Mars Attacks! (1996)

Directed by Tim Burton

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Martians visit earth in Mars Attacks! but it’s not until a peace-loving, free love-giving, long-haired, songwriting beatnik releases a white dove that they begin their aforementioned attack, slaughtering comical amounts of people in cartoonish yet violent ways.

The image of these strange creatures (who speak only in “acks”) burning their way through anyone and everyone is horrifying, but the ensuing comedy is derived from the absurd reactions by the humans in charge to the massacres taking place right before their eyes.  These powers that be include the President, a military general, a CNN-like talk show host as well as someone who might work for E!  They react with self-righteousness, awe, joy and just about everything else but fear.

The Martians first set foot in the Las Vegas desert to large banners heralding their arrival.  After the dove-related massacre they retreat and then come back down and annihilate congress.  Even then the powers that be debate what their course of action should be, demonstrating little more than cluelessness.

This is very broad satire in the style of something like Airplane!  The characters in this film are naive, ego-centric, some are well-meaning, but any success is due to luck while all failures come from a complete misreading of the situation.  To really drive this point home, two particularly air headed characters (played by Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan) don’t seem to understand how serious things are even after their heads have been removed from their bodies and, in the case of Parker’s character, attached to her dog’s body.  It’s perhaps an amusing sight as an adult, though as a child it’s grotesque and nightmarish, particularly with how easily the characters shrug it off.

And it’s that disconnect between the horror and the characters’ response to that horror which really makes this movie quite disturbing, again at least to a child, as I was when I first saw it.  Their muted or otherwise emotionless responses to these killing sprees highlights the lack of humanity in this world.  None of these, save for a couple, are characters any of us could realistically hold a conversation with.  They are lifeless sacks of meat there only to serve as a punch line and/or to be vaporized by the aliens.

But that’s the point.

Up Next: Hotel Artemis (2018), Papillon (2017), High Fidelity (2000)

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