“We come in peace! We come in peace!”

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Batman. Beetlejuice. Batman Returns.

All movies that I love. All movies that I have a fond nostalgia for. All movies that I can pretty much tell you where I was and who I was with when I saw them for the first time.  All movies directed by Tim Burton.

I really love Tim Burton. And, as a child, I doubt that I was cognizant enough of such matters to connect that all of these movies that I loved and was religiously rewatching were made by the same director. I connected those dots later, probably sometime after seeing and falling irrevocably in love with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Burton did not direct, but created and produced). But I was in high school then and actually cared by that point about what movies were made by certain directors and what movies by directors whose work I enjoyed I was still yet to see.

In 1994, Tim Burton made a film called Ed Wood that was nothing at all like anything else he had ever done before. It had the director’s trademark whimsy, sure, but it was lacking in the director’s trademark vision. Even as amusing as it is, this is a film that the director obviously intended for a viewer to take seriously. Filmed entirely in black and white, Ed Wood was a bio-pic of a real person, a film director who, more than likely, was of considerable inspiration to Tim Burton. Ed Wood, the real one, was an independent filmmaker in the 1950’s whose work is marked for all time as evidence that the filmmaker didn’t have a lick of talent for the art of filmmaking. His most famous film, an almost-unwatchable 78 minutes of D-grade schlock called Plan 9 From Outer Space, tops many internet lists as possibly being the worst film ever made. Anyone with this movie on their list has a position easy to defend.

But hold on . . . this article is not about Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s not even about Ed Wood. It’s about the movie Tim Burton released after doing Ed Wood. It’s called Mars Attacks! and it’s awful. One has to wonder why Tim Burton would follow up (probably) his best movie with a ridiculous dumpster fire of a movie that, forty years prior, would only have been made by . . . Ed Wood.

Mars Attacks! Poster

Released in 1996, Mars Attacks! is a not-very-funny comedy about an invasion of Earth by hyper-intelligent beings from Mars. When the Martians arrive on Earth, they confuse a dove, released at the meet-and-greet by a hippie, as a sign of Earth’s hostility and all hell breaks loose. The President of France is assassinated by alien invaders. Congress is destroyed . Millions of people are decimated. People are kidnapped by vicious aliens, dismembered, and left to survive as disembodied sentient heads in jars. Jack Nicholson plays two roles (including the most ineffectual world leader possibly ever depicted on film). Vegas lounge singer Tom Jones is instrumental in the future of humanity. Slim Whitman’s song “Indian Love Call” is used as a weapon of mass destruction. It’s all pretty terrible.

And I loved every second of it.



Image result for mars attacks trading cards 1962Let’s back up a second . . . I have to explain that I had an interest in this movie beyond my love for the director. Mars Attacks! is based on a set of trading cards. That’s right. Trading cards. From a company called Topps, which most people would recognize as a company that makes and distributes baseball cards. The original cards were very innovative for their use of using individual cards to tell a single story, with each card serving as one panel of an ongoing comic book. Collect all the cards and you’ve collected the entire story. 

The original cards told a ground-breaking science-fiction saga about Martians discovering that Mars is about to explode due to internal pressure in the planet’s core. They invade Earth in attempt to colonize and move their civilization. The cards were petty graphic, depicting futuristic battle scenes, recognizable Earth landmarks being decimated, and bizarre methods of human torture and slaughter. The original cards were drawn by artists Wally Wood and Norman Saunders.

Let’s back up again . . . I’ve been a comic book collector for most of my life. My favorite comic book among all of the ones I’ve read and enjoyed over the years is a Marvel comic called Daredevil. I’m sure you’re familiar with Daredevil, if not from the recent stellar Netflix series, from the less-than-good 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Marvel first started printing Daredevil in 1964. When it started, Daredevil looked like this:
Image result for daredevil 1964 yellow suit
The comic struggled in sales for the first several months and was near cancellation until issue 7 when Daredevil started to look like this:
Image result for daredevil 1964 red suit wally wood
New design, new character concept, and the book began to sell again. The artist responsible for this character design, and perhaps the revitalization of a comic book that has now existed for fifty-five years, was very popular at the time. That artist was none other than . . . Wally Wood.

Okay. We’re essentially caught up. I’m a fan of Wally Wood (who is also well-known for his work in Mad Magazine). I’m a fan of the trading cards. I’m a fan of Tim Burton. This movie was high up on my list of movies I needed to see in 1996.

