Mars Attacks! Blu-ray Review
Although there has been some poor reactions to this hi-def transfer of Mars Attacks!, I actually quite like this VC-1 encode from Warner. It isn't great, by a long margin, but it provides a film that demands to be glitzy, gleaming and flamboyantly colourful with the necessary palette all-round. It looks bright and detailed and maintains a giddily comic-book appeal that is entirely appropriate to the look and ambition of Burton's deranged vision. The image is framed faithfully at 2.40:1
Now, as I’ve intimated, I like Warner's handling of catalogue transfers. I've certainly enjoyed their Clint Eastwood material (Dirty Harry, Kelly's Heroes, Pale Rider etc) and the likes of Forbidden Planet and The Shining, but there are repeated claims about them using some sort of specialised in-house DNR process that smoothes images over and yet still leaves plenty of texture and detail. I feel forced to concede now, that their encodes do have a particular “look” about them which is readily apparent in the colours, the skin-tones, the clarity and the contrast. But the thing is, whether or not this is the product of some unique noise-reducing, colour boosting program, I like the result far more than often than I don't. And, for the most part, it works very well with a film like this.
Burton's film has a very bright and extremely colourful image, folks. We may not be talking Speedracer here, but the primaries leap from the screen with deliberately over-saturated pizazz that was designed to totally leave behind his former gothic tableau. Reds, pinks, blues and greens can literally throb with a glossy, high-contrast sheen. But whilst this is wonderful for the wide daylight vistas of varied action and scenery, and the interiors benefit from soothing pockets of warmth amid the shadows, things such as Sarah Jessica Parker's pink jacket looks a little too dazzling to me. So do the Martian leader's red, purple or green robes, for that matter. Yes, they're supposed to be over-the-top bright, but this seems to take some elements possibly too far, until they become wildly fuzzed-up and shining like a beacon in the night. The rest of the spectrum is smoothly brought in and beautifully painted across the screen like the most paradisical candy store you can imagine – and let’s not forget that Burton actually went on to visualise that very location for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Lasers of all types glows spectacularly, as do the victims of their incinerations. The inferno-herd at the start is spellbinding in its sudden blaze of colour even if the actual CG is not. And for all of these thick swathes of intense fidelity, there is no banding, or colour smearing going on.
Blacks are actually very good and satisfying, although there are a couple of unusual moments. The first is curious milking-down that occurs to them during the opening title sequence. As the Martian fleet spins through space, look over at the left side of the frame and you'll see that the otherwise nicely deep black star-field has gone grey and somewhat weak. Print issues or transfer? I'm not sure. But the dark elements don't fall into this particular trap anywhere else, you'll be pleased to know. However, there is a possible element of crushing going on. Certainly when Martin Short's lecherous PR guy is attempting to seduce Lisa Marie’s Martian spy, and gets her back to the secretive “Kennedy Suite”, the shadows become too sharp and intense, engulfing far too much of the image. Contrast, though, is very good, and consistent too, which is actually vital considering the retina-scorching palette utilised here.
But the grain and texture that is apparent in one shot, can often evaporate in the next and it does become clear that some noise reduction has lent the film a somewhat inconsistent and occasionally haphazard look. Sharp and finite one minute, soft and glossed the next. Plus, there is some edge enhancement taking place. It is not wholesale, but it is definitely adding some unwanted ringing to the sides of buildings, monuments and vehicles.
So, there are a few slight issues with this transfer. But, to my eyes, they are only slight and Mars Attacks! generally looks great on Blu-ray.
Warner upgrade the old DD 5.1 track to lossless with a DTS-HD MA remix that does manage to provide the film with plenty of action and activity for you to enjoy above and beyond what you’ve heard before. As always the main recipient of any noticeable improvement is Danny Elfman’s homage-rife score, which now thunders and rumbles its glorious main theme and martial charges with added depth, clarity and a greater range. The percussion is resounding and the gorgeous swooning of both the Theremin and Elfman’s synth-equivalent sliding slyly around the environment. With a score that adds so much to the film, this newer detail supplies freshness, vigour and nuance to elements that could have remained hidden in the more aggressive battle moments.
