Jack Nicholson, Jim Brown, Pierce Brosnan, Natalie Portman, Martin Short
Director: Tim Burton
“Earth is invaded by Martians with unbeatable weapons and a cruel sense of humor.”(IMDb)
»Currently streaming on Netflix«
What to Expect
Death by Slim Whitman
That’s Why Her Hair Is So Big, It’s Full of Secrets
Why You Should Watch It
This satire of cheap sci-fi movies that inundated the 50s and 60s feels like what you would get if you told the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to create a modern retelling of the genre. The over-the-top camp is only enhanced by the star-studded cast that includes, in addition to the above mentioned, Pam Grier, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Tom Jones, and Jack Black. It’s silly, it’s fun, and your head will be reeling watching James Bond and Jackie Brown ham it up.
Rainy Day Flick (C)
You never know what Hollywood will turn into a movie next. Similar to how the Transformers cartoon and film franchise all started with the Hasbro toy line, Mars Attacks! was inspired by a 1962 trading card series. The series was controversial at the time for its graphic depictions of death and violence, and its infamy likely led to its popularity.
The Martian appearance and general premise were taken from the story found on the backs of the cards, and keen observers will notice the opening scene of cattle engulfed in flames was taken directly from card #22. Notably absent from the film adaptation are the enlarged bugs the Martians conscripted to destroy the humans. And in the movie, the dulcet wailings of Slim Whitman kill the Martians, but in the card series, they are defeated by Earth’s militaries bringing the fight to Mars (and then Mars explodes, naturally).
In the card series, the Martians’ ray guns had various abilities, such as heat, frost, or shrink. Earlier drafts of the film script had the ray guns able to enact a variety of gruesome effects as well, but producers were forced to tone things down to avoid an R rating. This may explain why most of the guns seen emit either red or green rays, yet both have the same effect of reducing its victims to a neon-colored skeleton. The only time we see a different effect is when the Martian leader shrinks the general with a blue ray gun.
Jack Nicholson appears to be channeling some Stanley Kubrick humor a la Dr. Strangelove in this movie, in that the seriousness of his character—the President of the United States—adds to the ridiculousness of the situations he finds himself in. And while Nicholson playing the straight man in contrast to his other wild characters is funny in itself, it’s also interesting to juxtapose his character against Meryl Streep’s in the recent Netflix original and fellow satire film, Don’t Look Up.
In Mars Attacks!, Nicholson’s president attempts at every moment to be calm and poised, despite the chaos around him—even in the face of death. Showing that, even in parodies, the president always maintains a certain level of decorum. Compare to Streep’s president, who is a clear caricature of Donald Trump in her crassness and nepotism. That isn’t to say the office of the president has never been parodied before. Presidents have been portrayed as idiotic, clueless, evil, or noble, but something about the 45th president’s term in office seems to have ushered in a new style of ridicule that we would have never seen in 1996.