I Wish I Made That: Mars Attacks & Critters
Welcome to this month’s edition of ComingSoon.net’s I Wish I Made That, in which filmmakers Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Mohawk) and Victoria Negri (Gold Star) each pick a film they wish they had actually made! This discussion focuses on alien comedy sci-fi classics Mars Attacks (1996) and Critters (1986). Check out their conversation below!
Victoria Negri is an actress, producer, writer, and director known for The Walk (2020) and The Fever and the Fret (2018). Gold Star, her 2017 debut feature as director, served as the final onscreen performance by noted actor Robert Vaughn. You can purchase Gold Star by clicking here
Ted Geoghegan studied screenwriting under the tutelage of the late Carroll O’Connor. After writing numerous genre features in Europe and The United States, he made his directorial debut with the 2015 horror film We Are Still Here, then followed it up with the Native American revenge movie Mohawk (2017). Click here to purchase We Are Still Here, and click here to purchase Mohawk!
Geoghegan recently began a well-received podcast titled “This is Not a Story About…” Each episode of the program begins as the story of someone or something in the world of film that cinephiles know very well, but transforms into an expertly-researched tale about a new topic: one that can be closely-related or worlds away from where its story began. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here!
I WISH I MADE THAT #4: ALIEN ATTACK AUGUST
Ted Geoghegan: Hey Victoria! I can’t believe we’re already on the fourth edition of “I Wish I Made That” – even though it feels like we’ve been doing this for eight hundred years. 2020 certainly is an interesting time paradox, isn’t it?
Victoria Negri: Time is weird right now. I had a call with a friend this afternoon and we were both like, when did we last speak? March? June? What’s going on? But yes, edition #4!
Geoghegan: And to celebrate this weird time, we decided to go down a sci-fi rabbit hole… but instead of classy, mind-bending stuff, we went for silly space creatures coming to Earth!
Negri: Yeah, we could’ve gone down the intense literal “Alien” kind of film, but I’m still in this mindset of needing fun. Though, these films kept honestly veering me towards really relevant subjects that my brain was like, whoa okay. Right. These have a lot going on in addition to camp. Mine was “Mars Attacks!” and you picked “Critters”. Another film you picked that I had never seen before!
Geoghegan: Two perfectly fun PG-13 movies with silly villains, but both ending up juuuuuust a touch disturbing, as well.
Negri: Hahaha. Yeah, some cringey things in there. Over the top violence, weird kinda vaguely sexist stuff it’s all in there. What made you pick “Critters” for this edition?
Geoghegan: Critters was a movie that I grew up on. I saw the second one in the theater and would regularly binge all four of them at the video store growing up. They were silly fun, but the first one always held a special place in my heart.
Negri: When was the last time you saw it before just now?
Geoghegan: Probably about five or six years ago, I think?
Negri: Cool. Yeah was wondering how much time passed and whether or not it was one of those revisiting and watching for the first time since you were a kid films or not.
Geoghegan: It was born out of the post-Gremlins boom that also gave us Ghoulies. Studios were obsessed with the idea of getting out movies featuring little monsters, so there was a glut of them for a while.
Negri: Yeah, I was thinking that must’ve been it. Definite Gremlins vibes from the critters as characters.
Geoghegan: But Critters always stuck out as a quality entry. It’s got great sets, a fun cast, a cute premise, and I love the Krites!
Negri: Yeah are both adorable and horrifying. I love how they roll around like little dust balls and then pop out and their teeth are insane. Those big mouths, it’s really fun
Geoghegan: And the fact that they actually have a language and fly little spaceships?! Oh, it kills me!
Negri: Yeah, it’s so weird and creative. I also love how there are different layers to your pick, how it’s both a monster movie and an alien film. We have the bounty hunter characters (Terrence Mann as one!) who are aliens impersonating humans searching for the Krites.
Geoghegan: I think, ultimately, the reason I selected it is because it makes me happy – which is a recurring theme here. I wish I’d made Critters, but I’d LOVE to make a new one and just add to the canon!
Negri: Yeah, what would you do if you were to make a new one? I haven’t seen the subsequent ones, obviously, but what would you want to explore?
Geoghegan: Truth be told, the sequels have almost explored too much about them. If I made one, I’d go back to the series roots. They’re little monsters who kill people, and they have to be killed first. They’re not even that hard to kill, but when you’re alone on a farm, they space porcupines have the upper hand!
Negri: Ah so bring them back in the middle of nowhere and have them duke it out? That sounds fun right now. Would you keep the look the same with them? I also want to say I really liked the special effects. The transformation from the bounty hunters into their human characters was a really cool scene. So, wondering how you would handle special effects with it and the Krites too. Reminded me of that Indiana Jones melting-face moment
Geoghegan: The Krites are perfect. I would never change a thing about them. And they’ve remained the same in all the sequels! The bounty hunters are a regular presence in several of the films, but I’d downplay them. Hell, I’d probably kill them off in the first act. I want to see people without laser guns have to fight those little bastards. But, speaking of laser guns, I gotta ask… Mars Attacks?!