Dialogue, in the main, is clearly reproduced. The varying accents of Nicholson and co come over well and the excellent Martian staccato of “Ack grack ack ack!!” is splendidly rendered with their accompanying sadistic laughter just as well delivered. It is important to note that the score and the action do take priority over dialogue when the two elements come together. This isn’t a problem, however, and I was never unable to discern what was being said. And, speaking of action, the sub certainly enjoys the more large-scale destruction that occurs. Lots of rumbling, low-frequency energy is created and the wholesale chaos of the first big landing – lots of trucks going over and explosions – and the blitz on Vegas – toppling casinos and army jeeps overturning – are definite standouts. Isolated eruptions are deliciously formidable too, such as the big nuclear blast in space and the destruction of the doughnut store. So, as you can gather, the track is very big on the more emphatic moments of crash and burn. But the retro-sizzle of the Martian weaponry is cute too and the film is surely never less than energetic and entertaining during the action sequences, with copious screams, gunshots, impacts and effects. Oh, and the Tom Jones double-tap of “It’s Not Unusual” sounds hip-gyratingly glorious.
Saucer effects can, on the odd occasion, veer towards the rears, but this is not a track that relishes the opportunity for full wraparound dynamics. Steerage, however, can be reasonably well-achieved, with some blasts and impacts, some crashing vehicles and the Easter Island Statues getting bowled over with a fair degree of directionality. The herd of burning cows offers a chance for distant thundering hooves to draw in closer and to then roar past us, left to right – but this is not as exciting an effect as it could have been. Basically, the wall of activity approaches with force from the front, but really doesn’t progress all the way across the soundstage, though I would say that it is still fairly detailed and exciting.
So, rather like the video transfer, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio transfer for Mars Attacks! is a bit of a hit and miss affair. The “hits” come in the form a very satisfying frontal array of general bombast, detail and warmth, as well a very reasonable degree of bass wallop. The “misses” revolve around the absence of any rewarding or comment-worthy surround activity.
You've got to be kidding me, right?
Are they hidden somewhere? Was there supposed to be a second disc with this release with documentaries, deleted scenes and FX-featurettes on it?
No. Turns out that Warner have even ditched the isolated score track and the trailers from the already poor DVD.
Ack ack grak ack ack gak!!!!!
Burton actually bought the rights to both the “Mars Attacks!” cards and the lesser-known 1988 “Dinosaurs Attack” series, though whether he will ever return to such bubblegum glories remains to be seen. Personally, I want someone to have the guts to make the old American Civil War series into a film – WOW, now that would be seriously nasty, wouldn't it? His adaptation of the stunning imagery found on those cards is visually superlative. The story that he wraps around it, though, is only partially so. But this is still excellent entertainment and really does show the filmmaker cutting loose and just having fun with such over-the-top material. Great effects. Great cast – although there's possibly too many of them. And a fabulously atmospheric and homage-laden score. Mars Attacks and parties at the same time!
As far as the film's Blu-ray release goes … well, it all comes down to how much of a fan of the film you are. If extras mean nothing to you, or if you just want to add a copy to your collection that has much-improved AV quality, then this bare-bones disc will do the trick. But, that said, there are still a few issues with the image and the very fact that Warner have put this out with absolutely nothing of added value does smack of a big missed opportunity. It is almost as though the studio does not seem too proud of this one, but even if it is far from Burton's best, it is far more enjoyable than his Planet Of The Apes foul-up and his off-key and charmless Alice In Wonderland.
I love Mars Attacks! and have a ball with it every time, and even if this is a very poor overall package from Warner, it is the best way to see and hear its flamboyant anarchy on home video.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.49
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