The Oral History Of Mars Attacks!
December 14, 2021 6:05 AM   Subscribe

The Oral History Of Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton's Misunderstood Sci-Fi Masterpiece [Inverse] By the mid-1990s, Tim Burton had reached a level of fame few other filmmakers every will -- but he was about to come quickly crashing down to earth.
posted by hippybear (41 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love that movie so much. It’s best watched with Independence Day as it’s the perfect antidote for the rah rah jingoism of that blockbuster. Plus the victory speech is a thing of beauty.
“ I want to say that there's a lot of people in the world...
...that have done a lot more than I have, and...
...they should be here now...
...getting a medal.
And I want to thank my grandma...
...for always being good to me...
...and for helping save the world and everything.
So, I guess, like, now we just have to...
...start over and start rebuilding everything, like our houses.
But I was thinking, maybe instead of houses we could live in tepees.”
posted by misterpatrick at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2021 [22 favorites]


I was in high school when this movie came out. I thought it looked so impossibly stupid that the only reason it could have been made was as a loving homage to everything that was wonderfully stupid and wonderfully terrible about the sci-fi movies from the 1950s that so obviously inspired it. And clearly the best way to enjoy it would be to see it three or four times and jeer quippily from the seats — the Rocky Horror experience for the 1990s.

I was the only person in the theater with this understanding of the film. I didn’t get thrown out, but I came close.

Previously.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:41 AM on December 14, 2021 [6 favorites]


ACK ACK! ACK ACK ACK!
posted by wabbittwax at 6:46 AM on December 14, 2021 [20 favorites]


to this day, my friends and i will occasionally "ack ack ack" at each other.
posted by LegallyBread at 6:55 AM on December 14, 2021 [6 favorites]


Always had a soft spot for this one, just for the throwback disaster-movie tone and the sheer chutzpah of casting this many big stars and gleefully vaporizing them onscreen.

A lot of people point to this one as the beginning of the end for Burton, but looking at his filmography I don't think the wheels really came off until maybe 14 years later with the one-two punch of Alice in Wonderland followed by Dark Shadows, which coincidentally was also when the shine started to come off of Johnny Depp.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2021 [8 favorites]


I think that this might be worth a rewatch just to see how much of it holds up. Probably some of it was only really good for the first time around--finding out what their kryptonite was, for example--but the set-up for that (spoilers, obvs), with the three Martians carefully lining up the absurdly big ray cannon on the little old lady obliviously listening to her tunes--is still funny. And the bit quoted above is something I think about every time someone's tweet goes viral and they follow it up with promoting their pet cause or personal side-hustle. Plus, of course, "ack ack ack" which my then-wife and I used to say to each other at random for a laugh.

As for when Burton started to slide, I'd say that it was his Planet of the Apes remake, which seemed to completely miss the goofy charm of the original.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:05 AM on December 14, 2021 [6 favorites]


I thought it looked so impossibly stupid that the only reason it could have been made was as a loving homage to everything that was wonderfully stupid and wonderfully terrible about the sci-fi movies from the 1950s that so obviously inspired it.

It was wonderfully stupid. I loved it.
posted by jb at 7:22 AM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]




As for when Burton started to slide

Sleepy Hollow for me. His first movie that really brought home that his biggest strength is crazy production design, and when he steps back from that there's not much there.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:53 AM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]


And clearly the best way to enjoy it would be to see it three or four times and

it certainly improves on repeated viewing. The first time I saw it, I recall being largely unimpressed by its haphazard to the point of incoherent tone. Except, something started happening as it went along, as I kept getting hit with its reckless shifts and turns, I started to imagine it as something a mildly sociopathic eleven year old might produce if his parents were fabulously rich and he'd spent many hours of his life gorging on paranoid sci-fi movies from the 1950s. Let's just say the laughs started to rise.

