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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

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Castillian Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Czech Dolby Stereo 2.0
Thai Dolby Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 9/7/2010

• None


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! [Blu-Ray] (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 8, 2010)

Back in 1996, 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 that melange of spoofs didn’t seem to appeal to an audience. 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!

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 knew Tim Burton's style, so I figured 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 delightful and fresh the first time became simply pleasant and entertaining the second. Oh, I laughed a few times and I enjoyed the flick, but the experience didn't compare to the riotous screening I experienced during that preview.

Now that I've seen the movie five or six times I can say that while I definitely still 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.

On the other hand, 14 years down the road, the movie’s visual effects don’t hold up well. Mars features plenty of CG that looks awfully dated and cheesy at this point – but not cheesy in the way Burton intended. Sure, much of the movie wanted to look cheap to evoke sci-fi of the 1950s, but the computer elements were supposed to integrate cleanly. By 1996 standards, they do, but by 2010 standards, they look weak.

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 Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus F

Mars Attacks! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though usually attractive, some inconsistencies affected the image.

Sharpness varied. Much of the time the image came across as nicely detailed and distinctive. Unfortunately, wider bits displayed some mild softness, especially in establishing shots. I initially thought this might’ve stemmed from the use of stock footage, but even elements clearly filmed specifically for Mars still tended to be a little iffy. I noticed no jagged edges or moiré effects, but some light edge haloes cropped up at times. Source flaws weren’t an issue, at least.

Burton painted the film with a broad palette. It used lots of bright, vivid hues and they came through well. The colors were consistently lively and vibrant, and they provided the best elements of the transfer. Blacks also seemed deep and concise, and shadows displayed pretty good clarity. Ultimately, enough of Mars looked good to merit a “B“.

The DTS-HD MA 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. The music was rich and vibrant, with taut bass response. Effects also sounded dynamic and lively. No distortion interfered with the clean, firm elements. Low-end seemed deep and full 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.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? That release came out within DVD’s first six months of existence. It actually isn’t bad given its age, but it certainly needed an upgrade, and the Blu-ray provided it. The lossless audio added punch and power, and the visuals were definitely superior. The Blu-ray came across as tighter and cleaner than the old DVD. It became a solid step up in quality.

The Blu-ray’s extras fall in the category of “major disappointment”. Not only does WB neglect the chance to finally give the film a good special edition treatment, but also the Blu-ray omits the handful of goodies found on the DVD! That’s a real shame. This movie may not be one of Burton’s big tickets, but it deserves some supplements.

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 Blu-ray provides generally good picture and audio but lacks any supplements whatsoever. That’s a disappointment, but this stands as the best presentation of the film itself to date.

To rate this film, visit the original review of MARS ATTACKS!

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