Negri: Mars Attacks is one that I grew up loving. I remember seeing the trailer for it and flipping out, counting the days until it came out in theaters.
Geoghegan: I love Mars Attacks. It’s such a dark, strange film. It always feels sociopathic to laugh at it.
Negri: Again, I love the aliens. They are so weird. They wear tiny little red speedos and glitter capes and they speak like ducks. And their faces are horrifying but something kind of endearing, too. And yes, I watched last night and had moments that I was laughing at where I was like, what’s wrong with me?
Geoghegan: Did you collect the Topps trading cards that the film was based upon? I had them – and the accompanying Dinosaur Attacks cards – until my mom found them and threw them out. She was horrified by how violent they were.
Negri: I didn’t have them, but I was reading about them! How were they violent as compared to the movie?
Geoghegan: Waaaaaaay more violent. They’re gorefests!!!
Negri: Amazing. Now I’m laughing like a sociopath. I was so freaked out watching the movie last night, too, because I was like, oh no. This is so relevant to right now politically. When Nicholson at the start of the film playing the President is standing in the oval office and keeps making decisions to try and keep himself in the best light, I was like – this is us right now. So the film was good escapism but then I kept being brought to how weirdly current it is.
Geoghegan: 100%. Let’s just say that our current Commander in Chief is both Mars Attacks’ President James Dale and scumbag Art Land… (Both Nicholson’s characters)
Negri: Yeah, his Vegas character is definitely just another side of our President.
Geoghegan: Too real.
Negri: Agreed on that. Also, a huge laugh happens for me when the aliens are saying “We are your friends” and annihilating people. I’m like, oh no. There’s something wrong with me.
Geoghegan: And what a cast for that insanity! Besides Nicholson, we got Glenn Close, Annette Benning, Pierce Brosnan, Danny De Vito, Michael J. Fox, Pam Grier… The list goes on forever!!!
Negri: I know! And I forgot about Jack Black too! As I was watching and writing down notes of things that stood out. I literally just wrote down, “And Jack Black!” It’s like an Avengers film cast but with weird aliens
Geoghegan: And did you notice Jack Black’s girlfriend? It was Christina Applegate!
Negri: Ah! Yes! Crazy. It’s an all-star alien fest.
Geoghegan: So, what makes you want to make Marks Attacks?! Tim Burton’s shoes are a pretty big pair to fill!
Negri: I could never fill Tim Burton’s shoes. I think I would just love to make something that is that bold, but fun. It really tows the line between camp, satire, violence, humor, all of it. Like we were saying, we’re laughing at these horrifying things. But I also think the film has a lot thematically going on. I think it’s super smart. Thinking about xenophobia in this country, blind patriotism, etc. It masks all of that through this strange alien film. It would be so fun and a massive challenge to explore things like that beneath the guise of those weird little Martians.
Geoghegan: The film is quite epic. We’ve talked about this in past columns, namely our fantasy-themed one. The idea of tackling something so momentous is exciting and horrifying.
Negri: Yes! And I love that we’ve done enough editions of this now to find connections and
Geoghegan: Well, Critters did get a sequel/reboot last year, but it wasn’t that well-received.
Negri: Hmm. Yeah, I’ll have to check it out to see. That’s unfortunate.
Geoghegan: The third film is the film debut of Leonardo DiCaprio. I’d want him to come back.
Negri: Whoa! All these celebs starting out in alien films. Yeah, that’d be incredible. Would you want him to reprise his role as an adult or have him play someone else?
Geoghegan: Oh, since we’re dreaming, he’d absolutely be playing the same person – utterly wrecked by seeing all these people get decimated by Krites as a small child.
Negri: I’d love to see him do that. He really is funny and things like Wolf of Wall Street make me think as an adult he should push the physical comedy/being over the top more. Him and Krites?! Yes! I’d want him to have an epic death, though. It feels like he should die in it.
Geoghegan: Truthfully, I’d love to retell the film as the original was told. A sleepy family in Middle America, thrust into this wild tiny version of an alien invasion. It’s so charming.
Negri: Yeah, I want to see the Ted reboot! But you’d still do less bounty hunters? And would it be current times or a period piece?
Geoghegan: I think it could absolutely be set in the present, even though I think everything’s too complex these days. I find such solace in Norman Rockwell’s version of America and throwing little monsters in there to shake it up would be a joy.
Negri: Agreed, simpler times. The focus would be how their community is disrupted by this one horrible (but cute for audiences) thing
Geoghegan: With less bounty hunters, and more kids on bikes, grumpy parents, and horny boyfriends.
Negri: Hahaha! Kids on bikes! What I appreciated about it, too, was how much it gave nods to other films. That moment felt like such an homage to ET with Brad on the bike. Even the sound of the bike, there was something nostalgic about that for me, both for childhood and a movie lover of films with kids on bikes tackling alien kind of things in films.
