Master of all that's weird and wonderful, TIM BURTON pits the world against little green men in sci-fi spoof Mars Attacks!. The cult director tells how he prepared for alien invasion. Story: Nigel Floyd
IN INDEPENDENCE DA Y. the US President was a hero and the world was saved by a drunken hick. a Jewish boffin and a gung-ho black pilot. Now, following last year’s big sci-fi hit movie. comes Mars Attacks.’. Batman director Tim Burton’s idiosyncratic film which boasts more stars than you could point a ray-gun at. In Burton’s universe. the President is a publicity-seeking airhead. the good ol’ boys are right-wing racists. and the world is saved by a gaga granny. a nerdy teenager, a black boxer-turned-Las-Vegas- casino-greeter and Tom Jones. Yes. the Tom Jones.
Conceived before Independence Day. Mars Attacks! also draws upon the alarmist alien invasion pics of the 50s and 70s disaster movies like The Towering Inferno. Burton generously attributes these simi- larities to coincidence. ‘I think it’s just down to waves of interest.’ he says. ‘You get a lot of this sort of thing when you get near the end of the millennium. I remember reading about how people were feeling at the end of the l890s. like the world was gonna end. it’s a common thing that. when you have this kind of benchmark. every l0() years. everybody just freaks out.’
The contrast in tone between the two movies couldn’t be more marked. though. Indeed. it‘s shocking how many top-flight Hollywood stars get turned to toast. ‘That just seemed part of this particular genre of film,’ grins the mischievous Burton. who embraced this idea with relish. ‘There was that whole era that got lost in Hollywood. of
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blowing away big stars. l-lollywood got a lit- tle rarefied — it was like. if you’ve got a big star like Jack Nicholson. you can’t kill him. But I remember going to see those disaster movies and that was part of their energy. it was like. "Hey. there’s Robert Wagner and he’s on fire!” or “Oh my God. there goes Ernest Borgnine!” ’
Long before Burton got to fry his extraor- dinary ensemble cast. he had faced some seri- ous decisions regarding the little green men. His initial intention had been to create the Martian invaders using the stop-motion tech- nique used on The Nightmare Before Christmas. but when Warner Brothers balked at a two-year production schedule and an estimated cost of $l2() million. adjustments had to be made.
'I remember reading about how people were feeling at the end of the 18905, like the world was gonna end. Every 100 years, everybody just freaks out.‘
‘After working with a group of animators. I realised that things have gotten tip to a level now where you could actually create that cheesy stop-motion look using computer ani- mation.’ explains Burton. ‘Within a year. we did almost 500 shots. whereas if we had used stop-motion we couldn’t have made it in less than two years.’
This visual consistency was also crucial to Burton’s conception of the aliens as an anar- chic. unstoppable yet oddly homogenous force. Ray-guns at the ready. they blast
Move over ET: alien invaders get vicious in Mars Attacks!
everything in sight — people. cars. buildings and even that ultimate symbol of Peace On Earth. the white dove. Once again. Burton was reacting to the stilling conformity of his suburban childhood. where everything was ordered and polite.
‘Growing up in suburbia. there’s a certain anarchy when you think of Martian or alien movies.’ says the native of Burbank. California. ‘They’re a sweeping cause that’s different from what you’ve grown up with, where everything’s got a category. every- thing's got a place. Here you have a thing frotn another world that you don’t under- stand. You don’t know what they’re talking about. you don’t know why they react to things the way they do. How long have humans been around. and we can’t even fig- ure ottt ourselves — so how do we expect to figure out a whole other planet?
‘There’s something very funny and charming and weird about the human desire to figure out everything. and make sense of it somehow. Especially as things get more abstract. You find that as things get more abstract. the tunnel vision gets even narrower. I find that interesting. but for me it’s just as much fun to look at something that you take for granted and go. “Wow. that’s really strange”. And that’s what I liked about the Martians — they make you see things through different eyes.’
Mars Attacks! goes on general release on Fri 28 Feb.