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Mars Attacks

Tim Burton’s films tend to fall into either of two categories – weird, but solid commercial cinema, or truly bizarre labours of love – both of which bear the markings of his inimitable auteristic style, but the personal films, although generally better, never seem to succeed at the Box Office. Mars Attacks was intended to fall into the former category, but inadvertently leapt into the latter with a gleeful thwack. Based on a series of Bubblegum Card from the 1950’s, this is a sick, audacious and irreverent stormer of a film. The Martians decide to conquer the Earth – “Nice Planet – We’ll Take It”- which is what they do. They have no sense of morality, there is no justification for the attack and certainly no apology. This sets the agenda for a relentless assault of sick visual skits as pious humans, particularly those in power, attempt to “embrace” and “welcome” a new culture, and the Martians simply torture or destroy everything in their path.

Although there is no real need for a storyline, attention to the human element is focussed on a small number of characters, typical Burtonesque misfits, scattered across America, who eventually pull through and stop the invasion by the most bizarre means yet devised in such a film. Burton always challenges what is socially acceptable, and characters considered to be and portrayed as “normal” are invariably the bad guys of the piece, indeed in this film their respective demises provide some of the most satisfying comedy sequences. It is the unusual, the unacceptable, the awkward that triumphs, all the heroes are lacking in some way. Actors were simply dying (Jack Nicholson twice!) to get involved with the project, many appearing in cameos

The most important element to this film however, lies in it’s manic pace, sheer nerve and downright silliness. This is reflected in the Martians themselves. They have enormous heads, pathetically puny bodies (with rather fetching red underpants), manic eyes, inane grins and, although computer generated, move as though they have been animated in a stop motion style (a tribute to Ray Harryhausen) which somehow makes them appear less virtual, and their interaction with the human characters more convincing.

They stole the show and in an age where society has become so moral and “touchy feely”, it was absolutely great to see a film which displayed total disregard for 90’s sensibilities in favour of the bizarre, the sick and the manic.