The comic science fiction feature Mars Attacks! (1996), was based on the cult trading card series of the same name. Initially budgeted at $60 million, the film eventually cost $80 million to make once Warner Bros. added another $20 million for marketing. It returned $101 million, a disappointing return affected by mixed critical responses that harmed it at the box-office. Indeed, in the USA this picture was considered to be a box-office ‘bomb’, grossing just $38 million. It fared better in Europe, raking in $63 million. More than two decades later it is considered to be a cult classic. And rightly so. While it was being shot, word spread that something unique and fun to be involved with was in progress. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be in it, hence the lengthy list of big name performers in its credits.

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Jack Nicholson plays two characters in the film.

Director Tim Burton is not always everyone’s cup of tea but he is one of a kind. In much the same way as the Coen brothers, he is happy to use actors he likes repeatedly, a policy he demonstrated in this quirky feature. He used Sylvia Sidney from Beetlejuice (1988) in this, her final movie, Jack Nicholson from Batman (1989), Danny DeVito from Batman Returns (1992), O-Lan Jones from Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Sarah Jessica Parker and Lisa Marie from Ed Wood (1994). Burton was told more than once that he was never to kill off Jack Nicholson’s character in any movie in which he was cast. His response? He gave Jack two roles in Mars Attacks! then killed off both of them!

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Lisa Marie as the Martian woman

Burton met 23 year-old Lisa Marie in 1991 at a New Year’s Eve party, just after she had quit modelling for Calvin Klein. She became his inspiration and muse throughout their nine-year relationship and the unlikely couple were engaged even to be married at one time. Unfortunately, they split in 2001. Burton put her in Ed Wood (1994), where she portrayed the real-life character Vampira, but she was most memorable as a gum-chewing, un-blinking Martian girl in Mars Attacks! The dress she wore in the picture was a skin-tight creation that she had to be sewn into it each day. The Chihuahua belonging to Sarah Jessica Parker’s character was actually Lisa’s own pet.

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The writers were not sure what the Martians should sound like, so whenever they were required to speak the words ‘ack-ack-ack-ack’ were temporarily inserted into the script to await a time when the decision could be reached on the most effective language to be utilized. But that decision was never reached and the ‘ack-ack’ sounds became their language for the entire film, which aptly suited the tongue-in-cheek tone of the picture. At the last minute Warners suggested using The design of the Martian ships was based on those featured in the 1956 movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. When it came to settling on a sound effect for the Martians’ ray guns, the producers wanted to use the heat-ray sound effect from the 1953 sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds but Paramount Pictures refused them permission.

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Tom Jones, Annette Bening & Jim Brown

Burton visited singer Sir Tom Jones backstage after one of his Las Vegas shows and asked him if he would like to appear (as himself) in the picture. He happily signed on at once, and so did his back-up singers at that time, Darelle Porter Holden, Christi Black and Sharon Hendrix. Speaking of Vegas; footage of the actual demolition of The Landmark (a hotel and casino formerly owned by Howard Hughes), was effectively used in the movie. Mars Attacks! made it onto the short-list for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but ultimately missed out to Dragonheart, Twister and the eventual winner Independence Day.

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Time After Time (1979) is a greatly under-rated sci-fi thriller. It stars Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, Mary Steenburgen as his love interest Amy Robbins, and David Warner as Jack the Ripper, the man Wells chases in his time machine into 1979 San Francisco. Unfortunately, the powers that decided such things opted to promote the film as a ‘Jack the Ripper’ picture, rather than focusing on the H.G. Wells/time machine aspect. They figured that audiences were more familiar with Jack the Ripper than they were with Wells. That may have been true, but the promoters failed to appreciate that cinema-goers were tiring of ‘Ripper’ films. Consequently,  they stayed away in droves.

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David Warner as ‘Jack the Ripper’ – Mary Steenburgen as Amy Robbins

McDowell and Steenburgen first met on the set of this picture and soon fell in love. Married in 1980, their union produced two children before they divorced a decade later. In real life, Wells and Amy Robbins were married from 1895 until her death in 1927, but it was not a happy marriage. H.G. cheated on his wife repeatedly and was completely unapologetic about it, telling his friends that men should be allowed to have as many mistresses as they pleased! Wives, on the other hand, must remain chaste, for appearances sake if nothing else. A male chauvinist of epic proportions.

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H.G. Wells as played by Malcolm McDowell

Director Nicholas Meyer’s first choice to play ‘the Ripper’ was British star Edward Fox. As incredible as it might seem, Meyer also seriously considered Rolling Stone Mick Jagger for the role. In the end, however, he decided that audiences were likely to accept Mick as the notorious Whitechapel killer, but the chances of him being taken seriously as a Harley Street surgeon would be slight at best. The studio had wanted Sally Field to play Amy but Meyer pushed hard for his current girlfriend Shelley Hack to play her. To Ms. Hack’s credit, she did not wish to become famous through her boyfriend’s help and declined the part. If you have seen the film and wondered why Wells had breakfasted at ‘McDougall’s, the reason was simple enough. McDonald’s had refused to give permission for their name to be used in the film.

Nicholas Meyer wrote this screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for another time-travelling sci-fi film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). It, too, was set in San Francisco and featured similar comedic situations. In Time After Time, the heroine chooses to leave the 20th century and return to the 19th with Wells. In the ‘Star Trek’ film, the modern day San Franciscan heroine opts to leave her 20th century home and travel forward in time aboard the Starship USS Enterprise. Both pictures provide above average entertainment and are well worth watching.



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