In my previous entry (The Films of Tim Burton Part Three), I covered Batman Returns and Ed Wood.
Next up is 1996’s Mars Attacks! I first saw it when it came to cable, but I wouldn’t get to see it on the big screen until the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image nine years ago. I’ve always felt this was an underrated film (coming out not too long after the somewhat similar Independence Day didn’t help). It’s a crazy comedy with some over-the-top performances from an all-star cast (Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Natalie Portman, Martin Short, etc.) and an appropriately sci-fi ’50s-sounding score by Danny Elfman (who resumes his collaboration with Tim Burton after a brief break). At first glance, this might not seem like a film that would personally resonate with anyone.
One thing I’ve come to notice over the years is that Mars Attacks! shares a few things with Stanley Kubrick’s excellent 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. Both movies feature end-of-the-world scenarios, the actor playing the President of the United States plays at least one other character (Jack Nicholson also plays a crazy cowboy), and there is a crazy general (hilariously portrayed by Rod Steiger) who tries to push so hard for war, resulting in Jack Nicholson uttering my very favorite cinematic use of the phrase, “Shut up!”
How does any of this personally resonate with me? Well, it really wasn’t until after George W. Bush moved into the White House in 2001 that the film began to resonate. How would our government respond if aliens arrived to kill us? It may seem like a very silly question, but when the (at that time) current president is a crazy cowboy who’s also a former cokehead and alcoholic, the government response seen in Mars Attacks! doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Dick Cheney wasn’t in the military, but he did look a lot like Rod Steiger. While the government response to the Martian attacks was funny and ridiculous, I began to fear that the real government could screw up just as easily as the one in the film. It turned out that I was right to fear the critical thinking skills of the Bush administration (for example: their responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). It is the fear of the government’s response to a major crisis that will always resonate with me (no matter who the president is).
Next up is 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. I remember thinking how awesome this movie was going to be when I first saw the trailer before a screening of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (the first R-rated film I saw on the big screen). You can’t imagine how disappointed I was when, a few months later, I couldn’t get a parent or relative to accompany me to see this film (I was 15 at the time). Of course, I finally saw it when I bought the DVD a couple of years later. And despite multiple viewings on DVD, I still went to see it on the big screen at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2003 (no parent or guardian needed this time!). Just seeing it there made me feel like I was watching it for the very first time. Hearing Danny Elfman’s haunting score inside the auditorium was just the icing on the cake.
Ichabod Crane (played by the excellent Johnny Depp) is a character I have a lot in common with. We use logic and support rationality. We condemn religion and/or superstition, and accept the use of science. We seek the truth of things and, not until recently, we both have fathers who are members of the clergy (my father became a deacon last year). Besides being a terrific supernatural murder mystery, this film is also the story of Ichabod fully maturing and finally moving on from his haunted past. It kind of sounds like the story of my life, but without the supernatural murder mystery. I have a couple of more things to do before I can move on to a new life like Ichabod at the end (no spoiler alert because if you haven’t seen the film yet you shouldn’t have read this far anyway). Basically, if life throws a flaming pumpkin at you (metaphorical or literal), just get up, dust yourself off, and keep going. I’ve learned that there’s no use to live in fear.
COMING SOON: The Films of Tim Burton Part Five