I saw it on opening night, and left the movie theater pondering why I was contemplating going back to see a movie that I didn’t find very funny and kinda bored me. I thought to myself that maybe I just didn’t get it. But what’s there to get? The movie is broadly-acted. The special effects (with a few exceptions) are not very good. An excellent all-star cast (including Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, and Danny Devito) is pretty much wasted with little screen time or nothing of note to do. The plot is incomprehensible. The violence is cartoonish and senseless. The laughs are juvenile and not very funny. There didn’t seem to be much here to get. This is clearly not a very good movie. Why oh why, do I want to go see this piece of trash again?

It took me quite a few years and, yes, repeated viewings to realize that I answered the question I started this entry with simply by asking the question. Why would Tim Burton follow up a brilliant, introspective, thought-provoking, Oscar-winning film (Ed Wood won two Academy Awards– one for make-up and one for Martin Landau, Best Supporting Actor for his career-defining depiction of frustrated Plan 9 From Outer Space star, Bela Lugosi) with mindless trash that looks like it might have been made by Ed Wood himself? Because Mars Attacks! looks like it might have been made by Ed Wood himself.

Mars Attacks! isn’t supposed to be any good. It was never intended to be any good. It was intended to be schlock late-night drive-in movie garbage. It was intended, in short, to be an homage to the director that inspired Tim Burton enough to make the well-received film that pretty much put him on the map in the first place. Burton was popular before Ed Wood, to be sure. But he wasn’t horribly credible. Not really taken seriously. Not really seen as a director that should be taken seriously. Certainly not an Oscar winner. Ed Wood gave movie snobs that would never deign to recommend Beetlejuice (if they ever even watched it in the first place) a reason to take notice of his work, of his visionary approach to storytelling. It gave them reason to excitedly wonder what this weird, gothic little man might be up to next. The joke’s on them because what he was up to next was Mars Attacks!

If you accept Mars Attacks! as an homage to Ed Wood, then it really works. It’s not even an homage so much as it is an imitation. For this reason, it might just be the most brilliant film in the entire Tim Burton canon.

I really do have a soft spot for Tim Burton. He’s only made one movie that I haven’t watched repeatedly (2001’s Planet of the Apes was a pointless and idiotic remake of a movie that I hold very dear to my heart). And I agree that not all of his movies are good (not a tremendous fan of either Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland either– but I blame Depp for that more than I do Burton). Mars Attacks!, as I’ve stated, is also not very good. But it’s heart is in the right place.

Ed Wood would have loved it. And I think that’s the point.


“No matter what, Edward will always be special.”

Last month, we mined upcoming releases for inspiration in choosing our Movie of the Month. We decided to do the same in April.

Greg is especially handy in this regard. He manages a movie theater for a living and can probably rattle off release dates without using Google to cheat. He had three movies coming out in April that forced us to consider our selection this month. The obvious one is The Avengers: Endgame but we used a Marvel Cinematic Universe film for ideas last month. Pet Sematary is also coming out, but Aaron thinks it looks awful and Karen doesn’t run to see horror films. It appears that only 2 out of 3 Nerds will be seeing this one!

Ultimately, the release we chose will have opened by the time you read this, but we were inspired all the same.

Dumbo Poster

A live-action remake of Walt Disney’s 1941 classic has come to theaters! And it’s directed by Tim Burton.

For April, Greg and Aaron are going to take some time to talk about their favorite films in the Tim Burton filmography. And to start things off, we picked as our Movie of the Month a movie somewhat regarded as one of his best.

Edward Scissorhands Poster

Three Nerds’ selection, April 2019: Edward Scissorhands
Who Directed It: Tim Burton
Who Wrote It: Caroline Thompson
Who’s In It: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 90% (critics), 91% (audience), IMDB user rating: 7.9 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray and numerous streaming services (Fandango Now, Redbox, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime). This one is actually part of the collection on Hulu!

The Nerds Weigh In
Aaron: I’ll just throw it out there in the beginning– I am unapologetically a huge fan of Tim Burton. I have a soft spot for his creative vision and can find something to like about even the movies that are considered “not-so-good”. With that said, my first viewing of Edward Scissorhands was back when the movie first came out. I was in high school. And I was left a little cold by it. I think my adoration for Tim Burton set the bar a tad too high, and I left this film fairly disappointed. However, in college, I frequented a movie club that used to spend entire weekends showing the collected library of well-known directors. The administrators of this particular club were pretty excited about the recent Oscar wins for Ed Wood. To celebrate, they showed, back-to-back, all four feature films that Burton had so-far directed as well as a handful of his better-known short films. It was here that I saw Edward Scissorhands for the second time. With an audience reacting to the movie’s considerable whimsy, I saw the movie in a whole new light. I also discovered that I could relate to the main character’s feelings of isolation. Subsequent viewings have turned a movie that I was so-so about into one of my favorite Tim Burton films. I generally watch this movie once or twice a year. (P.S. I am about to lose my mind over a Burton-directed remake of Dumbo.)

