Column: Slicing Score: Mars Attacks! (1996)

By Maria Mitchell

Marks Attacks! (1996). Composer: Danny Elfman.

1996 was a year that belonged to the aliens in mass media. Television chose to showcase two science fiction shows that were toned with a comedic flair. 3rd Rock from the Sun made audiences laugh on NBC and Space Cases colored Nickelodeon’s airwaves with whimsical corniness. On the big screen, however, audiences were introduced to aliens with less benevolence than Harry Solomon or Rosie Ianni. The aliens of Independence Day blew up the White House, and the aliens of Mars Attacks! pushed the Washington Monument over and squashed a troop of hapless boy scouts. Neither act was a subtle battle tactic enforced by the aliens.

Yet, all four groups of these aliens in media from 1996 had one thing in common: They all embraced a quirky wackiness that reinforced the notion that aliens are superior to humankind, even in their use of a non sequitur. Plainly put: Either aliens are here for the good of humankind, or they’re here to blast the Earth to Kingdom Come. There’s no middle area.
Mars Attacks! made excellent dramatic use of human paranoia concerning devious alien intentions. While its portrayal of aliens is more cartoonish than the aliens of films like Alien and Fire in the Sky, these Martians succeed in forwarding a spectacular invasion of Earth.
“Introduction”: A slow cue. It keeps its ethereal sound to a minimum.

“Main Titles”: In keeping with the tone of sci-fi movies from the 1950s, the main titles (and other parts of the score) use an instrument called the “Theremin.” This electronic instrument emits a strange, tremulous sound that is something like a cross between a violin and a high-pitched human voice. It sounds otherworldly and it is great music to compliment the spookiness of an alien invasion.

“First Sighting”: A slow piece that is suspenseful.

“The Landing”: This piece is ethereal and strange. The Theremin sounds mostly benign and not as eerie as it usually sounds. Earthlings in the film are not ready to believe the aliens mean harm.

“Ungodly Experiments”: A cue that shouldn’t be taken to the letter.

“State Address”: Music that evoked patriotism during an alien invasion. There’s no better moment for it.

“Martian Madame”: Strange cue that accompanies the appearance of the Martian Spy Girl who infiltrates the White House.

“Martian Lounge”: Extraterrestrial lounge music. Followed by horror.

“Return Message”: While the Theremin doesn’t get a solo, it does get some nice accentuation here.

“Destructo X”: A jazzy horn intro followed by a war march.

“Loving Heads”: It’s always nice to have romantic music accompanying doe-eyed decapitated heads. Something audiences didn’t get to see and hear in the great Re-Animator.

“Pursuit”: Not as fast of a pace as “Destructo X” but another war-like march.

“The War Room”: A continuation of “Pursuit.”

“Airfield Dilemma”: A continuation of the previous cues but with more synthesized instrumentation.

“New World”: Brashly heroic music accentuating the near-end of the alien malice.

“Ritchie’s Speech”: A little sappy and sentimental.

“End Credits”: This has a softer intro than the main titles, but it is mostly a reiteration of them. This theme, though, is a great one for science fiction fans as it pipes the theme of Earth’s malevolent, brash and corny adversaries back to the oblivion they came from.

“Indian Love Call”: The deciding variable between humankind’s total decimation and tenuous survival was this song. This song succeeded where Earth’s entire army failed. I would say that is pretty flattering to Slim Whitman.

“It’s Not Unusual”: One fun and very dark feature of this film was how many members of its A-list cast died in various gruesome, mean-spirited ways. Tom Jones survives the movie to the last frame, though, and this song carries him through the end.

The Mars Attacks! soundtrack is available through Amazon.com.