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I’ve always been a huge fan of the works of director Tim Burton. When Burton decided to attach himself to the film version MARS ATTACKS!, that subversive set of trading cards, I knew that movie fans were in for a real treat. The MARS ATTACKS! trading cards graphically depicted a Martian invasion of Earth with tons of gory detail. MARS ATTACKS! ($25) the film, captures the flavor of the trading cards, but plays as an affectionate parody of fifties science fiction films. MARS ATTACKS! does retain much of the gratuitous violence of the trading cards, yet Burton’s presentation is tongue in cheek, making the film more of a black comedy than a science fiction nightmare.

Tim Burton is a brilliant visualist and MARS ATTACKS! perfectly captures the style of the fifties sci-fi genre. Burton has even gone so far as to make MARS ATTACKS! his first anamorphic wide screen film, reminding us that the fifties was the heyday of CinemaScope. MARS ATTACKS! is a wondrous piece of eye candy, and probably Burton’s greatest visual achievement. The production design and special effects are outstanding. Even the Martian space ships are a delightful nod to Ray Harryhausen’s work in EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS. The film’s only shortcoming is the cardboard stock character portrayed by the film’s all star cast. Every human character is a throwaway, which isn’t too terrible, since the Martians obliterate most of them anyway. 

The Martians themselves are some of the most wonderful computer generated characters to ever grace the silver screen. These aliens are rather nasty looking creatures- skull faced, big brained and bug eyed- the perfect evil aliens. Yet the Martians have a goofiness about them that makes them kind of endearing, even when they are blowing up everything in sight. The fact that the Martians most resemble uncontrollable, delinquent six year old boys with ray guns is the thing that gives them their charm. They are the kind of bad boys who get their jollies by pulling the wings off of bugs. Personally, I couldn’t help but laugh when the Martians started disintegrating Hollywood’s best and brightest. The all star cast of MARS ATTACKS! features Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan (looking quite like Fred MacMurray’s ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR), Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, Tom Jones, Lisa Marie, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Rod Steiger, Sylvia Sidney, Lucas Haas, Natalie Portman, Joe Don Baker and Christina Applegate.

The DVD release of MARS ATTACKS! features both16:9 enhanced wide screen and pan and scan versions of the film. This dual sided release the two versions of the film on opposing sides of the disc. Since MARS ATTACKS! was filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, I found the pan and scan version rather pointless. Burton fills the frame with many visual goodies, and the pan and scan process eliminates most of his intentions. For those who remain interested in the pan and scan version, the transfer has good color and is relatively sharp, without the film grain problems associated with blowing up an anamorphic film to fill the dimensions of a television screen. There were some noticeable artifacts on the pan and scan version, yet they were virtually absent from the Letterboxed version of MARS ATTACKS!. The Letterboxed transfer is fantastic, making this edition of MARS ATTACKS! the perfect demo disc to show off the benefits of Letterboxing and the DVD format. The transfer restores the film’s proper theatrical framing, allowing one to enjoy the beauty of MARS ATTACKS! cinematography, production design and computer generated special effects. The image is razor sharp, and the colors are richly saturated. The look reminds one of the candy colored glory of the lost Technicolor process, which made so many fifties films so wonderful. 

In keeping with the rest of the film, the Dolby Digital (AC-3) soundtrack has a big fifties style stereo mix, with a lot of left and right channel separation. With this type of mix, only the music is relegated to the rear channels. Other soundtrack options include a matrixed Dolby Surround mix, as well as French and Spanish language tracks. As a special treat, Danny Elfman’s wonderful score has been isolated for music only playback. Elfman’s music captures the flavor of Bernard Herrmann’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL score, while creating something new, original and completely marvelous. 

The interactive menus include musical accompaniment (a first), production notes, a cast listing with biographies and two theatrical trailers. The presentation of the interactive menus is almost as much fun as the film itself. The scene selector is a hoot. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

MARS ATTACKS! is a terrific film and one of the best produced DVDs that I have seen. Absolutely recommended!


Mars Attacks! (1996)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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