Welcome to the Groovy Yak's commentary on the Mars Attacks! Complete Score.
I've spent a good deal of time listening
to the score and watching the film over and over again. This section is
to be used for enlightenment.
The webmaster of this site doesn't support the purchasing of bootlegged material and strongly encourages everyone to pick up a copy of the commercial release of this score available on Atlantic Classics. For more information on that release, click here.
"Guess it wasn't the dove."
Iíve found that thereís two distinct points-of-view when it comes to Tim Burton and his films. Either you think the man is the strangest human being to ever sit in a directorís chair- or you can identify with his world and his sense of humor. Despite the directorís blockbusters like "Beetlejuice", "Batman", "Batman Returns", and "Sleepy Hollow", "Mars Attacks!" is the directorís most controversial film. Many critics and audiences hate it with a passion. They donít understand Burtonís sense-of-humor and are oblivious to the fact that the director was trying to emulate a bad 50ís Sci-Fi movie while at the same time play around a little with the formula.
Then there are the fans like me. I love "Mars Attacks!" I acknowledge the movieís flaws and some of them I can look past. Others, I believe, are part of what makes the film so much fun. You ask, "How does a filmís flaws make it fun? Youíre insane." Let me explain:
"Mars Attacks!" has probably one of the biggest star-studded casts of any film made in the 1990ís. Almost every single big name star in this film gets VERY little screen time and eventually dies (with the exception of Annette Bening, Tom Jones, Natalie Portman, Lukas HaasÖ) In any other film- this wouldnít be tolerated (and for many viewers of this film it actually wasnít). In the old Sci-Fi/disaster films and even in the big one that preceded "Mars Attacks!" (ID4), the big-name stars get lots of screen-time and are the oneís responsible for saving the day. In "Mars Attacks!", the opposite is true- the stars all die and the "misfits" save the day.
Another flaw: The movieís pacing is so quick that thereís hardly a scene that lasts for more than 5 minutes (the Pahrump meeting and the Martian Lady being notable exceptions) and the cast of characters is so large that thereís no time to develop anyone. I think what people donít understand is that the movie is based on images from trading cards. Like flipping through a stack of trading cards, the movie moves from one image to the next with little thought to where it has been or where it is going. I think a movie with this sort of mentality is fresh. Granted itís not something Iíd like to see often. This is a roller-coaster ride of a movie where style and clever humor take precedence over characterizations and plot. Playing devilís advocate, though, I think thereís a few scenes and characters that couldíve been replaced or cut outÖ It seems that some actors in the film werenít too sure which direction to take their characters. Pierce Brosnan, Annette Bening, and Glenn Close all play their roles with such zest and camp while Pam Grier, Jim Brown, Paul Winfield, and Danny DeVito stick out like sore thumbs. It could be argued, though, that they arenít given anything funny to doÖStill Annette Bening and Glenn Close bring so much subtle humor to their roles beyond the script that it makes the aforementioned actors look lazy.
The tone of Burton films have always been an issue too. Mr. Burton is never doing just comedy or just drama. Usually his films have an odd mix of different tones. Mars Attacks is no exception. On the surface, the film is a parody. However, thereís a strong social satire that runs through the center of the film. Many consider it to be more of a mean-streak where everyone but the "misfits" are spared. The government, the media, the military, lawyers, and rural right-wingers are just a few of the groups that are mocked and eventually killed in this film. Americans are seen as petty, opportunistic, shallow, and stupid. I found these characterizations to be funny. Unfortunately, most Americans didnít. They would rather see the misfits get lampooned- note the success of "Thereís Something About Mary." (I like "Thereís Something About Mary" myself although I prefer "Mars Attacks!"). In a sense, Burton plays Americans (with the exception of the outsiders) to be as stupid and/or evil as the Martians. Thereís no good vs. evil like in "Independence Day."
It seems that what one would call a flaw in any other film, is something Iíd call a stroke of genius in this film. In the end, though, one shouldnít read too much into Burtonís film. Although it does seem to have its own agenda, its main purpose was to entertain. Unfortunately, America, for the most part, wasnít entertained. (The movie actually did quite well overseas.) Enjoying a film like "Mars Attacks!" depends on what sense of humor you have. If you like the perverse and odd, "Mars Attacks!" is the film for you.
For Danny Elfman fans, "Mars Attacks!" meant a lot more to us. After "The Nightmare Before Christmas", Tim Burton and Elfman had a bit of a falling out. For Burtonís 1994 film, "Ed Wood," the talented composer Howard Shore wrote the score. Incidentally, the score sounds very much like something Elfman would write. However, before "Mars Attacks!" went into production, Elfman and Burton patched their differences and started working together again. "Mars Attacks!" was the return of the Burton/Elfman collaboration.
And boy, did it come back with a BANG. "Mars Attacks!" is one of Elfmanís most quirky and stylish film scores. The visuals of the film are bright and over-the-top. Elfman had to write a score that matched those visuals.
The main purpose of the music in the film is to over-dramatize the action to make it seem even more ridiculous than what it already is- thus equaling much of the campy humor in the film. "Mars Attacks!," as of this writing, is still Elfmanís most bombastic and over-the-top score. The final third of the film is almost non-stop dissonance and aggressive action music. The use of choir in the film also helps to add to the campiness. When the Congress is suddenly fried, the choir wails. One as peverse as I canít help but laugh. It is Elfman who sells a lot of this mean-spirited humor in this film with his over-dramatizations.
