Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks! On Blu-ray disc

Sci-fi comedies are few and far between – well, good ones, anyway – so it's nice to see that Mars Attacks! is one of the good ones, working well more of the time than it doesn't.

Tim Burton's film, based on a series of trading cards, throws an ensemble cast of very good actors into a disaster situation in which, as the title suggests, those pesky Martians come to earth and rain death and destruction down upon humanity. It's like War of the Worlds, but silly.

And that's okay.

Mars Attacks! is a big budget special effects fest that cries out for the Blu-ray high definition treatment, so we're delighted that it has made the transition.

The story itself is full of black humor, with plenty of political and social satire thrown in for spice – we never fail to laugh when the reporter asks if the Martians have two different sexes like humans do, and at the Martians rampaging across the landscape, destroying everything in their path while a translation device keeps reassuring the humans they're mowing down that there's nothing to be afraid of.

Oh, yeah, we also love the apparent Ray Harryhausen homages of the Martian flying saucers themselves, the way they move and how they destroy some well-known monuments.

The cast never takes the film too seriously, either, which sometimes can work to the detriment of a comedy but which here works fine. Jack Nicholson has a dual role as the president of the United States and as a shady Las Vegas developer who wants to build a new hotel casino there just as the city gets destroyed. He's basically playing the Nicholson Persona, which is a shame, but both of the characters whose scenery he chews here are larger than life anyway, so he doesn't ruin things.

Michael J. Fox is a self-absorbed TV journalist whose girlfriend, Sarah Jessica Parker, hosts a superficial fashion TV show. Glenn Close plays the U.S. First Lady, a woman more concerned with redecorating the interior of the White House than with much of anything else, Annette Bening turns in a great performance as the Vegas Nicholson's hippie moonbat wife and Jim Brown plays a long-retired boxing champion trying to hold his family together long distance.

Martin Short turns in a nice performance as a sex-obsessed White House Press Secretary, Pierce Brosnan gets to mug his way through his role as a typically 1950's egghead Professor and Rod Steiger is very funny as a kind of "Buck Turdidson-type" general ready to sic nukes on the invaders.

The special effects are terrific, the Martians look great, and Danny Elfman's score is a perfect homage to the 1950's sci fi flicks for which Mars Attacks! is a loving tribute.

In all, Mars Attacks! is a full scale, big budget guilty pleasure that joins the ranks of other great sci fi comedies such as Galaxy Quest, Dark Star and the Incredibles.

The Blu-ray is pretty good, but not spectacular. It's presented in 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), and while the picture is generally very good – and definitely better than the DVD – the transfer seems a tad inconsistent. There are plenty of scenes that show great detail, color and sharpness, but there are also some sections that are quite soft. Perhaps not surprisingly, the special effects scenes are among the sharpest and while this is good, it also makes them stand out from the live action at times.

Still, overall, the picture is bright and crisp and mostly satisfying.

The audio track is in dts-HD Master Audio and, like the picture, it's generally very good but not perfect.

All channels are used well – as they definitely should be in a movie such as this – and it's generally quite dynamic and about as realistic sounding as a Martian invasion can be.  

As for extras, forget it. There is nothing, not even a trailer!

Mars Attacks! from Warner Home Entertainment
106 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), dts-HD Master Audio
Starring Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney
Produced by Tim Burton and Larry Franco
Written by Jonathan Gems, directed by Tim Burton

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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