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Mecha Velma said on June 29th, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Bullshit.

Mars Attacks was Unlikeable Assholes vs Unlikeable Useless People. There wasn’t a single redeemable character in the film. And while some scenes may have been enjoyable when taken out of context from one another, none of it made any sense and not in a cultured, makes-you-think way either.

This isn’t some meta-in-joke that we aren’t “supposed” to get. There are legitimate art films that use obscure references and visual metaphors that do so 1000x better than this piece of shit because they keep to a single message. Mars Attacks is just a piss poor movie.

And the gag weapon they used to destroy the aliens at the end was done with better comedic effect in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

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I love, love, love ‘Mars Attacks’. I don’t recall if I first saw it in theaters or on VHS, but I do remember thinking afterward that it was dark, hilarious, zany, and altogether glorious for exactly the reasons you list above. I’ll still pull out the occasional, “ACK! ACK ACK!” Martian bark when aliens pop up in discussion.

I’ll also note that the hollow, ringing thump sound that comes when Jim Brown’s character punches the Martians in their helmets is something I’ve always found much funnier than it was probably intended to be. It’s like the head-on-windshield Foley from ‘Inception’ (you know the one I’m talking about).

Also, when the grandma points and laughs at the TV. “They blew up Congress! HA HA HA!”

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I think the split in the reviews stems from ‘Mars Attacks’ being a straight-up gag-fest. If you like the gags, you’ll love the movie. If you don’t like the gags, you will despise the movie and despise Tim Burton for making you sit through an hour of gags you don’t like.

It’s like the difference between watching an SNL sketch that you love vs an SNL sketch that your friend says “watch this it’s awesome” and you don’t find it funny; you’ll start to hate it after 30 seconds, and if you sit through the whole thing just to be a good friend, you will despise it by the end.

For the record, I loved the gags. Although it’s been a while since I watched it. I had questionable taste in film back in middle school.

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I find myself sitting back to admire the perfect contrast of those first two posts.

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I always thought Mars Attacks was a terrible movie that is composed of brilliant scenes. The whole of the thing is pretty much awful, but the individual moments are hypnotic in that strange goofball way that Burton does when he’s at his best.

The idea of it as blockbuster parody is actually quite clever and probably somewhat similar to what Burton had in mind. Given the stories that circulate surrounding the making of the movie, well, it’s a pretty easy theory to believe.

Also, agreeing with Brendon that the first two posts sum up the conflict people have when dealing with this movie perfectly. Well done.

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John 2.0 said on June 29th, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I’m with Velma. This movie is awful and misconceived from the word go.

I can respect the effort of trying to find something redeemable in an otherwise worthless piece of dreck (witness Sims Herculean attempt to rehabilitate Batman and Robin), but Mars Attacks isn’t worth the effort.

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lance lunchmeat said on June 30th, 2012 at 12:11 am

I had no idea that Mars Attacks wasn’t universally loved. What movie did you guys watch? Was it Independence Day? They were very similar, it’s a common mistake.

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Snap Wilson said on June 30th, 2012 at 12:12 am

I think I’ve only hated one movie (CRASH… Haggis, not Cronenberg) as much as Velma apparently hates MARS ATTACKS. I think I could only hate MARS ATTACKS that much if my family was actually killed by Martians.

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Travesty said on June 30th, 2012 at 2:01 am

I think I disagree with your detective work there, Lou.

I mean John.

I honestly think that saying that he was satirizing blockbuster movies is giving Burton too much credit here, something that people seem prone to do. It seems impenetrable and pointless because it IS impenetrable and pointless. He’s doing satire only in the broadest sense of the word. I think I’m going to start a fistfight as soon as I say this but really it reminds me of nothing so much as ‘Grindhouse’ or ‘Inglorious Basterds:’ directors being given a large pile of money and then spending it all on cinematic self-gratification, with the result being the theatrical equivalent of so much spunk.

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highlyverbal said on June 30th, 2012 at 2:53 am

So the message is: here’s something disjointed and “inaccessible” to satirize people who prefer… what? …accessible things?! The nerve of people, seeking enjoyment from entertainment. Philistines.

This must be a post-modern thing, because you lost me. I understand something is getting deconstructed, but I am hazy on the specifics.

