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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Oh my gosh. What a hoot! What a delight. What a terrific end to the weekend and a couple of loooooong weeks.

I remember seeing this in the movie theater with my parents. I recall that we had tickets for a sneak peek but I can't imagine why our town would have a screener. Dad and I loved it, though a lot of the humor was lost on me. Mom hated it and was so annoyed with us ACK ACK ACKing through the next several days. I cannot remember the last time I watched it. In a lot of ways, it was like watching it for the first time which was fabulous.

I had forgotten that it was a Tim Burton film - it's SO VIVID - but of course it is. And this is the Tim Burton I miss. Wild. Uninhibited. Committed to story and tone. The weird style juxtaposing candy apple red and chrome with the darkest comedy I can think of off the top of my head. Certainly the darkest slapstick. I can't really stomach disaster movies any more but this hit the sweet spot for me. The screenplay goes to such lengths to make people the worst examples of humanity, and winkingly ensures the audience that the Good Ones will survive, it's just fun to watch shit burn. The way we cackled when the grandma yells, "THEY BLEW UP CONGRESS! HAHAHAHA". This is the rare disaster movie that earns its giddy destruction.

Somehow this is The Most Danny Elfman of all the Danny Elfman scores and it's a meal. A buffet. Midnight Chocolate Madness on a Cruise Ship but it's actually satisfying. The weird, tiki lounge scoring of the Kennedy Room scene is such a treat and I need to listen to the whole score on repeat this week. (Devastated to find it is not available on Spotify. I'll find it somehow.)

I can't get over the cast. It took me too long into the film (frankly, I was enjoying myself too much to think - what a nice change!) to realize that most of them are Burton veterans, which is the best compliment I can think of for a director. That all these names showed up for him again and that they were willing to go all out. Annette Bening has maybe 20 lines and it's my favorite work of her career. See also: Natalie Portman whose line reading of "Guess it wasn't the dove" is as funny now as it was 26(!?) years ago. Funnier. Her showing up throughout just to be a smart, annoyed teenager is delightful.

I've said it before and I will say it again and again, 1990s Sarah Jessica Parker was a gift and as much as I love Sex and the City, I will never forgive it for toning her down. Give me batshit, high wire without a net SJP any day. Maybe one of the smartest actresses of her age and we do not appreciate her enough for it. She and Pierce "I'm Too Handsome To Be Real" Brosnan are doing the most with their little side plot and I'm sorry, gang, if I ever meet you I will bring up this, L.A. Story and Dante's Peak. You've done more, but I love you for less.

I'm so overwhelmed with the DESIGN of this movie. Every little detail is designed to death and it's such a love letter to 50s B-movie sci-fi, it makes me want to spend the week watching everything I can get my hands on. And isn't that a lovely compliment? It's a parody but it's done with such intention and enthusiasm, I'm stoked to watch the source materials.



-Okayokayokay so I am over the moon with how this turned out. Truly, I didn't think I was capable of doing what I did with the martian in Procreate. Hopefully I'm finally over my crippling fear of digital painting? Pretty please? But this makes me so happy.

-HOWEVER, I didn't really succeed at the brief I set for myself. I wanted to do a 1950s style poster, specifically, like the Forbidden Planet poster. Tinted photographs of actors, simple but fantastical paintings of the monsters/robots/effects so audiences didn't know how bad it was. I struggled out the gate because I was trying to do a photorealistic martian, but that's wrong for many reasons. So I started over and gave myself permission to just mess around with illustrative styles. In truth, to be like the Forbidden Planet poster, it should have been much simpler. But, as with the movie itself, I don't care what it was supposed to be. I had a great time.

-In news unrelated to the art, I stared an old fear in the face this week, partly emboldened by the good time I had with Mars Attacks, and took myself to see Jordan Peele's NOPE in theaters. All by myself. Certain I was never going to sleep again because aliens. But his work is so good and this one looked particularly excellent and it was right and I slept and I am so glad I saw it. It was terrifying and I don't know that I'll ever watch it again but I'm so glad I saw it once.

Next week: do you find yourself waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born? It's finally time for the very first disc in my collection, 1776! A musical that I adore but have a hard time reconciling with actual history or the fetishization of our founding fathers.

I hope you laugh so much this week. I hope you give yourself space and energy to PLAY at something and that you allow yourself to be silly. It's so rewarding.

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