Second viewing confirmed this impression. I was hurting (in a good way) pretty much all the way through.
posted by philip-random at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2021 [4 favorites]


For a really cool double feature, pair Mars Attacks with The Dark Crystal.
posted by Beholder at 8:27 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


This is a goofily fabulous film, I rewatched recently. Annette Bening throws herself into the New Age Bimbo, and I appreciate more Jack Nicholson twin roles-- he seemed to be having fun instead of being An Oscar Winner. I'd pair this with watching Ed Wood, for a full dose.
And because this film was made, I got to see Tom Jones sing live; his voice was amazing, rich, full, deeper than on recordings. He couldn't really move as he used to, but he would gesture at the crotchal area and grin, making fun of it all. And someone threw panties, as is only right and proper.
posted by winesong at 9:25 AM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]


I saw Mars Attacks in a theater while really stoned and it scared me. It felt too real.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:05 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Outstanding!
posted by No Robots at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


As an erstwhile southerner, my favorite bit was the woman furiously loading a shotgun while she says "They ain't gittin' the tee-vee!" Because it's good to have priorities.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:22 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


So many good gags!

Like the head swap.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:34 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


studio execs at Warner Bros. killed the director’s planned Nicolas Cage Superman movie, in part because they were so frustrated with Burton.

It's nice to know there's a silver lining.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2021 [4 favorites]


I saw this in the theatres with friends, oh the good old days when a matinee was $4.25 and we could see a movie after school, and we all enjoyed it. It was silly and over the top but we weren't expecting anything else and that cast, wow, I can't imagine they were all paid their going rate, maybe they were just enticed with a promise of a fun project with not too much work.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2021


to this day, my friends and i will occasionally "ack ack ack" at each other.

Still quotable. And really, such a plot. Genius resolution.
posted by ovvl at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Mars Attacks! came out when I was at university, and he campy silliness of it was exactly right for a largely student audience. I’ve never been in a cinema where everyone was laughing as much. I’ve never laughed as much at any film since.

Seeing it again on tv more recently, it couldn’t possibly live up to that experience, but quite apart from the sheer fun of it, it’s still so much more interesting and distinctive than something like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 12:34 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Did Burton's career slide because his brand of ooky-kooky-spooky goth-twee wore thin, or was he the structural element holding that entire tent up?
posted by acb at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


My wife had missed seeing this back in the day so we watched it a few weeks back (after Beetlejuice the week before) I gave her almost no introduction or what to expect other than "What it says in the title, Mars attacks". She was not disappointed. So many cameos!
posted by djseafood at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2021


My mom was almost in this! She was going for a lunchtime walk in DC and came across a film crew so stopped to watch. They were having people run down the Mall, away from the Washington Monument. She had an important meeting that afternoon, so declined but her walking buddy participated.

The first time, this group of elderly out-of-towners and political wonks (who else do you find in DC in the middle of the day on like a Tuesday) did a pretty good jog, but I guess some of them were too slow or the camera didn't pick it up right or something, because they had to do it again. And again. And again. And each time, the director (Tim Burton??) was getting madder and madder because people were getting tired, running slower, would have gotten hit or whatever. There may have been hat-stomping involved.

In the final cut, they were all replaced with a much more robust troop of Boy Scouts. Let me tell you, my mom's friend was PISSED.
posted by basalganglia at 2:25 PM on December 14, 2021 [6 favorites]


I remember coming out of the theater and wondering whether I had seen the same movie as my friends. They *hated* it, thought it was a terrible movie, can't believe we wasted our money on this type of reaction. I came out thinking this was by far my favorite movie in a long time.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2021 [4 favorites]


As a teen, I was a big Tim Burton & Danny Elfman fan. I remember this as being the first time I didn't go crazy for one of his movies. I didn't hate it; I understood what it was trying to do -- it just wasn't for me. (It was also the first time I realized Burton was going to cast his girlfriend in everything just because. Again, I liked her all right, but still.)

It seems to me to mark his turning point towards making movies that are more entirely theatrical. That is to say, the characters don't interact like human beings do. Not that, say, Beetlejuice wasn't theatrical, but it was grounded in some kind of outside reality to start with.

I don't think the wheels really came off until maybe 14 years later with the one-two punch of Alice in Wonderland followed by Dark Shadows

I still cannot get over sitting in a dark theater giving two hours of my life to Alice in Wonderland. There was a meme going around not too long ago that was just Johnny Depp's awful dance and I got mad all over again.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]


I saw this in the theater and didn't get it. Then I watched it at home when I was high and laughed my ass off.
posted by zzazazz at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


IIRC I saw it in a preview screening with The Frighteners. The audience was primarily children twelve and under. They didn't handle either film particularly well.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:24 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Yeah, seeing it as a kid I thought it was terrifying. I knew it was supposed to be funny but most of the jokes went over my head. Last year I rewatched it, and even watching it alone on my computer I was cracking up. Jack Nicholson's dual role as a sleazy Vegas real estate guy has got to be one of the most hilarious minor characters in a movie!
posted by Green Winnebago at 3:37 PM on December 14, 2021


Iʻm long past remembering the hundredth time I responded to various actions of W, and Trump, and McConnell, and pretty much the whole Republican party, with "Mars Attacks!!"

