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Tim Burton
Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Jim Brown
Writing Credits:
Len Brown (trading card series), Woody Gelman (trading card series), Wally Wood (trading card series), Bob Powell (trading card series), Norman Saunders (trading card series), Jonathan Gems

Nice Planet. We'll Take It!

SEE! Stars that shine across the galaxy. Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito and a dozen more! SHRIEK! At mean, green invaders from the angry red planet! Armed with insta-fry ray guns, endowed with slimy, humungous brains - and enlivened with out-of-this-world but state-of-the-art special effects. GASP! As the US legislature is overwhelmed. (Don't fear, we still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for us, and that ain't bad!) THRILL! As Earth fights back with an unexpected weapon. Take that, Martians!

Box Office:
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$9.384 million on 1955 screens.
Domestic Gross
$37.754 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 9/3/1997

• Isolated Score
• Trailers
• Production Notes
• Cast and Crew Biographies

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Mars Attacks! (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2004)

I first saw Mars Attacks! before it began its theatrical run; I took in a Thanksgiving weekend preview showing. I knew a little about the film but I was mainly interested because I loved Tim Burton's work.

Nonetheless, I felt the flick was terrific. I was thoroughly entertained and amused for the entire running time. Every once in a while a film comes along that seems so new and fresh and exciting that you remember just how great movies can be; Mars Attacks! definitely fell into that category.

I think the movie didn't open in wide release for another few weeks, so I didn't hear any critical reaction until then. To say the least, they didn't agree with my viewpoint. Most critics savaged it and the audiences stayed home; I think it made something like $942 dollars at the box office.

I'm still not sure why Mars Attacks! tanked so badly, but I think it simply may have been a movie that really didn't have much of an audience. It was basically a parody of both old science fiction movies and of those all-star cast disaster pictures from the 1970s, and parodies just don't usually do all that well at the box office. I think many people may also have interpreted it as a rip-off of the then-recent hit Independence Day.

Well, whether people didn't get the joke or didn't want to get the joke, I don't know. But I liked it, dammit! As such, I looked forward to the release of the Mars Attacks! DVD, which came out in the summer of 1997.

To be honest, the film loses some of its appeal upon subsequent viewings. I think it bowled me over to such a degree simply because I had so little idea what to expect. Sure, I know Tim Burton's style, so I knew it would be semi-campy and gleefully perverse, but that was about it.

As such, I really delighted in seeing all of the nifty touches Burton put into his film. I found Mars Attacks! to be truly unpredictable and I was constantly amused by the wacky actions depicted on the screen. The film had virtually no plot - it was just "Martians come, Martians attack, Martians die" - but it didn't matter; all the fun was found in the behavior of the Martians themselves and all else became secondary.

Obviously, a film loses its element of surprise when you watch it a second time, so what had been so delightful and fresh the first time became simply pleasant and entertaining the second. Oh, I laughed a few times and I enjoyed the film, but the experience didn't compare to the riotous screening I experienced during that preview.

Now that I've seen the movie five times I can say that while I definitely like Mars Attacks! it's not quite the cinematic masterpiece I originally thought it was. It's still great fun to see the high-class cast camp it up, and while none of the big names really stands out - because there are so many actors, most don't have enough time to make much of an impression - they all perform well. Actually, the most memorable performances in the film come from Sylvia Sidney as a somewhat-senile grandmother and from Lisa Marie in her non- speaking role as a Martian dolled up to look like a babe, or at least a babe as the Martians interpreted them through old issues of Playboy. The latter continues to amaze as she perfectly mimes the motions of the Martians and provides a hilarious depiction of how Martians try to act seductive for humans.

It's really the Martians that are the draw for this film, however. It's pretty clear that Burton's affection resides with them, not the humans, and I'm with him on this one: the Martians really are a trip. Although they share the same goal, these aren't the faceless, emotionless drones of Independence Day; no, the Martians are joyously sadistic. They don't just want to conquer the Earth; they want to do it with some style. And that they do! Well, they don't actually conquer the Earth, but they sure do have a ball trying!

One big criticism of Mars Attacks! stemmed from the fact that it spent a great deal of time setting up a large cast of characters but it then proceeded to kill many of them in rapid succession. I actually liked this aspect of the film because it made things much less predictable. This way we had no idea who'd make it through and who wouldn't; despite what you may think, no character - human or otherwise - was off-limits. I found that quite refreshing.

No one will confuse Mars Attacks! for one of Tim Burton’s best films. It seems hit or miss and fails to hold up terribly well to repeated screenings. Nonetheless, the movie tosses enough at the wall to ensure that some of the gags stick. It’s a generally lively and creative flick that includes enough positives to merit a recommendation.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

Mars Attacks! appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Back in the day, Mars enjoyed a reputation as one of the top transfers. Almost seven years later, much of it still looked very good, but the transfer started to show its age.

Sharpness varied. Much of the time the image came across as nicely detailed and distinctive. Unfortunately, wider shots displayed some moderate softness, largely due to the presence of noticeable edge enhancement. Those haloes didn’t seem extreme, but they caused distractions. Shimmering and jagged edges created no significant concerns, but a mix of minor print flaws cropped up throughout the movie. I saw occasional examples of grit and marks, and light artifacting also appeared. None of these issues seemed major, but they were noticeable.

On the more positive side, Burton painted the film from a very broad palette. It used lots of bright, vivid hues and they came through terrifically on this DVD. The colors were consistently lively and vibrant, and they provided the best elements of the transfer. Blacks also seemed deep and concise, but shadows were a little on the thick side. The low-light shots didn’t seem terribly opaque, but they demonstrated definition that seemed a bit too dense. Ultimately, enough of Mars looked good to merit a “B-“.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mars Attacks! presented a mixed bag. On the positive side, the mix offered very good audio quality. Speech consistently came across as distinctive and natural. I noticed no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess, as the dialogue worked well. At times the score sounded a little muted, but mostly the music was rich and vibrant, with taut bass response. Effects also sounded dynamic and lively. No distortion interfered with the clean, firm elements. In general, low-end seemed deep and rich and added nice force to the track.

Unfortunately, the mix lost some points due to a surprising lack of ambition. The soundfield maintained a strange focus on the front spectrum. In that realm, the track offered good stereo imaging for music as well as a broad spread for effects. Those pieces seemed appropriately placed and combined cleanly.

Oddly, though, the track included very little usage of the surrounds. This kind of film seemed tailor-made for a vivid five-channel mix, but the rear speakers rarely played an active role. A few sequences used the surrounds to moderate advantage, but those instances seemed awfully rare. The audio sounded good enough to earn a “B”, but the lack of ambition left it as a moderate disappointment.

Only a smattering of supplements appears here. The main attraction comes from an isolated score. We get Danny Elfman’s music presented on its own with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Actually, all the film’s music shows up here, which means we get bits like Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” in addition to the score. It’s a nice extra.

For an odder audio piece, go to the “Soundtracks” menu and select “Martian”. This doesn’t allow us to watch the whole movie; instead, it just provides one short soundbite, and it seems kind of useless. In addition to two trailers we find some text materials. The Cast includes short biographies for 16 actors as well as director Burton. Production Notes offers information about the project’s genesis and its design. These pieces provide a few interesting bits but remain awfully minor.

In the end, if you've enjoyed other Tim Burton films like Pee-wee's Big Adventure or Beetlejuice, you're likely to get into Mars Attacks! The movie presents a spotty affair but includes enough entertainment to merit a look. The DVD offers decent but unexceptional picture and audio plus only some minor supplements. Mars Attacks! won’t be for everyone, but it deserves a viewing.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5609 Stars Number of Votes: 41
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