Mars Attacks!


Rating 2

Directed by Tim Burton

Written by Jonathan Gems, Tim Buton (uncredited), Scott Alexander (uncredited) and Larry Karaszewski (uncredited)

Starring Jack Nicholson (President Jim Dale; Art Land), Glenn Close (Marsha Dale), Natalie Portman (Taffy Dale), Pierce Brosnan (Professor Donald Kessler), Sarah Jessica Parker (Natalie Lake), Michael J Fox (Jason Stone), Annette Bening (Barbara Land), Jim Brown (Byron Williams), Pam Grier (Louise Williams), Rod Steiger (General Decker), Paul Winfield (Lt General Casey), Martin Short (Jerry Ross), Danny DeVito (Rude Gambler), Luka Haas (Richie Norris), Jack Black (Billy-Glen Norris), Joe Don Baker (Mr Norris), O-Lan Jones (Sue-Ann Norris), Sylvia Sydney (Florence Norris), Christina Applegate (Sharona), Brian Haley (Mitch), Ray J Hammond (Cedric Williams), Brandon Hammond (Neville Williams) and Tom Jones (himself)

A huge fleet of flying saucers from Mars makes its way to Earth. One ship lands in the Nevada desert close to Las Vegas and the Martians announce that they have come in peace. However, when a white dove is release and flies towards them they begin killing the assembled crowd using ray-guns. After further negotiations the incident is put down to a cultural misunderstanding and a Martian ambassador comes to address the United States Congress, but once again the meeting goes horribly wrong.


‘Mars Attacks!’ is a 1996 spoof sci-fi film, presented up to a point in the style of 1950s monster movies. Directed by Tim Burton, it is based on a 1962 trading card series created by Len Brown and Woody Gelman. 55 cards were produced in the original series, but the graphic depiction of violence caused controversy at the time and the cards quickly went out of production. They were revived in the 1980s. The film attempts an uneasy mix of spoof and homage, recreating the style of 1950s b-moves, but with a blockbuster production budget. Reaction was mixed and it has a 49% rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 55 reviews.

I first watched the film when it came to cinemas in Britain in early 1997. I wanted it to be brilliant, but I came away disappointed. Watching it again now after a gap of more than twelve years, I have come away with exactly the same impression. The film has some inspired moments, but these are outweighed by a myriad of faults. It’s far too campy and self-satisfied; virtually none of the human characters are in anyway interesting. Simply putting a succession of well-known faces on the screen is not enough, although some do fare better than others. Sarah Jessica Parker is quite effective in her role, as flimsy as it is, but Annette Bening is dreadfully miscast and Jack Nicholson is even worse in his secondary role as the ludicrous Las Vegas hotel developer Art Land. The appearance of Tom Jones, playing himself, doesn’t work at all.

‘Mars Attacks!’ grossed just under $38 million at the domestic box office and a total a little in excess of $101 million worldwide. Its production and marketing budget is estimated to have been in the region of $100 million, making it to all intents and purposes a commercial failure, although undoubtedly subsequent television, video and DVD revenue will have helped to redress the balance.

Review posted 14 December 2009


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