Tim Burton is an extremely frustrating filmmaker as when he’s at the top of his game (this, Batman, Ed Wood) there’s no one quite like him. His films have a distinct visual style, the soundtracks are sublime, they come with fantastically odd performances and they’re packed with unusual imagery of the extremely memorable kind. Unfortunately for the past decade he’s all too prepared to coast though, chucking out films which feel like a lazy greatest hits package rather than creating anything original.
Mars Attacks! is definitely up there with his best work thankfully, and one of the last examples where he wasn’t reigned in by a studio but still managed to create something quite sublime. There’s a couple of flaws, with so many characters a few of them are occasionally forgotten about for long periods of the film, with both Natalie Portman and Pam Grier not getting to do much for large chunks of the film, but those we do follow are all enormously fun people to spend time with.
The film takes about half an hour to introduce everyone, from Jack Nicholson’s President to Jack Nicholson’s dodgy Las Vegas casino owner, while Lukas Haas hangs out with his patriotic family which includes an early role for Jack Black and a final one for Sylvia Sidney, and Jim Brown works in a casino where Tom Jones is performing, plus there’s also hippy type Annette Bening who believes that the aliens are a sign from God and that from here on in everything’s going to be swell. There’s another ten or so characters too, but I’d be here all day if I was to mention every single one of them,
Once the aliens land it only takes a very short time for them to turn out to be evil and murderous, and lordy do they have an amazingly fun and perverse sense of humour. As well as a selection of weapons which kill in a number of funny ways they love fucking with humanity, claiming “Don’t run! We are your friends!” as they shoot their laser guns all over the place, and their delight in murder is infectious and then some. The romance between Pierce Brosnan’s floating head and Sarah Jessica Parker’s dog human hybrid is another highlight, Haas and his grandmother Sidney have a cute relationship, and Jack Nicholson is absolutely on fire in both roles, in what was for my money his last great performance.
The design of the aliens is superb, and the way they’re animated is so effective that you easily forget that they’re cgi, and the movie also includes a Danny Elfman score that doesn’t sound like every thing else he’s ever written, which is always pleasing. The script is fully aware of how ridiculous it all is and doubles down on the insanity, making it laugh out loud funny from start to finish, and it’s a very rare case of a film where it’s a shame it wasn’t even longer and we didn’t get even more murderous mayhem. ,