PS: Mr. John “Empirics” Seavey needs to watch a few trailers before he makes claims about whether or not it was obviously a comedy. Just google “mars attacks trailer” and click the first link. Glen Close does a friggin’ spit-take IN THE TRAILER.

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Graehaus said on June 30th, 2012 at 5:04 am

Haters gonna hate.. I really enjoyed the movie, not a huge fan, but I love the 1950’s sci fi films, this and Alien Trespass are good campy fun.
Honestly, I wish John Carter was a good enough for a sequel or two. Again another movie I quite enjoy.

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I saw Mars Attacks! when I was 13 and was completely baffled and entertained in equal measure. I watched it a couple more times in my mid-teens and loved it. I have no idea if it would still hold up for me if I watched it now, but I have an odd sentimentality and nostalgia for it.

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malakim2099 said on June 30th, 2012 at 6:55 am

I remember seeing Mars Attacks when it first came out in the theater… and so many people seemed to go in thinking it was going to be played straight. Boy, were they cheesed. :)

I completely agree with this article.

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It was obvious from the trailer it was a comedy, but people can filter that out. Heck, a teenage friend of mine walked into About Schmidt in the conviction it was Anger Management.

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damanoid said on June 30th, 2012 at 9:48 am

Alas, Tim Burton knows satire like Michael Bay knows subtlety.

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I liked _Mars Attacks_, probably because I’m a fan of the sorts of movies, TV shows, pulps and comics it satirizes, while being well aware of their limitations.

Also, there is a deeper note being played here. The movie taps into a dissatisfaction with the way things are in the nation and the world today. (Who wouldn’t laugh in dark glee at the US Capital Building being destroyed with comic exaggeration?)

Then there are the specific tributes (the flying saucer playing with the Washington Monument a good example).

Frankly, I’m baffled more people don’t enjoy this movie.

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Put me in the ‘love Mars Attacks’ camp, but the plot isn’t just “generic alien invasion” movie – it’s a comedy version of the specific, serious (generic) alien invasion movie, “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers”

By way of analogy, “Airplane”:”Zero Hour”::”Mars Attacks”:”Earth vs. The Flying Saucer”

see:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/earth_vs_the_flying_saucers/

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@highlyverbal: Burton is saying (IMHO, natch) that in trying to make a movie that appeals to absolutely everybody, you wind up making a movie that doesn’t appeal that much to anybody. When you go into a movie like ‘Independence Day’ (the most immediate ancestor of ‘Mars Attacks’), you might not come out hating it, because it’s hard to hate something that’s bland and inoffensive and feelgood…but you won’t care about it, either.

To make real art, you have to make something personal, something that’s important to you, and risk the fact that it won’t appeal to everyone. Art is something that should stir passion, even if that passion is sometimes “There are legitimate art films that use obscure references and visual metaphors that do so 1000x better than this piece of shit because they keep to a single message.”

Or to put it differently, I don’t think anyone walked out of ID4 thinking that Devlin and Emmerich really poured their souls into that film. :)

(And no, I’m not saying it was _marketed_ as a straightforward action movie. I’m saying that if you were to look at the plot summary and cast list on, say, IMDB, it would be hard to tell that it was a comedy because most of the comedy comes out in the way the roles are played and in the details of the script. See the difference?)

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Sisyphus said on June 30th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Ah, Mars Attacks. I look at it like I look at the original Ocean’s 11 (and really, probably like the modern remakes). I think it was an excuse for Burton and some of his Hollywood friends to get together and goof off on film, making a cheesy movie for their own entertainment, and still manage to get a studio to pay for it. That doesn’t mean I’m in the “I hate Mars Attacks” camp, so much as I think it’s the big budget equivalent of what kids did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, where they swipe the family video camera, and film themselves making a movie. It’s nothing to be malicious about, except that he charged you 10 bucks to watch it. Of course, if you’re going to get angry over being charged 10 bucks to watch a bad movie…well…I’m guessing you’re probably often angry when you get out of a theater. Basically, I think Mars Attacks isn’t the biggest waste of celluloid ever, nor do I think it is a brilliant gem of subtle satire. It’s certainly self-indulgent, but no more so than, well, any Tarantino film. Actually, it’s like almost any Tarantino film, except with aliens instead of criminals or Nazis.

