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Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks! started out as a science fiction trading card series created by Topps in 1962. The cards told an outrageous story of the invasion of Earth by cruel, hideous Martians. The series developed a cult following and has been reprinted occasionally.

In 1996, a movie of the same name based on the cards was released by Warner Bros, directed by Tim Burton. It can be described as a B-movie made with the budget of a blockbuster and stars such as Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker. The film is visually impressive, as are most of Burton's films, and is highly dependent upon special effects. The film's soundtrack by Danny Elfman makes extensive use of the theremin. The robots that are seen in this movie were the model for Robo-47, an old, renegade war robot, from the video game, War of the Monsters. Martians use Easter Island as a bowling alley, carving their own faces in Mount Rushmore, nuking Las Vegas a.k.a. Casino City (now Copy City), tearing Agra apart, destroying New York City, making the Washington Monument fall in Washington D.C., attacking Paris and melting London.

The film is highly parodic, and contains numerous anachronistic references to 1950's-style Science Fiction films. Much of the tone of the film came from the trading card series. The exaggerated comic violence of the movie is only slightly more intense and garish than in the original cards. Therefore, as with other Burton movies, the subject under scrutiny is not just the present, but the mass culture of suburban childhood of the past.

The film has an interesting relationship with Independence Day, another "mars attacks" movie released a few months earlier by rival studio 20th Century Fox. While there are no direct references to the film in Mars Attacks!, certain scenes and events can be seen as parodies if not outright mocking. For example, where Independence Day has an extended sequence of epic and impressive destruction, Mars Attacks! has the aliens using Easter Island as a bowling alley and carving their own faces in Mount Rushmore. Since Mars Attacks! was almost complete at the time Independence Day was released, it's possible to conclude the similarities are purely coincidence or come from mutual use of cliche. However, one can't rule out the possibility that Tim Burton's team was in possession of an Independence Day script or other inside information while making their film, and it was certainly possible for them to have shot extra scenes or made edits after the public release of their rival. Whether intentional or not, a new layer of humor can be found in Mars Attacks! by viewing it with a fresh memory of the other film.

The plot is fairly simple but contains some interesting variations on the normal Martian invasion movie. The premise is that the Martians have turned up on Earth and the President of the United States (played by Jack Nicholson) seeks to gain maximum public relations points by establishing a friendly relationship. (In a manner similar to that of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, Nicholson also plays another role in the movie, that of a Las Vegas real-estate speculator.) The Martians however reject these overtures and proceed to wreak havoc with their spectacular red and green death-ray guns. The Martians pursue fleeing humans with speakers blaring "Do not run. We are your friends.".

As in the film The War of the Worlds, a simple weapon is ultimately found to counter the alien invaders: in this instance it is the playing of a piece of yodelling music, "Indian Love Call" performed by Slim Whitman. Some have criticized this as being far too similar to another parody of B-movies, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, where the killer tomatoes were also caused to explode when exposed to a particularly bad song.

Cast list: Jack Nicholson (two roles), Danny DeVito, Joe Don Baker, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas, Jim Brown, Tom Jones, Jack Black.

See also: Mars in fiction, alien language.

External links

  • Mars Attacks Cards Fan Sites:
Mars Attacks 1962 Trading Cards
Zelda's Mars Attacks Fan Page

Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:22:16
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04