Part of the fun of "Mars Attacks!" is Dannyís choice of instrumentation. He uses full orchestra (heavy on brass) and full choir for most of the film. He also adds in a potpourri of other instruments and sounds. After listening through the entire score, youíll hear a large assortment of percussion instruments like tabla, bongos, vibes, and of course plenty of timpani and snare drum. Thereís also some sitar. (See sidebar.) For the Martian Madame scenes, Elfman employed a solo female voice. On top of all of this is the inclusion of a large array of electronic sounds- some are quite modern while others sound like they fell out of a 50ís monster movie.
However, the main instrumental attraction in the "Mars Attacks!" score is the theremin. Used in many 50ís Alien Invasion films, the thermin is an instrument that represents anything that is from outer-space. Originally, the theremin was used by avant-garde composers like Edgard Varese in the early 20th century. Its eerie, out-of-this-world sound became a staple of 1950ís sci-fi/monster movie film scoring. Now, the theremin is all but dead. In a score like "Mars Attacks!", though, it is quite welcome and musically adds the perfect touch to Tim Burtonís vision.
The music, itself, is perfection. It works wonders in the film as mentioned above, and on its own it's a fun listen. It's not for everyone though. Not since "Beetlejuice" has Elfman been this wild or zany. Most of Elfman's work up-to-that-point had been quite melodic and tonal. "Mars Attacks!" introduces a fair amount of shrill dissonance to Elfman's compositional style. Scores following Mars Attacks such as Men In Black contain elements that stretch the limits of tonality. On the complete score bootleg, you are barraged with this dissonance, non-stop, for close to 20 minutes. If you're more into John Williams' "Star Wars" than say Elliot Goldenthal's "Alien 3," let me just say that you've been warned. (Although Elfman's music for "Mars Attacks!" is not atonal like Goldenthal's "Alien 3"- just pretty dissonant.)
SOUNDTRACK VS. BOOTLEG
In December of 1996, many fans (myself included) were quite upset when it appeared that there wasnít going to be a score album for "Mars Attacks!" Soon, though, we learned that Atlantic Classics was planning on releasing the score, but it was during the holiday vacation season and no one was interested in pumping out a soundtrack album right away. It took Atlantic three months to finally get together the material to make a "Mars Attacks!" album and distribute it. The release was decent, but due to being recorded here in the U.S., reuse fees were in effect and only a 40-minute chunk could be released if the record company was going to make any sort of profit. Most of the very best cues can be found the Atlantic album... however, the true Elfman fans noticed that a sizable chunk of great music was not included.
Then, with the help of DVD technology, the true fans got their wishes granted. On the DVD release of "Mars Attacks!", an isolated score feature was added. (For those who donít know, that means that you can play the DVD and hear ONLY the score while watching the film.) An isolated score track makes it easy for bootleggers to rip the score off the DVD and create a CD. And, under the guise of "Red Planet Records," a 2-CD set of the "Mars Attacks!" score was released. This time, every note of Dannyís score was added onto the album...making film score enthusiasts quite happy. It's twice the length of the commercial release. Another nice aspect of ripping isolated scores from DVDs is that the quality isnít sacrificed. The quality of the Red Planet release is not as good as the Atlantic release- but itís pretty darn close. To the untrained ear, one canít tell the difference between commercial and bootleg.
There is one cue thatís missing of the Red Planet release, though. Itís a cue called "Destructo X" that isnít used in the film. Itís one Elfmanís best action cues. Once again, I must stress that if you are planning on seeking out the Red Planet release, PLEASE BUY THE ATLANTIC RELEASE FIRST. Elfman gets paid from the Atlantic release, and as a gesture for how much we appreciate him, itís strongly suggested that you support him.
To read more about the score, now go to the track-by-track analysis where every single detail of the score is examined! If you already have the Red Planet release, use the track-by-track analysis as a listening guide.
* = Previously unrleased
Various Quotes from various humans
on the FILM
"Why do many people dislike Mars Attacks!? Along with Burton's love for old B horror and Sci-fi movies is his dislike for the lifestyle and taste of the mainstream public. Mars Attacks! on the surface is another Independence Day but underneath they are completely different movies. While Independence Day is wrapped in the flag and God Bless America, Mars Attacks! gives it the finger. Lots of characters are not shown in a favorable light in Mars Attacks!" - (IMDB) BB-15 California; email@example.com
"Mars Attacks!" takes an exceedingly dim view of most of the human race. It's one thing to hear this from the likes of Jonathan Swift, but coming from Hollywood brat Tim Burton, in the form of a costly special-effects spoof, it doesn't sit nearly as well. Better to ignore the tinhorn misanthropy and watch the picture as a simple send-up of '50s flying-saucer movies, enhanced with an all-star cast and Burton's famously weird outlook." San Francisco Examiner
"What a terrible waste of so many good actors and actresses. I'd love to know what Tim Burton (who I personally think is without a doubt the worst director in Hollywood) slipped these folks to get them to work with him. Didn't they all see "Ed Wood" or his awful Batman movies?" (name withheld by webmaster)
"Tim Burtons track record as a director isn't a very good one with films like "Edward Scissorhands" & "Batman Returns" but those were at least a bit better than this film. When you do a spoof film it should be funny in a stupid way not just stupid, however Burton seemed to miss that point and made this very awful and terribly unfunny film." (name withheld by webmaster)
Martians reading the