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Jason Barnett said on June 30th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

what’s the obsession with making art anyway?

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Was the nuclear weapon a stoner gag? I remember it being a helium gag. Which may be the only time I laughed at a helium gag on film.

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Tim O'Neil said on June 30th, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I love, love, love MARS ATTACKS. It’s bittersweet, though, because it basically marks the end of my relationship with Tim Burton. I seriously love every movie Burton made up through MARS ATTACKS. After that, I haven’t enjoyed a single film he’s made, and after the twin crap storm of BIG FISH and PLANET OF THE APES I haven’t sat through anything with his name attached to it.

One thing: people mentioned the fact that ID4 came out the summer before MARS ATTACKS – I remember specifically that the poisonous reaction against MARS ATTACKS was partly predicated on the fact that the two films had been twinned in the entertainment press for months – two big tent-pole alien invasion films in production at roughly the same time, released months apart and the Hollywood press loves to jockey these things. And of course that was setting MARS ATTACKS up for a big fall because people loved ID4 – great crowd pleaser, popcorn favorite, etc – whereas MARS ATTACKS might as well have come with a warning label stamped “WARNING: FOR CULT AUDIENCES ONLY.”

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Flypaper said on June 30th, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Put me in the apparent minority that found the movie mildly unenjoyable as opposed to loathesomely rage-inducing. It felt like a lukewarm attempt at being Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – and even Attack of the Killer Tomatoes isn’t good enough at being Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, if you follow me.

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Strawhair said on July 1st, 2012 at 2:01 am

This is a movie that I’ve always loved too. For one thing, the clownish evil aliens here have aged much better than the serious evil aliens of ID4. Also this movie provides another great role for 1930s starlet Sylvia Sidney.

Granted, it’s gotten harder to have faith in Burton in recent years, *cough* Chocolate Factory *cough*. But I think he did very sharp work here.

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JCHandsom said on July 1st, 2012 at 2:19 am

Can someone here do a deep analysis of just what in the name of holy heaven happened to Tim Burton in terms of his filmography?

OK John, working off your assumption that MARS ATTACKS (a movie I haven’t seen since it gave me alien abduction nightmares as a child. Seriously.) is a product of passion from Tim Burton, then how can he have made such bland family/blockbuster fare like Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland?

Could it be that this is not the work of Tim Burton, but rather his evil twin Mit Notrub?!

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malakim2099 said on July 1st, 2012 at 2:41 am

@Stickmaker

I’d probably have the same reaction as the grandma did.

“THEY BLEW UP CONGRESS! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” 😉

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Gentleman Mummy said on July 1st, 2012 at 3:33 am

In the past, I’ve heard and rejected any and all previous arguments that have suggested the notion that Tim Burton even approaches a degree of directorial competence, style, wit, and/or accomplishment. And having read this, I see no reason to change my mind.

He falls short of being the modern-day Ed Wood purely because producers eventually came to their senses and realised Wood wasn’t worth paying for. Wood actually has one over Burton; better to die poor than become rich through so much horrible, horrible artistic failure…

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LegionQuest said on July 1st, 2012 at 5:49 am

Mecha Velma: Comment section God

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Dan Coyle said on July 1st, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Good analysis, but I found the whole thing to be far too hateful and mean-spirited to actually enjoy. Kind of like my reaction to Cabin in the Woods, which has a similar “Let’s grind the fans of this thing into dust as if they’ve fucked our sisters and then laugh at them for paying for the privelge” vibe.

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For the most part, I agree with Mecha Velma:

Mars Attacks was Unlikeable Assholes vs Unlikeable Useless People. There wasn’t a single redeemable character in the film.

The one quibble I have is that Michael J Fox’s character was the only likable one, I found, and IIRC he comes to a quick and unpleasant end.

Otherwise, almost everyone in the movie were less likable than the Martians, who were complete pricks.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t good/funny scenes in the film. Pretty much everything with Tom Jones, f’rex, IMHO.

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“n the past, I’ve heard and rejected any and all previous arguments that have suggested the notion that Tim Burton even approaches a degree of directorial competence, style, wit, and/or accomplishment.”

So you’re saying you never saw Ed Wood.

(Directorial competence is kind of a broad category, too. You know what a totally incompetent director does? Gets fired and/or takes the production down with them.)

