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I watched this film again recently, because I wanted to give it a second chance. Maybe I wasn't in the right state the first time.
But it's not me. It's the film. None of it quite works.
The film is ostensibly a B-movie black comedy parodying alien films of the old days. But it's not. Instead, I see something that most often fails to straddle the line between bleak and humorous, and thus, I don't know if I'm supposed to be watching a comedy, a satire, an action movie, or an apocalyptic horror film. The Martians oscillate between comical assholes and dramatic chaotic sociopaths, and the human characters are often shallow or unlikable and don't really come together for anything meaningful, so it's unclear if we're supposed to cheer on the Martians' murder sprees or be horrified by them. The only characters whom we might root for get limited screentime, so there isn't enough built up for them, and thus, they're not really protagonists. Also, despite the shallowness, some of the misfortunes that befall the humans are such that it comes off as tragic and cruel, not funny. Parents watch their son be killed by Martians on live TV, and we're expected to be amused because they're rednecks? It's not even So Bad, It's Good, which is vital for an intentional B-movie.
The plot is also a mess. Much is made of the Martians' mysterious intentions before it's simply revealed that they want to kill everyone. That's kinda funny...but it doesn't play funny. Instead, it seems like the Martians are coldly manipulating everyone for fun, but we also don't know if we can trust the humans' translating machine, which throws it all off. If we can't trust the translator, then it's a mystery that incites questions and fear...but it's supposed to be funny, so it fails. Either the translator's capabilities or the Martians' intentions must be clear. If the translator is clearly wrong but the humans still fall for it, that's funny. But if they're lying, it's not funny and if we don't actually know, then it's just confusing. Sometimes, they try to apply drama and emotion, but it's overall not that kind of movie. There's no moral or central commentary, but there could be. They could focus on diplomacy, comparing the treacherous interactions with Mars to real foreign policy. There could be discussion about trust and human nature during crisis. But there's nothing.
There are good parts. There are some inspired gags, and some scenes ride successfully on absurdity. There are also some setpieces and designs that show how truly great a Tim Burton sci-fi film could be. The Martian Girl is a special high note, being a rare Burton character portrayed in full live-action with no special effects, who nonetheless feels exactly like one of his drawings come to life. It's a shame the rest of the film is so confused, because his movies are usually genuinely imaginative and funny, and there are parts of it here that show potential.
Just not enough.
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