Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Jonathan Gems
In 1996 I was 12 years old and spent a lot of time at work with my dad wandering from movie to movie in the theater he worked at. I spent years doing this in my youth but 1996 specifically sticks out because it was when I first started paying attention to trailers and anticipating movies before they came out. In 1996 I had my eye on the big summer blockbuster that year, Independence Day. From the moment I first sat in the auditorium and saw that incredible image of the White House being blown up by a flying saucer I don’t know that I had ever wanted to see something so bad in my life. At 12 years old I don’t think I had ever seen anything quite so devastating on screen and the preview promised what my mind built up to be the most awesome movie ever. I waited with an anticipation that grew at a rate only a 12 year old’s imagination can keep up with. When the movie finally came out I was seated in the first row of a crowded theater and my mouth was watering. Two and a half hours later I walked out of the theater disheartened and depressed. I had suffered through my first major disappointment from a movie and I will never forget that feeling. The previews had implied such wide spread destruction and I had imagined battles that would dazzle my eyes and satisfy all my hopes and desires. What I saw seemed more like a drama than an action movie and I felt like I had already seen all the exciting parts in the previews. It was a learning experience because at that young age I had to learn to deal with the let down of something I had built up to much in my head. In 1996 my parent’s divorce was still a recent thing and that is a devastating thing to the life of any child. My response to the personal turmoil was to hide in movie theaters by myself and forget about what was going on in my life. I only say that to stress the fact that Independence Day being such a letdown was significant to me and the memory has stayed with me very clearly. I would have to wait another five months that year before my faith in films was restored, and it was this movie that restored it.
For everything Independence Day lacked this film had in spades. Nobody was safe from these aliens; they came to take over and they didn’t pull any punches. This movie may be silly but it gave me everything I had wanted from Independence Day and I loved it. This movie had a better and bigger cast and although it was just a comedy it offered more chaos and battle than I had seen in the first film about an alien invasion. The President in this movie wasn’t the unlikely hero who went into action but a more realistic air head continually making stupid decisions at the behest of his equally air headed staff. The aliens don’t simply destroy our cities and overwhelmingly remain out of sight but strike fast and hard with manipulation and ruthlessness. I love how the aliens run through town blasting everyone into dust while holding a translator that keeps broadcasting what they are saying, “STOP! We are your friends.” I love the simplicity of the aliens in this film. They look just as we typically expect aliens to look, little bodies with big heads. They ride around in flying saucers that are nothing fancy and they use guns that look like toys yet bring us to our knees when they attack. These aliens have no remorse and laugh at our efforts to be welcoming and forgiving. These aliens are simple and even humorous to a degree and I think it’s interesting that they still manage to be more threatening than anything we saw in Independence Day. Yeah maybe the aliens in that film looked creepy with their slimy tentacles and telepathic capabilities but we barely see them, and they are just lame next to these guys from the canyons of Mars.
I am a huge fan of Tim Burton but despite the Danny Elfman score I have never felt this movie really felt like a typical Tim Burton film. The elements are there, the way the flying saucers land specifically being the obvious work of Burton but it still feels different. The movie is so colorful, and while Burton can be colorful there is usually darkness that goes along with it. The content of the film notwithstanding this film doesn’t feel dark at all and in fact it might be one of the “brightest” films Burton has ever made. It doesn’t have that gloom that tends to linger somewhere or the other in all of his films. Plenty of people he has worked with in the past are on board in the cast of this film but no one he is specifically synonymous with like Johnny Depp or Michael Keaton. This was before he married Helena Bonham Carter and started casting her in all of his films. If I’m not mistaken, when this movie was made he was married to Lisa Marie, who played the alien in disguise that infiltrated the White House. Nevertheless, while this seems to be against the grain a bit for Burton it still undoubtedly has his stamp on it. He is a great filmmaker and I have specifically loved many of his movies. This isn’t even in the conversation of his best films but I think anything he has done does deserve some honorable mention if it was entertaining. This movie may be silly but it is definitely entertaining and I think it’s worth mentioning when discussing his career.
This movie does have a terrific cast but I tend to think it’s the actor’s names rather than their performances that jump out at you. With few exceptions, Jack Nicholson was great playing dual roles in the film. Although his performance as the President is hands down the better of the two and I think it is part of what makes the movie so great. After the Martians turn Congress to dust Nicholson says he “wants the American people to know they still have 2/3rds of their government left and THAT AIN’T BAD!” Martin Short was quite funny and it was cool seeing a young Natalie Portman with all the talent she has always had. I really liked Rod Steiger and Paul Winfield as the two opposing Generals. Winfield being the Colin Powell of the two and Steiger playing a more General Turgidson type. Jim Brown showed promise as an actor, like he does whenever given the opportunity. Otherwise I don’t know that anyone else did anything well enough to really distinguish themselves. It was great to see so many popular actors all together on screen because it’s always fun the more stars you have in the film. Also noteworthy is that this was the last film Michael J Fox was in before the news of his condition would eventually be divulged. He would continue acting on television for several more years but this was his last significant film role.
This movie will never get the credibility it deserves, or at least the credibility it has in my eyes for beating the pants off of Independence Day. Incidentally I have reason to think I’m alone in my criticism of Independence Day because somebody must have liked it. Not only did it make lots of money at the box office but as we inch closer to 20 years later it has been in discussion for a sequel recently. There are two versions of the sequel written, one with Will Smith reprising his role and one without. I’m guessing that it will be lame for obvious reason, and while I have had my ear to the ground I haven’t heard one word about these Martians coming back. Not that it would be a good idea either, one and done was good enough for this film and anything more would only sully what it was. If you are with me on this, if you felt the pain of disappointment from that big alien invasion blockbuster, then check this movie out. It’s better, more satisfying, and on top of everything else it will give you plenty of good laughs.
On a bottom side note I just wanted to mention that this film also offers a great shot of New York featuring the Two Towers of the World Trade Center. It’s the kind of thing that I never gave any thought to when I watched the movie in 1996, but watching it now could give any American that odd feeling of loss.
This is one of those movies most people can watch over and over. I remember seeing the trailers for this when it first came out. I thought it looked ridiculous. It turns out it was ridiculously funny. There are so many things in the movie that don’t really make sense, but ultimately I think that it made it that much funnier. I used to watch this on Comedy Central all the time when I was younger, but I haven’t seen it in a while. It was really nice to be able to sit down and watch it last night.
This poster couldn’t fit better with the movie. I think it is very, very clear what the film is about and I think it even shows Tim Burton’s style. The wig of the Martian, the cloak of the other Martian. The typography for me is a little cheesy, but at the same time it works because it resembles the font choices of other sci-fi alien invading movies. I think this poster has too much going on, but at least they didn’t try and fit the entire star studded cast into a group. They chose some of them to highlight and then neatly fit the others into boxes across the bottom, which I appreciate. Overall I like this poster and movie.
NEXT MOVIE: Masters of the Universe (1987)….oh yeah, the movie with Dolph Lundgren