Anyway, Mars Attacks! is uneven as Hell but a lot of fun. The Martians are charming- the marketing really should have focused on them and their “ACK! ACK! ACK!” barking and various antics. They’re like the Gremlins in that they’re rather immature in their evil destructiveness. Instead the studio focused on “we’ve got a bunch of stars in this movie” which didn’t prepare anyone for just how fucked up it was.

And Tom fucking Jones. “Can you fly a plane?” “Sure.”

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Tim Burton makes films I should like, but don’t. Generally they fall flat (except for “Batman” and “Batman Returns”).

“Mars Attacks!” was no different. Some good scenes, some nice black humour, lots and lots of flat parts.

If Burton had shown a hint of this kind of satire in any of his other films (e.g. “Dark Shadows” as a biting satire of current vampire popularity, for instance), Mr Seavey might have a point, but I believe the above article is reaching for something that isn’t there.

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Brian T. said on July 2nd, 2012 at 12:49 am

My five cents: I loved Tom Jones and Pam Grier’s character in that movie, so there’s that. I also kind of liked Pam Grier’s kids, Jim Brown and Lukas Haas.

I still think the way they defeated the aliens is hilarious.

“Mars Attacks!” was obviously supposed to be a fun homage of old science fiction movies, but I don’t know if Seavey’s satire theory holds much water.

I always thought the “unreliable” translator was just a gag showing how evil the Martians were (in other words, the translators worked fine and they deliberately lied to people before killing them.)

It would be nice if the Burton detractors would calm down a little. Just sayin’…

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Ian Austin said on July 2nd, 2012 at 6:46 am

Gentleman Mummy – I’m sorry, what?

Issues of quality aside… Tim Burton makes films that interest him, and gets paid a lot of money to do so. Whether you or I like them is irrelevant, the fact is that he’s doing what he loves to do AND getting paid for it.

We should all be so lucky.

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highlyverbal said on July 2nd, 2012 at 12:29 pm

@John Seavey: “To make real art, you have to make something personal, something that’s important to you, and risk the fact that it won’t appeal to everyone.”

Thanks for the reply. I understand what you are describing is SOMEthing to deconstruct, I apologize but I still need you to connect a few more dots before I see how the movie achieves or even attempts that. To my non-post-modern eye, it just seems to be a send up if Independence Day plus a few side jokes (kinda like Robin Hood: Men In Tights).

I am trying to draw from your original post why you think this art-related critique is occurring. You describe things beyond a simple parody, but that actually reduces my understanding of this mechanism. Is the “inaccessible” somehow a signifier for art?!

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Re: trailer: nah, you’ve missed it. The UNtrained eye simply watches the trailer. Despite your dismissive attitude towards the lowest common denominator, this is one trap that the neckbeard riding his harley around a trailer park actually avoids. It is the smug, self-satisfied hipster, with a stable of websites for film meta-analysis, that makes this mistake… scanning the cast and forming theories about their past work and summer blockbusters, etc. The trained eye has the problem here. The untrained eye does fine. See the difference?

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Scavenger said on July 2nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I’m in the it sucks department.

My feeling was that Burton set out to make an Ed Wood movie, but with a ton of money (iirc, this was his follow up to Ed Wood).

I saw it as the point he stopped making “Tim Burton Films” and started making his version of other people’s films… this as Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow him doing Hammer…

I didn’t care that it went for slaptstick humor whereas the cards were pitch black humor.

And yeah, Killer Tomatoes did it first and better.

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@highlyverbal: Re: Trailers: That’d pretty much fall under the definition of “sophistry”, at this point; I’ve elaborated and clarified my explanation, and you’re essentially saying, “Yes, but I disagree with the wording in your original post.” Which, fair enough, but that’s why I elaborated and clarified in the first place. :)

As to the rest, “inaccessible” is not a signifier for art, but the film is clearly a response to films that have no ambitions at being art. Burton is saying (for the nth time, IMHO) that you can take all the elements of an utterly generic summer blockbuster like ID4 and make an intensely personal movie out of them. If that’s the case, then why would you make a movie by committee? Why would you possibly want to make a film that’s nothing more than a two-hour time-waster with pretty lights and explosions?

