CD Review: Mars Attacks! (3000 Edition)

By • July 13, 2009

Composer: Danny Elfman
Label: La La Land
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Grade: B+

Tim Burton stands as one of the most eccentric directors to ever make it good in Hollywood, a filmmaker whose best work summed up his geek love- an admiration for all things genre that be subtly expressed in such films as EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and BIG FISH, or as over-the-top as an alarm bell in SLEEPY HOLLOW and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The same could be said for Burton’s frequent composer Danny Elfman, whose ability to play in the key of beauty and absurdity (often simultaneously) revealed a guy who was also raised on way too many TV creature features. But in their displays of movie-movie love, or musical eccentricity with the likes of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE, no entry in the Burton-Elfman cannon is quite as audaciously splattered about like 1996’s MARS ATTACKS, an all-star salute to a gory collection of 1962 Topps’ gum cards that ended up as a love-it / hate-it affair of the best kind.

I have personally confronted people who’ve reacted to the MARS ATTACKS soundtrack as if a Klaxon went off in their brain. As for me, I can’t get enough of Elfman’s DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL-on-acid salute to all things musically sci-fi about the late 1950’s and early 60’s, an ooo-wee-oooo era besieged by theremins, lava lamps, ridiculous-looking aliens, cheeseball effects and the orchestras that took this kind of wonderful shit way too seriously. It’s everything approximated by Elfman’s Herrmann-meets-Esquivel score. And now there’s a lot more of MARS to love (and drive everyone else insane) in La La Land’s new, nearly 80-minute presentation of this long-out-of-print soundtrack- which sounds even louder and brilliant than ever as Elfman’s geek Id pours out in an explosion of musical weird science.

Yet what makes most of MARS ATTACKS hang together is Elfman giving this craziness an orchestral backbone to hang his collection of electronics on, not to mention a talent for striking themes. And it’s readily apparent in the syncopated Martian march of the “Main Titles,” where the orchestra and clanking brass join with the Theremin and wrath of God chorus, all cueing you in the for the delirious, near-anarchy that will ensue. Where the satire of Burton’s film often got as juvenile as the gore that made the original “Mars Attacks” cards into a cult item, Elfman is much more in command of the STRANGELOVE-ian satire, from the military brass of incompetent military officers to the Sitars of New Agers (and the vocal stylings Tom Jones) that face off against the gleefully nasty green men. There’s a great “badness” to it all, a delightful cheesiness to the score’s tone that, in a way, makes MARS ATTACKS into the score that Elfman never did for Burton’s ED WOOD.

Danny Elfman’s humor is bitingly sharp from the get-go as patriotic Americana horns and percussion proudly roll for “Barb Shares / Ode BG” before the Martian theme arrives to the mock happiness of “Landing.” It’s a cue that represents Elfman’s best goof on Herrmann’s use of the Theremin and organ that brought Klatuu and Gort to Washington D.C., as these instruments are joined by an array of God-knows-what’s from Elfman’s musical science lab- electronics that Herrmann couldn’t have begun to imagined, or would have stooped to use. But Elfman’s got no compunction about unleashing their bizarre tonalities here, or in such mad science-centric cues as “Ungodly experiments” and “Loving Heads.”

Amidst Elfman’s outrageousness, perhaps no two cues better salute the kitschy joys of MARS ATTACKS like “Martian Madame” and “Martian Lounge,” where Elfman gets to indulge in Esquival-type lounge music, his sci-fi effects joining with exotica rhythms, slithering strings and voices to escort Lisa Marie’s tantalizing Martian temptress to a date with death. Elfman would go hog-wild with this retro-approach when scoring the kid-friendly FLUBBER (not to mention its delicious gashead treatment for HELLBOY: THE GOLDEN ARMY), but it was never more fun or twisted than in MARS ATTACKS.

With Tim Burton relentlessly cramming MARS ATTACKS with visual gags that live or ray-beam die by the second, Elfman’s score is pretty much helpless in turning into a big, manically surging blob as it tries to keep pace. Yet it’s a green, inventive mass of protoplasm that’s somehow held in shape by Elfman’s can’t help but-be-classical sense of thematic construction, which patriotically climaxes with a return to symphonic world with the God Bless America choral quality of “New World” and “Ritchie’s Speech.” Then there’s the dulcet tones of Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call” that magically makes the Martians’ heads explode- if Elfman’s music hasn’t already done the trick to those less inclined for this kind of purposefully bombastic insanity.

But if you’ve got a love for so-bad it’s-great 50’s sci-fi, as well as weird bachelor pad music, chances are you’ll really dig finally getting nearly the whole kaboodle of MARS ATTACKS, a limited edition CD which also includes the film’s trailer music and alternate takes on the main title and Martian lounge music. Even Elfman himself is here to comment on his unique work within Dan Goldwasser’s entertaining liner notes. So if you’re a fan of the true, berserk heart that drives the Elfman-Burton collaboration, strap yourself in for what will likely remain their wildest ride into a shared passion for all things sci-fi kitsch with this truly unleashed soundtrack for MARS ATTACKS.

Get your Ack! Ack! on here

Be sure to stop by the La La Land table at the San Diego Comicon from July 23 – 26th to be the first to buy Bear McCreary’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON 4 album. And while you’re there, hear Bear and his BATTLESTAR music LIVE that weekend at the San Diego House of Blues. For more information, go to

Leave a Comment