Mars Attacks!

Directed by Tim Burton ( 1996 ).


Mars Attacks!


800 centuries, in the canyons of Mars, has yielded a race of monster brains. They set off, to invade Earth, in a massive fleet of flying saucers. Tho you cant see the strings, these carefully re-create the pendulous models from 1950s' SF B-movies.

Tim Burton got his plot from 1950s' bubble gum cards. As a child, I collected tea cards. Only one card from Bubbles Inc. found its way into my possession. I'm missing the other 54 cards, in the series. And I dont have any swops!

Card 11 is Destroy The City:

The flying saucers descended, landing on the outskirts of the city. Carrying powerful atomic weapons, the invaders stalked through the streets. Citizens trying to hide were wiped out with one blast from the alien heat guns.

The card pictures the attacking brain-heads, in spacemen's swim-suits. In front of them is a pile of burning skeletons, like the concentration camps. This child's souvenir is no post-Cold-War spoof. This is the era of total terror and total insanity. The madness has not quite got into the mother's milk ( or cows milk ) as suicidal pollution threatens. But it is re-cycled with the bubble gum as entertainment.

There is no doubt, tho, that the movie, as a spoof, has humor to satisfy the most agressive of small boys in us. Visualised is the instant slicing sweep of conflagration, from the heat rays, as in H G Wells' The War of the Worlds.

The enlarged brain is also featured, as the Grand Lunar, in Wells' First Men In The Moon.
In the nineteen fifties, something like him becomes the chief adversary of Dan Dare, the Eagle comic's 'pilot of the future'.

Braininess is virtually the first and last idea of Huxley's student. Wells' article, Man of the Year Million ( 1887 ) was perhaps his first sweet taste of success.
In The War of the Worlds, Wells mocks himself as the forgotten author of that article, which hazarded the likely evolution of the Martians.

Close on the end of his life, in The Conquest of Time ( 1942 ) Wells admits he played evolution's helping hand-maid:

Long years ago I had a conversation with Sir Michael Foster about the possibility of delaying the closing-up of the sutures of the human skull and so permitting the grey matter of the brain a longer period of expansion, with a consequent prolongation of mental development.
'You can write about this sort of thing,' he said, 'because you need not seem to believe in it, but I dare not say a word about it if I am to remain Member of Parliament for the University of London.' And so our learned mandarins do their best to emulate the brontosaurus and stick themselves ( and us ) in the mud until the stars in their courses turn against ( us and ) them.

Despite the last sentence's fanatical comment, this is 'a modest proposal' compared to the potential of genetic engineering, allowed to run riot for private profit.
In the movie's space-ships, the depraved aliens amuse themselves with experiments, that appear to have been on human minds, since the minotaur and the griffin.

It's time to put my cards on the table. The martial Martians are, of course, our brain-evolved selves. They may have better brains but are they better people? Goodness itself must still do what it can to over-come evil, however fiendishly clever.

At the movie's end, in the crashing saucer, rolling like Salome's platter, the disembodied heads, of two human samples, kiss. We may take this as biblical symbolism that you dont have to be all head and no heart.


The movie is more than a horrific nostalgia, a skit on science without conscience or a laugh at politics as usual. That would make it worth watching but hardly worth reviewing.

A physicist said that the extraordinary arguments, by colleagues against extra-terrestial life, reminded him of twelve year olds, who dont believe in sex. Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye recalls that state of mind in pre-pubescent girls.
Females are drastically taken over by the burgeoning of an alien body.
In Mars Attacks, a Martian assassin is disguised as a woman. Women have been expected to keep quiet, which only adds to their mystery. The alien keeps quiet, because speaking would blow its cover.

The body's cones and spheres are a walking geometry lesson, that cannot move 'naturally' because of all their gravitational distortions on its orbit. And that's just woman, not an alien in disguise. This scene really celebrates the eerie fascination of woman.
Under the pull of these forces, man, too, changes from the orbit of his native self to an alien one.

When the alien does throw off the female disguise completely, it is almost a statement that beauty is only skin deep. As if to dispel anything sacred about the marital relationship, the would-be assassin, of the night, electrically blasts the bed-head between the recumbent president and his first lady.

This is, perhaps, one of those rare movies that will bear coming back to. There are plenty of other 'subtle' touches. For instance, the mechanical giant, operated with levers, by a sort of glorified crane driver, in its domed head. From there, a malevolent martian, with disjointed thumping strides, runs down a mere van, like the giant giving Jack nightmares, in the fairy tale.

Mars Attacks departs from the convention, I grew-up with, in cinemas, that the beautiful people come thru, to live happily ever after. Of this star-studded cast, expect them to be skeletised. The president's last speech of reconciliation is as masterful as that character always fancied himself to be. The enemy ambassador is assailed by intolerable remorse.

It is not the purpose of this review to single out the actors. I thought it was clever casting to make Don Johnson look like his younger self, in an early film, before he became famous.
But the nineteen fifties and sixties are quite different atmospheres.
The SF B-movie, this film takes-off, belongs to the fifties. To bring this down on the head of Tom Jones, singing in Las Vegas, or wherever, brings in the sixties. Tom Jones put the swing in the swinging sixties. To mix up these and other decades, in the production, may lose it distinction.


Richard Lung



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