(Now, since I’m sure I’m going to be construed as not only defending this point of view, but as expanding it to every popular movie ever, I’ll add my own views. I do think Burton, or at least what I think Burton thinks here, has a point: There really isn’t any reason to make a movie that aspires to be inoffensive and bland. But there are a lot of good tentpole movies that aren’t. ‘Ghostbusters’, for example, couldn’t have been made by anyone other than Ramis and Ackroyd. ‘Star Wars’ was Lucas’ vision. Even ‘Avatar’, to pick a movie I didn’t care for, was something James Cameron ached to make and didn’t care if people thought it was too polemical. But ‘Battleship’? ‘Transformers’? Those are the kinds of movies that I could use less of.)

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Soulless Merchant of Fear said on July 2nd, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I dislike Tim Burton’s work in general, with some of it bordering on okay (“Beetlejuice”), some of it almost good in spite of him (“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”), and most is pandering, godawful codswallop (“Big Fish”).

The exception is “Mars Attacks,” which I actually kinda liked. TOM JONES WITH AN EAGLE ON HIS ARM! The translator jokes! “We got two out of three branches of government left, and that ain’t bad!” I found it hilarious and insane.

Though I also can see why most people don’t like it. Ah, well.

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John 2.0 said on July 2nd, 2012 at 11:04 pm

@SMoF: You know, I’m not a huge fan of Tim Burton, but I’ve always found his stylistic form to be so oppressive that he needs both a strong charismatic lead and a core of sweetness to make his head-up-his-own-ass-pop-goth-I’m-an-artistic-outcast-look-at-me bullshit work.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure had Pee-Wee Herman, Beetlejuice had Winona Rider, Edward Scissorhands had Depp, and Big Fish had Ewen McGreagor. His movies that (I think anyway) don’t work either lack a charismatic lead (Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland) or, in the words of Mecha Velma are assholes vs. unlikeable people (Batman/Batman Returns/Sleepy Hollow/Mars Attacks).

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mars Attacks is some sort of brilliant meta commentary on the existence of Blah Blah Blah. I don’t think there’s much on the page to suggest that, but I’ll stand to be corrected.

Oh, and John I don’t think the Director usually edits together the trailer. Isn’t it generally the marketing department? Maybe Burton demands approval of all advertising of his work (I have no idea), but I don’t think movie trailers are made with ironic detachment or meta commentary in mind. If ever there was a lowest-common denominator kind of advertising, it’s movie trailers.

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My favorite part which hasn’t been mentioned yet is when the general played by Paul Winfield is talking to his wife as he’s being driven out to meet the Martian ambassador: “But didn’t I always tell you honey, if I just stayed in place and never spoke up, good things are bound to happen.”

That line always kills me.

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on July 3rd, 2012 at 11:27 am

For my own part, I thought there was a lot of good, funny stuff in Mars Attacks!… but also some wretchedly unfunny stuff (Danny DeVito, the Jack Nicholson casino owner) that ground the movie to a dead halt.

Man I wished they had cut out all of the Nicholson casino owner crap.

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Black Rabbit said on July 3rd, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Wow. I thought it was obvious to everybody that Mars Attacks! is a giant pisstake on action movies in general and sci-fi/disaster movies in specific. At least everyone can agree that it’s a mess of a flick, so much so that you either find it infuriating or entertainingly insane.

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philippos42 said on July 4th, 2012 at 3:18 am

ACK ACK ACK “We are your friends! We come in Peace!” ACK ACK ACK

I remember disliking parts and really liking other parts. I think Pierce Brosnan and Sarah J. Parker (both of whom one might expect to be at least tolerable) were disappointing, while Lukas Haas, Jim Brown, and Tom Jones had great roles. It’s definitely all gags, in a sort of Zucker Brothers-cum-SNL, by way of kid’s trading cards, sensibility.

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William Kendall said on July 4th, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I do have a certain fondness for that film. Even if it does feature Horse Face… er, I mean Sarah Jessica Parker.

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It’s such a loving tribute to bad sci-fi that it makes me love it for that alone. Also it’s hilarious. Jack Nicholson gets to overact in two roles. Bonus Tom Jones and Pam Grier. And the aliens..ACK ACK. We come in peace-blasts from guns.

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To a Mars Attacks (the card series) purist, the film was a Travesty with a capital T.

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