Greg: Saw this one at the drive-in, of the Harvest Moon variety. I was old enough to understand and chuckle at the oddity of it, but too young to appreciate the importance of it. Years later, after repeat viewings, the idea of Edward being a freak was slowly replaced, in my mind, with the notion that Edward was simply Edward. He was made that way. And because Edward was Edward, Edward was special. And, after more viewings, the movie helped me realize that we all are special in our own ways. Whether others see us as such or not. And then, even after more viewings than that, after years of watching once or twice a year, as Aaron does, a new revelation occurred to me. A new dream, actually. A dream consisting of a group of people in a basement bar, not unlike the one in which Alan Arkin introduces Edward Scissorhands to whiskey. Each person in the bar is undeniably distinguishable from the next, but all are accepting of the peccadillos of the others, not judging those next to them. Instead of pointing to me (I mean Edward) and saying, “that dude is all kinds of goofy,” they say, “That’s Edward, and that’s who he is.” And everyone in that shag carpeted basement raises a glass before moving the conversation along to something else.

Lil Bit O Trivia – Edward Scissorhands

1. Can you imagine anyone else playing Edward Scissorhands? Neither can we. But it turns out that both Jim Carrey and Robert Downey, Jr. were in the running to play the role. Tom Hanks apparently came pretty close as well. Gary Oldman was offered the part, but eventually turned it down. As was Tom Cruise, who turned it down because he thought the ending was too dark and bad for his image at the time. John Cusack expressed interest. William Hurt. In addition to those big names . . . and this is a rumor that we have found on multiple internet sites, but are unable to confirm . . . pop singer Michael Jackson was apparently interested in the role. It is rumored that he pestered Tim Burton with repeated phone calls that were never returned.

Vincent Price Picture

2. As big a fan of horror films and gothic entertainment that Tim Burton seems to be, it comes as no surprise that he is a fan of iconic horror-film actor Vincent Price. In fact, Vincent Price’s role in this film was tailor-made and written specifically for him. Unfortunately, Vincent Price was very ill during filming and his performance had to be cut considerably to accommodate his struggles with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Price passed away three years after the release of this film. Edward Scissorhands was his final screen performance.

3. This role was not an easy one for Johnny Depp. All accounts of the process of filming this movie claim that Depp went above and beyond the call of duty to perfect it. It is reported that he lost 25 pounds to prepare, but probably lost more than that throughout the process. The movie was filmed in Florida. It was hot. But Depp refused cooling agents in the skin-tight leather outfit. This caused him to pass out occasionally. Once, he threw up. Actually, he threw up twice while filming: Depp actually consumed all of the different foods and appetizers that the neighbors shove in his mouth during the barbeque sequence. His make-up for the role took almost two hours daily to apply. Why did Depp put in this much work to the detriment of his own health? Because producers were concerned that Depp’s pretty-boy 21 Jump Street image would hurt the film’s believability.

4. The wondrous menagerie of bushes that Edward Scissorhand’s masterfully creates while trimming the shrubbery in the film were actually meticulously-built wire frames. The frames were covered with real and artificial plants and flowers intricately woven around the sculptures. If you really like those sculptures, you can visit them. Some of them are on permanent display at Tavern on the Green, an upscale restaurant in New York City.

sk-2017_04_article_main_mobile~25. This image is a rendering of the actual fossil of an extinct primitive arthropod discovered in 2013 by paleontologist David Legg in Kootenay National Park in Canada. In Legg’s own words: “When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands.” The fossil was named kootenichela deppi in an obvious reference to the actor. Again, quoting Legg: ” . . . I am also a bit of a Depp fan and so what better way to honour the man than to immortalise him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea?”

Well, that’s probably enough for this month, friends. Be sure to check back in throughout the month for more discussion about the filmography of Tim Burton. Aaron will start us off next week with the defense of a film in the library that is not one of Burton’s most popular. Can you guess which one it is?