM legions sink their teeth into every pulpy, twopenny gimmick at their disposal, celebrating science fiction's gummiest, tackiest conventions with the utmost confidence. Burton hurls wobbly flying saucers, rainbow-colored skeletons, crazy costumes, dim-witted dialogue, mish-mashed production design, slapstick pratfalls and a patchy parade of sight gags at the screen with giddy abandon. You can almost hear him cackling behind the camera; almost see his toothy smile widening and his mad-scientist mop blowing in the Las Vegas breeze.
Laughs abound, at least for those who allow Burton's chintzy charms to work their magic. Spotty, unstable scripting and extraneous storylines be damned; Nicholson and his supporting cast are hilarious, giving their all in service of Burton's increasingly ludicrous whims. By the time Brosnan, reduced to a decapitated head, reunites with Parker, her own head stapled to a chihuahua's body, I couldn't stop chuckling. Watching Short wine and dine the martians' stiff-limbed, porcelain-skinned Trojan Horse nearly left me in tears. As Steiger drew his pistols to protect Nicholson's disheveled president, I could barely contain my sudden enthusiasm for Burton's overwrought, overreaching spoof. In fact, each and every time one of the characters met their gory fates -- be it by way of a laser, UFO cannon, cruel practical joke, disintegration beam, gigantic boot or ceremonial flag -- I felt a surge of sick-n-sinister approval. In the end, Mars Attacks! isn't smart enough to be a great satire, dark enough to be a biting black comedy, sharp enough to be an unforgettable parody, or extensive enough to be a sweeping homage. But as a grotesque and outrageous genre gumbo, it's endearing, funny and memorable, and offers more than enough B-movie kicks and A-list inanity to make it worth watching. At the very least, it deserves a second chance.
Mars Attacks! Blu-ray, Video Quality
Mars Attacks! looks fantastic in high definition... here and there. Unfortunately, Warner's 1080p/VC-1 transfer is the product of a dated, problematic master; one groomed for DVD scrutiny and little more. Don't get me wrong, the Blu-ray edition handily outclasses its 1997 standard definition counterpart -- it boasts several substantial (albeit largely inherent) improvements -- but a more complete overhaul would have eliminated many of the issues that sully the presentation and allowed Burton's vision to truly shine. Peter Suschitzky's vivid colors and gushing primaries have been rejuvenated, but slight contrast inconsistencies, frequently flushed fleshtones and unreliable, at-times overbearing black levels prove to be regular distractions. Detail is also hit-or-miss. Fine textures are pudgy and waxy one minute (no doubt the result of intermittent noise reduction), satisfying and suitably resolved the next. Object definition impresses on occasion, particularly for a fourteen-year-old catalog comedy, but flounders whenever overzealous edge enhancement and subsequent ringing becomes obvious. Daytime exteriors and well-lit interiors make promises the film's shadowy ships and nighttime sequences fail to uphold. More distressingly, the image, though fairly clean on the whole, is sometimes disrupted by soupy grain, murky clarity, unsightly crush, errant artifacts, faint banding and some minor aliasing. No single issue ruins the presentation, but together, they take a toll. Does Mars Attacks! look better on Blu? Absolutely. Could it look much better? Without a doubt.
Mars Attacks! Blu-ray, Audio Quality
All that mayhem! All that destruction! You'd think Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track would be a show-stopper. Alas, Mars Attacks! features a rather average lossless mix that delivers an adequate upgrade and nothing more. Dialogue is crisp, clean and nicely prioritized, dynamics are passable, separation is commendable and directionality, though far from convincing, is decent. However, low-end tones are loud but cumbersome, growling when a roar is required and grumbling when thunder is called for. Explosions pack heat but little punch, tank cannons fire with the same intensity as pistols, and the martians' ships and Danny Elfman's score are the only elements that take advantage of the LFE channel. The rear speakers flounder as well, and the majority of the film is reduced to an unengaging, front-heavy affair. Ambience, music and acoustic flourishes worm their way across the soundfield, but few make an impact and even fewer assist the track's already middling soundfield. It isn't bad per se, just imprecise and unremarkable.
Mars Attacks! Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While its 1997 DVD counterpart offers an isolated score track and two theatrical trailers, the Blu-ray edition of Mars Attacks! doesn't include any special features.
Mars Attacks! Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Mars Attacks! is a divisive B-movie throwback, but if you keep that exclamation point in mind, you won't be surprised by the scattershot, hyper-cheesy tactics Burton and his charter bus of A-listers employ. The Blu-ray edition is a bust though. While it represents a significant upgrade from its 1997 DVD counterpart, its video transfer is riddled with issues, its DTS-HD Master Audio track will elicit shoulder shrugs, and its supplemental package is non-existent. Still, even if you hated Mars Attacks! fourteen years ago, the film itself is worth another shot. If you're anything like me, it just might surprise you.
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Mars Attacks! Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Announces Sci-Fi Blu-ray Wave - May 10, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced a wave of science fiction movies for release on Blu-ray on September 7: Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox, 1956); Lost in Space (Stephen Hopkins, 1998); Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996); and THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut ...
• Warner Catalog Blu-ray Slate for 2010 Revealed - January 27, 2010
Veteran site DVD Town has published a post revealing the release dates for many titles that Warner Home Video intends to release on Blu-ray during all of 2010, including some bona fide classics, a comedy wave in August, science-fiction in September, a couple of ...
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