Today I watched Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996)
It would seem appropriate that Tim Burton would follow his hagiography of Ed Wood with a spoof of classic alien invasion B-movies, but after watching the final product, nothing feels particularly appropriate about this movie. The story begins when a large fleet of flying saucers from Mars enter Earth’s orbit and begin communicating in an unknown language. Soon the American government has set up a meeting with the aliens out in the Nevada desert, but after some hippy releases a dove, the aliens freak out and start disintegrating people. From there a typically crowded and star studded cast of more characters than I care to think about have to band together and fight the Martians to save the Earth, or at least themselves.
That cast is the first big problem with this film as most of them act in an ironically disingenuous way. Almost everyone is either overacting to the nines or, in the case of Jack Nicholson, just phoning it in and doing what he always does. My problem here is that as a fan of classic genre films, especially old special effects and sci-fi, I feel like this movie is laughing at me and has a very negative view of films I love. The film is just awash in an irony that I don’t agree with, I don’t think these old genre movies were as crap as this film presents them as being and the big thing that draws me to those films is totally absent here.
The creators of many of those classic science fiction pieces really believed in themselves and in their product, they were genuine. The acting was not over the top or bad because the performers just wanted to mug for the camera, it was that way because they didn’t know better nor could they afford better. Yet this film can afford everything it seems, and the film makers believe in none of it. For me a good send up or spoof has to first demonstrate an understanding of it’s source material and I don’t find that here, instead of 50’s camp, it’s pure 90’s camp without a shred of sincerity. 2/5