Not only was he in hot water, but Jonathan Gems was ultimately fired from the project over the burning cows sequence. “Mars Attacks!” begins with a pair of farmers talking about a smell in the air. It smells like barbecue, one of them notes. Then a herd of cattle — set on fire — charges past. The culprit, a Martian flying saucer, departs the scene. Although that scene was taken straight from the trading cards, executives at Warner objected. Despite multiple re-writes, Gems wouldn’t let it go:
“I think it was the 11th draft, they said, “If the burning cows are in the next draft, you will be fired.” So I did try but I couldn’t think of anything better, so I did deliver the new script with the burning cows. And they fired me.”
Fired or not, Tim Burton filmed the scene and it opens the movie as Gems intended. He was, however, the only credited screenwriter on “Mars Attacks!,” which leads one to speculate that the finished film was mostly his voice. Burton, meanwhile, still feels that “Mars Attacks!” was fun to make, and was happy to include as many images from the trading cards as possible. The director was also peacefully resigned to the usual studio interference. “It’s always funny when studios fight to kick stuff out. That is basically why you’re doing it,” he noted.
Burton, it seems, was the impish Martian in this case. His finished film is an underrated piece of the director’s canon, and is definitely worth a watch when you’re in a destructive kind of mood.
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