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Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 90. Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1997 )

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[Rescued Notes, Unaltered, from a Decommissioned Contemporary Review (the editor changed his mind and gave it to K!m Newm4n, a lovely chap labouring under the burden of having seen EVERY HORROR and SCI-FI MOVIE EVAH MADE!!)]

If Independence Day was largescale, impressive, smooth, slow and very very straight, Mars Attacks! is its evil punk-rock twin: the stories sometimes matches so closely scene-for-scene that one has to consider industrial espionage. At every point Mars Attacks! opts for a niggling, nastyminded, demonic assault – often as engagingly infantile in spirit as said Martian attack – on every stalwartly dated all-American value Independence Day traded in, from military knowhow, to family, to respect for High Office (if not for high officials). In Burton’s radically disaffected view, the phrase “Iwo Jima” must be so much oversold gibberish – as is the idea that a megabucks SFX movie should deliver to the paying audience the goodies and the gags it’s promised them, narrative-wise.

A riot of eyepopping Burton-esque designer colour, Mars Attacks! often seems to put the cash on the screen purely to mock those who handed it over to the director: the crowds who gather to welcome the Martians in Nevada organise themselves into colourcoded sectors for no purpose except unbiddable auteur whim. Meanwhile, star cameos are cut off at the knees (a couple none too soon, [Jack] Nicholson’s in particular); set pieces are skimped and subplots tossed aside. Illustrating worldwide reaction to the landing, a montage of stock footage – of the Mohammedan faithful at prayer, for example – is as sloppily, contemptuously edited together as in any dud disaster pic you ever saw. Biting in clotted rage at the hand that feeds, Burton demolishes Hollywood – for what? Their platitudinous dismissiveness to the trash he loves? Or the ease with which he won their support? Who does he revile more, the public who flocked Batman, or himself, for being able to make them flock?

If Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was Ed Wood’s Hollywood redemption, Mars Attacks! is surely Wood’s revenge, a story with no more coherence or inner truth to it than Plan 9 From Outer Space – that’s had x-squillion dollars poured into a budget that trashes everything 50s America held holy (Presidents, patriotism, the military, the family), with squint-shots taken at much held holy by others, coming later: liberals and hippies who welcome the Martians.

ILM etc.: the usual whining about films that are all special effects and no humanity.
[This baffled me for a moment also!! But ILM here = Industrial Light and Magic obv ]

Utterly conflicted in his love of trash – is this all a joke at our expense, or is it our salvation – Burton carefully orchestrates gags which are little more than a gleeful squeak of delight at the ludicrous fact that he Tim Burton been allotted all this cash (the colour-coded crowd who gather to welcome the Martians in the desert: their careful patterning, whether computer-generated or through the costuming of real-time extras, serves only one purpose – to demonstrate that Burton has been given the resources to pattern them,

(Cheese = feel)
[best critical slogan ever!!]

Were any human polities this technologically threatening, this inscrutable and this insane, at such a date? No slant-eyed Jap, no commie red or yellow, no Nazi, even, was this gigglingly fiendish purely for the sake of it (their leader would rather be in the line of human fire instigating mayhem and carnage, than safe back in his saucer)

Bulbous-domed, they wear their purple-and-orange grey matter on the outside, after the fashion of the Metalunans (This Island Earth, 1955): but while these latter outworlders were passive, intellectual, friendly and tall, the invaders in Mars Attacks! are none of these, being more of a kind with that genocidal fellow-Martian brainiac, Dan Dare’s little green nemesis The Mekon.

As sexless as the humans in 50s alien-invasion flicks, they appear find the very idea of women a fabulous joke,

Perpetually described in mainstream bios as “alienated”, Burton makes clear where his affections lie: it’s no accident that Lisa Marie – a gorgeously strange cartoon of a woman on and off screen, and his real-life throb of some years standing –

To save America, it became necessary to destroy it: the Washington DC appartment building that the Williams? family live in is now open to the elements, in hommage to [xxx]’s back-to-nature satire Themroc

(the passengers, mostly black, breaking into spontaneous applause)

extruding spidery legs and a ramp like an unfurling metal tongue.

Hiroshima and the torched body: guilt displacement.

Matching polka-dot fur [xxx] chairs

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