Holds up today. It was the sheer gleefulness of the respective monsters.
posted by Droll Lord at 3:55 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


I remember laughing a bit too much in the cinema at the little thingy talking in its squeaky voice after sucking up the remnants of the nuke. I thought I was so damn clever getting that joke!
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2021


I loved the movie, but I feel like the Oral History here isn't quite as informative as I hoped.

My favorite gag was the Martians with the translator running after people while saying "Don't run, we are your friends!"

Sleepy Hollow for me. His first movie that really brought home that his biggest strength is crazy production design, and when he steps back from that there's not much there.

That's an interesting way of putting it. I'm not going to fact-check it, but it seems like this is the one of the last times Burton got to direct a story of his own creation, rather than directing some exist IP thing, right? Which would mean that what he's primarily bringing to the table for later movies is the production design, but most of those movies stink.
posted by LionIndex at 4:30 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


it seems like this is the one of the last times Burton got to direct a story of his own creation

I don't think so -- he's got a story credit on Ed Scissorhands (definitely his character) and Nightmare before Christmas. Pee Wee, Beetlejuice, Batman, even Ed Wood are all projects that were brought to him to produce and/or direct.
posted by credulous at 5:09 PM on December 14, 2021


Right, but those were all before Mars Attacks, is what I'm saying.
posted by LionIndex at 5:13 PM on December 14, 2021


No, my mistake, I see what you're saying.
posted by LionIndex at 5:25 PM on December 14, 2021


I’ve never been in a cinema where everyone was laughing as much. I’ve never laughed as much at any film since.

This may be true for me as well. It makes one want to yodel.
posted by y2karl at 6:09 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Oh man - this movie. The good parts are so good! The bad parts are so very bad!

I loved so much about this movie, and I hated so much else about this movie, that after I watched it in the theaters (I hated it! Also I kind of loved it!) and then rewatched it a few years later on video sometime (I loved it! But also I really still hated it!), I intentionally haven't watched it since. Every time I see a reference to it anywhere, I have this fond feeling, like you get when you think of something you loved in your childhood. But I know deep down that if I watch it again, I'll probably hate it again. So I'm reading this thread but probably not sure if I'm ready to click any of the links - maybe I'll just sit here and think about those adorable evil ACK-ACK-ACKing heads and remember how much I loved it, and avoid looking at anything that will remind me of all the stuff I really didn't.

ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK
posted by Mchelly at 6:13 PM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Whatever happened between the genius anarchy of "Mars Attacks!" and the sheer bland pointlessness of "Sleepy Hollow" is one of the great mysteries of film: how can an artist lose it this suddenly and nearly permanently? (I will accept those who will defend "Big Fish" and "Corpse Bride" but everything else has been unwatchable.)
posted by HunterFelt at 2:04 AM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


There are the things you do because you want to do them, and then there are the things you do because you want to be the kind of person who does them. My impression is that unconditionally liking Tim Burton's oeuvre was an instance of the latter, as a badge of a sort of whimsical-gothic identity.

If this is the case, then while that may have propped up Burton's career for ages, though also allowed the rot to set in by insulating him from other pressures. In the end, Burton may have been displaced by Wes Anderson, who kept the whimsy whilst swapping Hot Topic for Urban Outfitters.
posted by acb at 2:42 AM on December 15, 2021


I think everyone to some degree both loves and hates this movie and for me it's 100% love and 0% hate.
posted by mazola at 10:35 AM on December 15, 2021


I have always hated this movie. Mean, cruel, and yes I get the joke. But I'm okay with it existing in the world, I guess.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2021


I will accept those who will defend "Big Fish" and "Corpse Bride" but everything else has been unwatchable.

I'd add Big Eyes to the "defensible late-era Tim Burton" list, myself.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:27 PM on December 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


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