Based on the cult trading cards of the 1960s, MARS ATTACKS! evokes the spirit of the old school science fiction movies of that time period with modern sensibilities . (A lot better than recent attempts like ALIEN TRESPASS.) It riffs on the Cold-War paranoia sci-fi archetype, at times paying tribute to it and other times mocking it. Burton fills the story with tons of characters from all backgrounds—politicians, the media, rednecks, hippies, the upper class, the middle class—and uses them to say…well, MARS ATTACKS may not say anything useful or relevant about these characters or the stereotypes they represent, but it’s really not trying to be anything more than what it is. In fact, it’s inherent silliness and carefree demeanor is part of its lasting charm. The fact that an old Slim Whitman song is what finally defeats the aliens is a good litmus test. If you find that inexplicably funny, then you’ll probably dig the rest of the movie. If you’re scratching your head, then you can continue ignoring MARS ATTACKS!
The movie boasts a truly ridiculous cast (some of whom were less famous in 1996 than they are now). There’s Jack Nicholson (playing two roles), Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Natalie Portman, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jack Black, Martin Short, Jack Black, Danny DeVito, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield, Pam Grier and a pretty much silent Christina Applegate just to name a few. Granted most of these people only have a couple scenes each, but the A-list ensemble helps to give MARS ATTACKS! an epic kind of feel, like the old star-studded disaster movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Considering the human talent, the Martians themselves are surprisingly the best thing about this movie. The alien design is fun , the voices are highly addictive, and the CG effects from ILM still look great, but their behavior is what sells it. The invaders have a great, diabolical sense of humor, with more mischief than menace, which makes things fun. When the Martians keep trying to knock the Washington Monument down in different directions in order to kill as many Boy Scouts as possible, it fills me with joy inside. Hmmm, that's probably not a good thing.
Extra Tidbit: I swear to God I saw Kevin Bacon at 40:17, but can’t find any confirmation of this online. Does anybody know for sure? Because this movie would be an ace in the hole when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.