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I’ve always been a huge fan of the works of director Tim Burton. Back when Burton decided to attach himself to the film version MARS ATTACKS!, that subversive set of trading cards, I knew that movie fans were going to be in for a real treat. The MARS ATTACKS! trading cards graphically depicted a Martian invasion of Earth with tons of gory detail. MARS ATTACKS! ($25) the movie, captured the flavor of the trading cards, but plays as an affectionate parody of fifties science fiction films. MARS ATTACKS! does retain much of the gratuitous violence of the trading cards, yet Burton’s presentation of said violence is tongue in cheek, making the film more of a black comedy than a science fiction nightmare.

Tim Burton is a brilliant visualist and MARS ATTACKS! perfectly captures the style of the fifties sci-fi genre. Burton had even gone so far as to make MARS ATTACKS! his first anamorphic wide screen film, reminding us that the fifties was the heyday of CinemaScope. MARS ATTACKS! is a wondrous piece of eye candy, and one of Burton’s greatest visual achievements. The production design and special effects are outstanding. Even the Martian space ships are a delightful nod to Ray Harryhausen’s work in EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS. The film’s only shortcoming is the cardboard stock character portrayed by the film’s all-star cast. Every human character is a throwaway, which isn’t too terrible, since the Martians obliterate most of them anyway.

The Martians themselves are some of the most wonderfully humorous computer generated characters to ever grace the silver screen. These aliens are rather nasty looking creatures- skull faced, big brained and bug eyed- the perfect evil aliens. Yet the Martians have a goofiness about them that makes them kind of endearing, even when they are blowing up everything in sight. The fact that the Martians almost resemble uncontrollable, delinquent six-year-old boys with ray guns is the thing that gives them their charm. They are the kind of bad boys who get their jollies by pulling the wings off of bugs. Personally, I couldn’t help but laugh when the Martians started disintegrating Hollywood’s best and brightest. The all-star cast of MARS ATTACKS! features Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan (looking quite like Fred MacMurray’s ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR), Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, Tom Jones, Lisa Marie, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Rod Steiger, Sylvia Sidney, Lucas Haas, Natalie Portman, Joe Don Baker and Christina Applegate.

Warner Home Video has made MARS ATTACKS! available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is pretty nice, but doesn’t quite make for a demonstration disc. Sharpness and image detail fluctuate a bit going from appearing wonderfully detailed to slightly soft and back again. The integration of digital effects into the live action is partly to blame, but there also seems to be something of a DNR cleanup in places. Fortunately, the DNR isn’t an overt trip to the waxworks, but it does create some mushiness in the area of finer detail. Also, daylight and well-lit sequences fare better than their darker counterparts in the area of obvious detail. Colors are gleefully cartoony, especially where the Martians are concerned. Saturation levels go from good to very good, while all of the brightest hues appear stable. Blacks are deep and the whites are crisp. Contrast fluctuates a bit, but is otherwise fine. Shadow detail can be somewhat wanting. The elements from which MARS ATTACKS! has been mastered are very clean. A modest grain structure is noticeable much of the time, but there are moments where the grain level does intensify.

MARS ATTACKS! is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As I noted on the original DVD release of MARS ATTACKS! the sound design emulates a big 1950’s style stereo mix, with a lot of left and right channel separation, with only some musical fill being relegated to the rear channels. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack maintains the same flavor, only with the improved fidelity of lossless encoding. Of course, the only element on the soundtrack to take real advantage of the lossless encode is Danny Elfman’s wonderful score, which is one of my personal favorites. Elfman’s music captures the flavor of Bernard Herrmann’s theremin influenced score for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, while remaining uniquely Elfman. There is a good lower register to the music, while sound effects seem to lack the same level of punch. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. There is no supplemental content. Too bad the isolated score from the DVD couldn’t be carrier over to this release. MARS ATTACKS! is a real hoot of a movie- a black comic homage to fifties sci-fi that never fail to induce laughter. The Blu-ray presentation is kind of average, but still stands as a nice upgrade to the SD DVD edition. Recommended to Burton and Elfman fans.


Mars Attacks! [Blu-ray] (1996)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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