Why Mars Attacks! is underrated

Mars Attacks! has always been a favorite film for me and I never knew why it didn't get the props it deserved. Tom Reimann at Collider offers some propers.

Tim Burton used to be cool. Maybe he still is, I don't know, I don't have that data. But before he committed himself to decades of colorfully lifeless reboots and Disney films (and colorfully lifeless reboots of Disney films), he used to make some pretty wild shit. Seriously, the early filmography of Tim Burton stands against that of any director in history – it's tough to beat a lineup like Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Ed Wood. (Yes, I know Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, but there's no universe in which you don't include that movie in Burton's filmography.) And he capped off this incredible run with the joyously corrosive Mars Attacks!, a tribute to atomic-era science fiction movies featuring a delicious mean streak of wanton destruction. It's the closest Burton ever got to being punk rock, which is appropriate, considering the film is based on a series of trading cards explicitly designed to upset your parents.

Mars Attacks! is essentially a gigantic middle finger to the entire concept of blockbuster movies, with the aliens blasting virtually every recognizable star into flesh dust until they are unceremoniously defeated by a Slim Whitman song after precisely zero thrilling action sequences. Part of the reason behind the lack of any real action or a traditionally heroic climax is because the film had a (relatively) small budget, but the vast majority of it is by design – Mars Attacks! continuously punishes the audience for expecting anything but the worst, most embarrassing thing to happen to its human characters at any given moment. It's a series of catastrophic failures culminating in an accidental victory for Planet Earth. The movie is black comic chaos from start to finish, and unfortunately, nobody in 1996 wanted to see that shit. It was considered a financial and critical failure, and Burton has taken very few chances from that point on. (He's made several good films since then, don't get me wrong, but they've all been extremely "safe" for his brand and fanbase.) But Mars Attacks! deserves to be celebrated, not just for casting Tom Jones as one of the saviors of humanity, but for being a sharp, venomous satire of blockbuster filmmaking and American jingoism in a decade when very few people were interested in hearing that kind of criticism.

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Image: Screengrab