Sunday, 6 November 2011

Narrative: Review on 'Mars Attacks' (1996)


Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Jack Nickolson, Glenn Close, Annete Bening, Sara Jessica Parker

Mars Attacks! is a science fiction comedy created by Tim Burton himself. It is a stupendously imaginative satire of apple-pie America and a homage to cheesy 50s sci-fi flicks. This film is painfully hilarious and is guaranteed to make its audience laugh and look back to the cheesy films of the 1950's, at the time when science fiction films were at their highest point and became a major inspiration for modern sci-fi cinema. Based on a popular science fiction trading card series it also made a an inadvertent spoof of the blockbuster, Independence Day, which was made around the same time. Booker pin pointS that: "Mars Attacks! is one of Tim Burton's campiest films and, as such, it tends to make the films on which it is based seem a bit ridiculous. At the same time it remembers those films almost tenderly, seeming wistfully to wish for a time when it was possible to make simple films in a (mostly) serious way." (Booker.2006:22)
FIG.2: A martian disguised in a human.
Before going into the film itself, it is necessary to talk about the differences between a spoof, a parody and a pastiche. The three terms have provoked confusion amongst the film industry with films that name themselves with either of the three. For a start, a parody is a work that mimics in a ridiculous way the style of another; their humour is based on our familiarity with formula plots and characters. A spoof on the other hand, is an imitation of another style or film but in a more respectful way; even though it is impersonating the genre it is part of the genre itself. Finally, there is the term of a pastiche which is prominent is popular. Pastiche films are a mixture of generic conventions and boundaries. They pay tribute to many genres but don't satire them at all. On the contrary, they make a whole new genre out of a 'mashup' of them. Mars Attacks! could be all three of them but is the closest to a spoof as it does try to be copy of films like The Day The Earth Stood Still it is still part of the sci-fi genre. But why is parody so famous? Muller explains that: "Paradoxically, the very obliquenesses of the term parody seems to boost its communicative relevance and appeal, both for the general public and in academia. "  ( Muller.1997:9)
The special effects in the film are not the best but they were made in this way to emulate the sci-fi films of the 1950's. Many of the film's flying saucers are designed in perfect imitation of those fuzzy photos in old UFO books. Even the Martians look like regular skeletons with oversized brains and huge eyes. They meant to be smart but in reality they behave like young hyperactive children who explore the world around them. Initially, Tim Burton wanted to use stop motion, viewing it as a homage to the work of Ray Harryhausen. He wanted to make them look purposely cheap but due to financial issues he eventually decided to make them in 3D.

FIG.3: The Martians land on Earth.
In conclusion, Mars Attacks! is a very fun film to watch and purposely done in a way to make it look cheep. But even if it was meant to look like a 1950's film it did a really good job and paid tribute to the films which started this amazing genre of science-fiction. It is a fruit of one man's hyperactive imagination.


Booker, Keith (2006). Alternate Americas: science fiction film and American culture. Greenwood Publishing Group Inc.: USA

Beate Müller (1997). Parody: dimensions and perspectivesEditions Rodopi: Amsterdam

List of Illustrations

FIG.1: Film Poster At: (accessed on 4/11/2011)

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