Mars Attacks!

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Details At A Glance

Category Science Fiction/Satire Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1996 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 101:27 Minutes  Other Extras Production Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
Isolated Music Score
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 4 Director Tim Burton

Warner Home Video
Starring Jack Nicholson
Glenn Close
Annette Bening
Pierce Brosnan
Danny DeVito
Martin Short
Sarah Jessica Parker
Michael J. Fox
Rod Steiger
Tom Jones
Lukas Haas
Natalie Portman
Jim Brown
Lisa Marie
Sylvia Sydney
Case Snapper
RRP $29.95 Music Danny Elfman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Isolated Music Score (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English 
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Let's see, maybe if I cut and paste a few comments from my review of Heat, I might get away with a slightly quicker review than usual. Well, actually, the only two actors in this film that would qualify as favourites of mine in a positive sense of the phrase would be Jack Nicholson and, of course, Natalie Portman. As I have already mentioned, young Natalie has had a place in my heart ever since her brilliant portrayal of Lauren in Heat, and she does an equally fine job with the limited role she has here. Anyway, as luck and a bad script (or just an extremely cheesy one in this case) would have it, cameos from what seems like every actor in Hollywood occur in this film. We even get to see some notable names die in a rather hideous fashion. Mars Attacks! is basically director Tim Burton's tribute to the B-grade science fiction movies from the 1950s, much like Ed Wood was his tribute to the worst of the self-satirical directors from the same era. As the production notes explain, Mars Attacks! is also based around a set of playing cards that came out during the 1950s and were quickly recalled due to the nature of their imagery. Although some would view this recall as just another case of the censors letting their imagination get away with them in terns of the content of a product, Burton was fascinated by the cards themselves, and this film is the result of that fascination. From what I understand of the production notes, Tim Burton would be one of the few people to own a vaguely complete set of these trading cards, which are worth a fortune these days.

    Of course, the plot would be completely worthless without some clever writing using a vaguely credible story and some likeable actors. Every ridiculous plot device from B-grade science fiction is hilariously lampooned in this film, and one of the funniest examples is the translator used to try and decode what the hell it is the Martians are on about when they first appear on television. Whomever it is that has assumed creative control of Star Trek has their name thoroughly stamped all over this little barb in the film. The Martian language sounds like a cross between a rabid dog with a bad case of the hiccups and a helium overdose, and their bodies look something like the people I saw during my last series of serious hallucinations. However, if there's one thing that really makes this film memorable, it's the weapon that humanity uses against the Martians when tanks, bullets, and nuclear missiles all fail. I don't want to spoil it for you, but if you've always thought that ******ing was the most utterly useless form of artistic expression devised by man, then you're really going to change your mind once you've seen this film.

Transfer Quality


    The video quality is generally quite good, especially during scenes that involve heavy use of CGI, but a few minor annoyances popped up here and there. The film is presented at in aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with that ever-wonderful bonus of 16x9 enhancement. The transfer is generally quite sharp, but some scenes here and there were somewhat blurred, especially towards the beginning of the film. The running of the flaming cows at the end of the introduction really suffers from blurring to an extent that leads me to believe that this was not intended as part of the original theatrical exhibit. Shadow detail was generally very good, which is especially important to a film with as many low-lit sequences as this. No low-level noise made its way into the transfer, which is also very important to a film with as many low-lit sequences as this one. This is probably the best transfer of a Tim Burton film that Warner Brothers have managed to bring to DVD so far, although that's not a very adequate description given the efforts they've put in with Batman and Batman Returns. Let's just say that the transfer is of a quality I am not used to seeing with Warner Brothers titles.

    The colours were vivid and vibrant throughout the transfer, a deliberate artistic decision on the part of the director and the set designers which is reflective of the material that inspired the film. Early in the film, a small amount of colour bleeding can be seen, especially in areas with a lot of red, such as the fields in shots of rural areas. Given the tendency of the film to move towards oversaturation, the colours were rendered exceptionally well during the majority of this presentation. MPEG artefacts were happily absent from the presentation. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a moderate amount of aliasing that exceeds what I would call acceptable for a film of this vintage. The usual suspects were responsible for this: the brick walls, the venetian blinds, the car grilles, and there was even a moiré on one of the reporters' hats. Film artefacts were not a particular problem, except for a few scratches at the occasional moment.


    There are two audio tracks to choose from on this DVD, both of them in Dolby Digital 5.1: your standard English soundtrack, and an Isolated Music Score. I listened to both audio tracks, although the Isolated Music Score lost my interest after the one listen. The dialogue was muffled for a significant portion of the film, which made for a somewhat strenuous listening experience. The beginning of Chapter 4 seemed to be just a little out of sync, with the audio lagging a little behind the video. While this problem was not particularly noticeable for most of the time, it did detract a tiny bit from my enjoyment of the film. Nonetheless, this audio track could have been reference material if not for this small problem.

    The music is basically a large-scale orchestral score conducted by Danny Elfman. It is inspired by the same melodramatic orchestral scores that accompanied the films which the movie is inspired by. Like the props, the colour scheme, and the script, the music is larger-than-life, and it adds to the overall cheesy feel of the film. The music is very well spread out over the entire soundfield. This results in the surround channels being frequently active, with lots of ambience, music, and special effects pouring out of them. The soundtrack was very enveloping and did a very good job of drawing me into the story with the use of directional special effects. The .1 channel was used quite well, mainly for the huge explosions that occur rather frequently in the movie.


    An alternate ending in which Tom Jones gets disintegrated would have been nice, but the extras that are present are of high quality. One thing I cannot abide is the fact that RSDL formatting wasn't used, as this would have provided plenty of space to address all of the quality problems that occur on the disc.


    The menu design of this movie is reasonably good, although I found it somewhat troublesome to navigate. Sadly, there is no animation, and a small amount of sound that I found somewhat annoying after a couple of repetitions. There is a little extra in the sound selection menu, which is labelled as a Martian soundtrack. It leads to a somewhat minuscule extra, but an amusing one, all the same.

Theatrical Trailer

    This trailer is presented at the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 Enhancement and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with surround encoding. It appears to have been taken from a print source, but the quality is acceptable.

Production Notes

    Extensive production notes are provided, which provide some insight into the making and inspiration of this film.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Very extensive Cast & Crew Biographies round out the extras, although the use of the words "very extensive" only describes the number of cast members for which biographies are provided. The biographies of Jack Nicholson and stars in his echelon of the film are quite extensive, while the smaller parts played by actors that would generate a lot of interest such as Natalie Portman were deemed worthy of only rather small biographies. Still, this is a much better selection of Cast and Crew Biographies than I am used to seeing.

R4 vs R1

    The region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     Given that this film simply demands to be seen in widescreen, and that the Region 1 version is a flipper with a Pan & Scan butchery on the other side, I think Region 4 is definitely the version to go for.


    Mars Attacks is a hilarious movie, presented on a much better DVD than Warner Brothers normally provide us with.

    The video quality is good, albeit with a couple of minor problems.

    The audio quality is mostly excellent, with a superb surround presence. Some of the dialogue is problematic at times, however.

    The extras are reasonably comprehensive and interesting. Warner Brothers would do well to go back to this standard.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
February 28, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer