Cons:Some of the CG looks terrible, the tone is all over the place
The Bottom Line: Too stupid to pull off what it wants to do
Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
Mars Attacks is an inherantly flawed but still very entertaining movie. It's kind of one of those movies where you know it's bad but are still heavily entertained by it. One of the problems I had with the film as a kid and still do is with the tone. The aliens are generally very evil. I had one of the Mars Attacks novels about the same time the movie came out and I vastly preferred the dark graphic storyline of the novel over the campy tone of the film. The plot is basically the title. Well we know there's no living life on Mars but I guess they hide inside the planet or I don't know if it's explained. The movie itself is just a rogue's gallery of celebrities you're supposed to spot out and a bunch of ridiculous special effects. The aliens are mean spirited and the tone of the film is very mean spirited. I don't mind that so much now but as a kid it left a bad taste in my mouth. Granted, I was ten at the time and the movie is rated PG-13, so to be fair I probably was too young to be watching it, but I'd seen a lot of darker R-rated movies like Silence of the Lambs and not gotten this level of irritation out of it. I would say around age 14 was where I got completely desensitized to this stuff, and the movie is really not very violent, just evil. The aliens are deceitful, the humans offer up peace and the aliens massacre every single one of them. Pretty much every of these famous actors gets killed. You have Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan, well I won't list them all but the list is long. It seems the A-list actors have minute roles and the movie really only delves into the storyline of the one character that matters, some guy in rural anywhere who discovers the aliens hate loud noises.
The aliens themselves are hideous and disturbing, but comedic. They have visible brains in glass jars, bulbous eyes and basically look like old women. Their physiology is only touched upon but it would've been intriguing to find out more about Mars itself. The half of the movie that involves the kid figuring out how to kill the aliens is interesting, but not fascinating. The half that involves the president trying to physically stop the aliens is uneven in tone and at times has questionable CGI. I can't even describe some of these scenes. The movie doesn't do comedy. Nothing is funny in it. Instead, it's supposed to celebrate the camp of the original...trading card series? Yes, this, like the Garbage Pail Kids, is a film based off of a 1962 set of TRADING CARDS. I always figured it was a comic or older film, but no, they're trading cards. This might explain why the film gets the visuals right but falters in most other areas.
The aliens look exactly like the trading card set depicted them, and in the cards they were in fact cruel based on what I researched about them. The cards were also particularly violent, which would also explain the film's graphic but funny deaths. I mean, in the movie people get vaporized to skeletons, shrunken and murdered, the list of cruel deaths just goes on and on. In 1962, this must have been a rare level of violence to be commercially distributed, no matter how stylized. The fact that Earth reigns over the aliens in the end is also carried through the film, and is also evident in the novels that I have read. Of all the Mars Attacks merchandise, I prefer the novels that were released, because they were a lot more serious and dark. The movie attempts a campy tone, and the cards are just visual representations with no real storyline. A few of the cards like Unspeakable Experiments (Featuring an alien dissecting a human's heart while he watches in horror) are still gristly and a bit disturbing. In 1962, these must have blown minds.
The film itself captures this darkness well, in particular when characters who seem like they'd never die get killed off in seconds. Simultaneously, there are alien movies like Signs and Independance Day that, despite camp, can actually pull off the serious tone to a degree. I would once like to see a big budget alien film attempt an attack on Earth with some real gravity. Mars Attacks is like the opposite. If you are interested in the franchise, I recommend the book Martian Deathtrap because it has a much more inspired and disturbing storyline involving a showdown between aliens and humans in a labyrinthian mansion. This movie's tone is all over the place and that makes what could have been a great concept merely average.
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