Geoghegan: Kids are also at the heart of Mars Attacks… ultimately saving the day when every adult – and the US Military – cannot. Would your version of the film retain that?
Negri: Yes! Exactly! I would love to. I think that’s what I love about it. Every adult is worried about themselves in the film, their own motivations, but the kids are more in tune with what’s actually going on. Their instincts aren’t corrupted by society yet. The younger characters see the world as it is in these films. It’s really a beautiful thing to think about, beyond the violence in the films and such. How can we retain that?
Geoghegan: Hell of a good question.
Negri: Charlie is an interesting character in Critters, because he bridges the gap between the kids and adults. What do you make of his character? Would you have someone like him in your version?
Geoghegan: Absolutely. He’s such a charmer and does all he can to be on everyone’s side. He’s also the star of the second, third, and fourth films, and does far more to fend off the Krites. I love him.
Negri: Yeah, it’s delicate and I think on paper it’s one of those situations where I’d be like, ah, will this work? But he’s great in bridging that gap. And I love how he’s an ally to Brad and vice versa, even before the Krites make their presence known. They establish him really well in the first act of the film too.
Geoghegan: I feel as though they tackle his character very well in the first film. He’s clearly mentally impaired, but those around him love him and treat him with respect, even if they don’t always believe him. Don Opper, who plays Charlie, also wrote the film!
Negri: Oh! Well then on paper it works because he knew it would!
Geoghegan: I think it was a role he’d always intended on playing.
Negri: Maybe because it was so delicate. That’s so interesting that he wrote himself that part. I’d have run from it screaming.
Geoghegan: He gets to have SO much fun in the sequels – especially the second one.
Negri: I really need to watch the other films!
Geoghegan: If you had fun with the original, you’ll get a laugh out of the others.
Negri: He’s also kind of a psychic, too. He predicts them coming and it’s that kind of instincts too that the kids have. Unspoiled by the world.
Geoghegan: Do you feel like we were ripped off by not getting a Mars Attacks sequel?
Negri: Yeah, I really wanted one. I was reading about what happened and the movie actually was considered to not do well. The budget was $80 million and it only grossed about $100 million so that wasn’t considered a huge success. But it’s so great and I want to see more from these aliens. I think for a sequel, it would be cool (and boom up goes the budget) to have it set on Mars. Maybe it’s current times and the aliens are still there and we’re trying to colonize there because we need resources here. A reverse of what the first film is. And then trying to keep the cast huge somehow so we can get all those fun names in there. Or more in the future so there’s a colony on Mars.
Geoghegan: Bringing it to Mars would be SO fun! Earth Attacks!!! Mars Attacked!!!
Negri: Yeah! Yes! I love how you’re like, I want to keep it America and unspoiled by the current world and I’m like I WANT TO GO TO MARS haha I’m loving this more and more. The sequel titles are so fun for this. I can’t decide it Earth Attacks or Mars Attacked is better.
Geoghegan: Thanks. You can have either for free. Hah!
Negri: Haha! And we can see what their weird little society is like! I want to see more of how they dress, their lives, little baby aliens. More red speedos, please.
Geoghegan: All the speedos! I’m definitely seeing why you want to make Mars Attacks!
Negri: Yeah and just get it out of earth completely. That’d make it even more escapism but could still manage to have some deeper themes in there. And so much fun. And maybe they’ve evolved past the yodeling killing them.
Geoghegan: What music would it be this time?!
Negri: Ooooooo. Hm. Wow that’s so tough. The yodeling was so random and funny because it’s good for what it is but most people aren’t like – oh, yodeling is great! My brain immediately was like – trap music, for some reason. But now I’m thinking like 90s techno. Like really 90s clubbing music. That’d be hilarious.
Negri: Aggressive remixes. On Mars. This needs to happen.
Geoghegan: So, it seems like this edition of “I Wish I Made That” is kind of more like, “I Wish I Could Make A Sequel To That”!
Negri: Totally!! Or a reboot in your instance! I really want to see both of our versions of these films. This has made me so happy to imagine.
Geoghegan: Me too! It’s pretty endearing to imagine a world where we’d have the opportunity to bring our voices to stories that we love so much.
Negri: Yeah, it’s fun to think so freely about what we would do with zero limitations. So many things came up in the moment today chatting with you, especially the music for my sequel – haha! Fun surprises! And I am excited to watch the other Critters films waiting for me
Geoghegan: Also, given everything happening in the world today, it’s fun to think about escapism. Now more than ever – yet another overarching concept in this column.
Negri: Yeah, we’ve been definitely picking films that allow for that. Bringing us to different planets, fantasy worlds and more. It’s great to revisit these kinds of films and discover new ones.
Geoghegan: As am I! Until next time, please stay healthy!
Negri: You too!
Geoghegan: I’m headed to Mars. Seems safer.
Negri: Me too – haha!