Man, there were a lot of movies that came out in 1996 that had me going to the movie theaters. I’m glad it happened back then, when ticket prices were cheaper, because if it happened now, I would probably be out several hundred dollars easily. Now today’s movie is one of my favorites to come out that year, partially because of the cast and partially because of the origin. I mean, a movie based on a trading card series didn’t exactly work out the last time someone tries it, just ask the guys that made The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Then again, with Tim Burton directing and the cast assembled for this movie, there was little chance of Mars Attacks not becoming a major hit.
The plot: In a small Kentucky town, two farmers comment about smelling BBQ when they are surprised to see a herd of cattle on fire running down the road, then a flying saucer take off into the sky. The saucer heads towards Mars but explodes before reaching the planet, causing a huge fleet of saucers to launch from Mars and head towards Earth. President James Dale has a meeting with Press Secretary Jerry Ross, Professor Donald Kessler, and Generals Casey and Decker on how to handle the situation. General Decker recommends keeping the news quiet and going to Defcon 4 but everyone else feels the Martians might be coming in peace and they should act accordingly. The President makes a live address to the nation to tell the people about the Martians. Later, Donald goes onto a daily talk show hosted by Nathalie Lake but the show is interrupted by a signal from the Martians, where the Martian Ambassador appears and begins speaking to the people of Earth. The President meets with his advisors and a scientist that created a universal translator and they learn that the Martians are landing a ship in Nevada and General Casey is tasked with leading the welcoming reception. In the Nevada desert, a crowd of people and reporters have gathered to see the Martians arrive. Using the universal translator, they translate the Ambassador’s speech as a declaration of speech, and one of the assembled crowd releases a dove. When the Martian sees the dove flying towards them, the shoot the bird, then begin killing the assembled people, capturing Nathalie and her dog during the confrontation. General Decker believes that they should attack the Martians now but Donald and Jerry believe that it was a cultural misunderstanding and convince the President to send a message to the Martians to seek another chance at peace. The Martians receive the message and laugh, as it is shown that they have switched Nathalie’s and her dog’s heads, with Nathalie’s head now attached to her dog’s body and vice versa. The Martians send a reply and the Ambassador agrees to meet with Congress. However, when he arrives, the Ambassador and his bodyguards kill all of the congressmen and knocking Donald unconscious and taking him aboard their ship. When Donald comes to, he discovers his body has been dissected while the Martians keep his head alive, as well as seeing Nathalie and the two admit that they were flirting with each other on the show. That night, a Martian disguised as a human girl is picked up by Jerry, who thinks she is a prostitute, and taken inside the White House. Inside, Jerry tries to seduce the girl but she ends up killing him, then heads towards the President’s bedroom to kill him but the Secret Service are able to shoot the Martian when it is distracted by killing bird. When the assassin is killed, the Martian leader sends a full invasion to Earth and they begin attacking everywhere. When the Martians attack the White House, the Secret Service rush to escort the President and his family to safety but their daughter Taffy gets separated from them and the First Lady, Marsha, is killed when a Martian blast causes the Nancy Reagan chandelier to fall on her. As President Dale mourns his wife, the Martians advance on the Secret Service but two boys, Cedric and Neville, grab the weapons off a dead Martian and begin fighting back, helping the President get to safety before they head home. In Las Vegas, Art Land, owner of a new hotel, is giving a sales pitch when his hotel is destroyed by the Martians. Art’s wife Barbara goes to see Byron, a former Boxer who works at a casino, and asks if he knows how to fly a plane as she has one ready to go. They are approached by Tom Jones, who says a Martian is right behind him and Byron proceeds to knock the Martian unconscious and take it’s gun, then leaves with Barbara, Tom, as well as a coworker Cindy and a gambler. In Kansas, Richie, the brother of a soldier who was killed by the Martians in Nevada, heads home and finds his parents preparing to defend their trailer but when the Martians start attacking, he leaves the trailer to go get his grandma from her nursing home, and ends up being followed by a giant Martian robot after it destroys his trailer. At the nursing home, the Martians are killing the residents but when Richie gets to his grandmother’s room, he sees some Martians about to kill her but when she unplugs her headphones, the music she is listening too causes the Martian’s heads to explode. In Washington, the President gives the ok to fire a nuclear missile at the MArtian ships, but the Martians use a device to suck up the radiation, which the Martians inhale, acting like helium to the Martians. The Martians then manage to break into the war room, killing General Decker and everyone else inside and President Dale tries to reason with the Martian ruler and the Martian appears to want peace and offers to shake the President’s hand, but the hand is a fake hand and it ends up impaling the President and a Martian flag emerges from his body. In Vegas, Byron leads the others to the private airfield but the gambler gets separated and is killed by one of the Martians. When they reach the hangar, they see that the Martians are blocking the runway so Byron decides to serve as a distraction to allow the others to escape. Challenging the Martian ambassador to a fist fight, Byron proceeds to smash the Ambassador’s helmet before the other Martians surround him and proceed to beat him down, while the others fly off, looking back to see him left lying on the runway. Meanwhile, Richie and his grandmother head to the nearby radio station and play her record on the air, as other people and the military learn what the music does and use it to kill the Martians. In the main saucer, the aliens are all killed and Donald and Nathalie’s heads both come loose and they end up kissing before the ship crashes into the sea. As the Earth recovers, Richie and his grandmother are honored by Taffy in a ceremony at the steps of the destroyed Capital Building, while Byron is shown to have survived and arrives at the apartment where his wife and sons live. Meanwhile, Barbara, Tom Jones, and Cindy emerge from some caves in Tahoe and are approached by various animals while they look at the wreckage of a saucer in the nearby lake.
Mars Attacks received mixed reactions from the critics, earning a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus among the critics was that “Tim Burton’s alien invasion spoof faithfully recreates the wooden characters and schlocky story of cheesy ’50s sci-fi and Ed Wood movies — perhaps a little too faithfully for audiences.” Many people compared the movie to Independence Day, as it was also released in 1996 but Tim Burton says that while there were some similarities, it was just a coincidence as it is a basic genre. The movie was considered a commercial bomb in the US as it only made over $37 million domestically but did better overseas, as the total worldwide gross was over $101 million.
There are a lot of things to love about this movie. The acting was great, with Jack Nicholson doing great in his dual roles of President James Dale and Art Land. Annette Bening (Barbara), Pierce Brosnan (Donald), Jim Brown (Byron), and Martin Short (Jerry) were also really good in their roles. The story was pretty basic and did a good job of spoofing the classic alien invasion movies of the 50’s but did add a very humorous twist to the alien invasion, such as one of the Martians carrying the translator with it saying “Don’t run. We are your friends.”, as they Martians are attacking people in Vegas. I also liked how they borrowed an idea from Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, with the idea of a terrible song being used to defeat the Martians. The special effects were pretty good and very colorful, which helped make the movie look more like the trading cards and comic books that the movie was based from. A very funny movie that is always a pleasure to watch.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5