Okay, let me be clear. I get the detractors of Tim Burton. I understand their issues – especially with his continuing involvement in Walt Disney properties – and I understand their fear that maybe he has completely sold-out. Their criticisms don’t fall on deaf ears, but here’s where I continue to stick with my guns and trust in all things Burton: his seemingly infinite imagination. There’s no denying that the mind that so beautifully illustrates homage after homage to the Silent Film era is one of inspiration AND madness. Mars Attacks!, while critically misunderstood, falls into the pantheon of the Madness category…and rightfully so.
Burton’s direction in Mars Attacks! may not be as pronounced as fans would like it to be, but there’s no denying that it is a product of his deep well of imagination. I think here we see – maybe for the first time – that Burton is able to produce a movie without his familiar cinematic styling; also, Mars Attacks! is supposed to play like a ‘50’s throwback, so we shouldn’t be able to tell that Burton is behind the camera. But what Mars Attacks! isn’t is style over substance like his (mostly) unholy take of Planet of the Apes was. Mars Attacks! is damn-near perfect in its working as satire. The cast is superb, yet, no one knew what to do with it when it was first released in 1996. Now, arriving on Blu-ray thanks to Warner Brothers, the movie has a second chance at earning respect and in being viewed as a tribute to the type of sci-fi extravaganza that Ed Wood would have loved to have made – if he ever got the financing to do so.
Based on the 1962 Topps trading card series, Mars Attacks! is, quite simply, about an alien invasion of Earth that plays off of every other alien invasion movie’s plot contrivances – except with more interesting results. Mars Attacks! is ridiculous in its set-up, complete with a pack of flaming cattle that opens the movie, and every actor – except maybe for Jack Nicholson – attempts their hardest to play it straight. Yes, they get the joke of the movie and, occasionally ham it up; that’s where the fun in the picture comes from. You have the heads of Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker being switched and re-attached for God’s sake. It’s a comedy. Laugh, damn it! Laugh! But, get a load of its cast because that is no laughing matter. You’ve got Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Natalie Portman, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield, Annette Benning, Danny DeVito, Jack Black , Lisa Marie, Christiana Applegate, the late Sylvia Sydney, Pam Grier, Luke Haas, Joe Don Baker, Jim Brown, and Tom Jones – all throwing their support behind Burton’s tribute to cinematic glory of B-movies.
Yet, also in the mix are some dynamically cheesy special effects from ILM. In my opinion, they were never to be taken seriously and now – 14 years later – they absolutely make this film resonant with B-movie homage and popcorny tribute. As a result, Mars Attacks! is straight-up pulp fiction that gets caught in between the teeth. Recalling some of the film’s past criticisms, there’s no way this is Burton simply improvising on-the-spot; this is meticulous homage to sci-fi cheese; something Independence Day could never do. Sure the screenplay by Johnathan Gems is paper-thin. It’s meant to be, yet, Mars Attacks! rises like an Ed Wood-designed flying saucer from the page and embraces the cheesy fun of cinema’s sci-fi past. Now, if only we Earthlings could loosen-up do the same…
Available on Blu-ray - September 7, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Korean, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish, Thai
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; German: Dolby Digital 5.1;Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Czech: Dolby Digital 2.0; Thai: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Easily making its 1997 DVD version, well, simply redundant, Warner's 1080p/VC-1 transfer mostly sizzles with sharp, eye-popping color. Is it perfect? Not close. The master has obviously not been truly prepped for Blu-ray, but it is a step up over the DVD. Flesh tones are solid, yet uneven and interiors are good and sharp, but those pesky nighttime exteriors are simply pathetic in detail. Considering the rise of the home theatre market and the 14-year gap since the film’s initial release, this is sub-par for Warner Brothers. I honestly expected better handling of the movie. Even the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track can’t effectively capture the mayhem of the Martian invasion. An improvement over the ’97 DVD? Yes, but terribly typical for today’s sound systems.
Sadly, there are none. This leads me to suspect that this release was a rush job by Warner Brothers and, maybe in the next couple of years, we might see a much, much, much better release of this movie. It deserves it.
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