Much as I enjoy Mars Attacks!, I have to concede that hyperactive parodies of cheap 1950s science fiction films aren’t for everyone. Indeed, a quick look at Rotten Tomatoes reveals some very divided opinion with many critics complaining about plot, characterisation, pacing and more. But to me, many of these criticisms miss the point somewhat.
Based on a series of Trading Cards, Mars Attacks! is an anarchic tribute to the B-Movies and exploitation films of the 1950s, and one that manages to both pastiche and parody these films without losing sight of what makes them fun in the first place.
The film has a substantial cast and quite a diversity of characters, most of which are caricatures and quite broadly played. Jack Nicholson puts in a great performance as the US president, as does Glen Close as the status obsessed first lady. Pierce Bronson provides a wonderfully stereotyped English Scientist who convinces the president of the Martians’ peaceful intentions.
The list goes on, with solid performances throughout and a cast of major names, all of whom fully understand just how silly this film is, and just how disposable their characters are.
But it’s the martians that are the real stars of this film. Although hyper-intelligent and unbelievably advanced, the little green men have employed their vast array of destructive technology to lark around like a bunch of malicious schoolkids. They are more than happy to halt the carnage for an, often puerile, joke and display a malicious sense of humour that really is disturbingly funny.
And the weapon that finally defeats them is comedy gold.
Mars Attacks! is quite a chaotic film in which style takes precedence over substance and every scene is looking towards the next joke. And, once the film gets started, the jokes come thick and fast with plenty of highlights and memorable one-liners. It’s not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a film that knows its audience, consistently delivers and is a huge amount of fun.
It’s also the only film, as far as I’m aware, in which Tom Jones helps save the world.