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Mars Attacks!

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Mars Attacks!
Mars attacks ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTim Burton
Written byJonathan Gems
Based onMars Attacks
by Topps
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byChris Lebenzon
Music byDanny Elfman
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros
Release dates
  • December 13, 1996 (1996-12-13) (US)
  • February 28, 1997 (1997-02-28) (UK)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$70 million
Box office$101.4 million

Mars Attacks! is a 1996 American comic science fiction film[2] directed by Tim Burton, who also co-produced it with Larry J. Franco. The screenplay by Jonathan Gems was based on the Topps trading card series of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast consisting of Jack Nicholson (in a dual role), Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Pam Grier, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Jack Black, Lisa Marie, and Sylvia Sidney in her final film role.

Alex Cox had tried to make a Mars Attacks film in the 1980s before Burton and Gems began development in 1993. When Gems turned in his first draft in 1994, Warner Bros. commissioned rewrites from Gems, Burton, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski in an attempt to lower the budget to $60 million. The final production budget came to $80 million, while Warner Bros. spent another $20 million on the Mars Attacks! marketing campaign. Filming took place from February to November 1996. The film was shot in California, Nevada, Kansas, Arizona and Argentina.

The filmmakers hired Industrial Light & Magic to create the Martians using computer animation after their previous plan to use stop motion animation, supervised by Barry Purves, fell through because of budget limitations. Mars Attacks! was released theatrically by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on December 13, 1996 and received mixed reviews from critics. The film grossed approximately $101 million in box office totals, which was seen as a disappointment. Mars Attacks! was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and earned multiple nominations at the Saturn Awards.

Plot[edit]

When Earth is visited by a massive fleet of flying saucers from Mars, President of the United States James Dale addresses the people of the United States. Talk show host Nathalie Lake and her boyfriend, news reporter Jason Stone, attempt to capitalize on the developing story with an interview with President Dale's scientific advisor Professor Donald Kessler, which is unexpectedly interrupted by a broadcast from the Martian leader. As the Martians prepare to land outside Pahrump, Nevada, numerous people around the country react to their arrival, including donut shop employee Richie Norris and his older brother Billy Glenn, flamboyant casino operator Art Land and his hippie wife Barbara, divorced ex-boxer Byron Williams and his ex-wife Louise, and Byron and Louise's children Cedric and Neville.

Against the advice of the hawkish General Decker, President Dale chooses to greet the Martians as foreign dignitaries, ordering military officer General Casey to welcome them to Earth. Billy Glenn, a private in the US Army, is among the soldiers who volunteers to accompany General Casey as he greets the Martians in Nevada. Despite the translated message from the Martian ambassador stating that the Martians "come in peace", they turn on the assembled crowd and attack them with rayguns, killing General Casey, Jason, and Billy Glenn, and abducting Nathalie and her pet chihuahua Poppy.

Kessler convinces President Dale that the Martians' attack in Nevada may have been the result of a cultural misunderstanding, and President Dale agrees to let the Martian ambassador address Congress after the Martians issue a formal apology for their actions. Once again, the Martians turn on the assembled humans, massacring most of Congress and abducting Kessler. While Nathalie and Kessler are held captive in the Martian mothership, the Martians remove Nathalie's head and attach it to the body of Poppy. Kessler is also reduced to a disembodied head by the Martians.

President Dale narrowly survives an assassination attempt by a Martian disguised as an attractive blonde woman, who infiltrates the White House by seducing and killing his press secretary Jerry Ross. Following the assassination attempt, the Martians commence a full-scale invasion of Earth, attacking major cities throughout the world. When Martian soldiers overrun the White House, First Lady Marsha Dale is killed by a falling chandelier as President Dale escapes to a secure bunker. Shortly after, Land is killed when the Martians destroy his casino in Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, Barbara prepares to flee to Tahoe in Art's private plane, and offers to let Byron accompany her. The pair are joined by Byron's co-worker Cindy and singer Tom Jones, who offers to pilot the plane. Meanwhile, Richie abandons his parents in their mobile home and goes to his grandmother Florence's retirement home to escort her to safety, leaving his parents to be killed by a Martian piloting a giant robot. At the retirement home, the Martians' brains unexpectedly explode when they hear Florence's record of Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call", revealing their only weakness.

Eventually, Martian soldiers breach President Dale's secure bunker, crushing General Decker after reducing him to minuscule size with a shrink ray. President Dale makes an impassioned speech attempting to convince the Martians to make peace with humanity, but the Martian leader kills him with a gadget disguised as a hand after offering him a handshake.

Barbara, Byron, Cindy, and Tom Jones reach Art's plane, but find the runway overrun by a group of Martians led by the Martian ambassador. To buy time for his companions to escape, Byron steps forward to challenge the ambassador to a boxing match, and beats him to death before being seemingly overrun by Martians as the plane takes off. Around the world, the Martians are defeated as humans play "Indian Love Call" to incapacitate them.

In the aftermath of the war with the Martians, President Dale's teenage daughter Taffy awards the Congressional Medal of Honor to Richie and Florence. In Washington, DC, Byron—who survived his encounter with the Martians—walks up to Louise's home to greet his family. In Tahoe, Barbara, Cindy, and Tom Jones emerge unharmed from a cavern.

Cast[edit]

Other significant actors to appear in the film include Willie Garson as Corporate Guy, John Roselius as GNN Boss, Michael Reilly Burke and Valerie Wildman as GNN Reporters, Rebecca Broussard as a Hooker, Steve Valentine as TV Director, Enrique Castillo as Hispanic Colonel, John Finnegan as Speaker of the House, Gregg Daniel as Lab Technician, and J. Kenneth Campbell as a Doctor. Ron Howard's father Rance Howard has a small part as a Texas Investor, while Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein portrays the Hippie who sets loose the dove. Voice actor Frank Welker as the voice of the Martians/Various Martian V.O.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In 1985, Alex Cox pitched the idea of a film based on the Mars Attacks trading card series as a joint-production to Orion and Tristar Pictures. He wrote three drafts over the next four years, but was replaced by Martin Amis before Orion and Tristar placed Mars Attacks in turnaround.[3]

Jonathan Gems, who had previously written multiple unproduced screenplays for director Tim Burton, came up with his own idea for a Mars Attacks film in 1993. The writer pitched both concepts of Mars Attacks and Dinosaurs Attack! to Burton,[4] who both decided that Dinosaurs Attack! would be too similar to Jurassic Park (1993).[5] Burton, who was busy preparing Ed Wood (1994), believed that Mars Attacks! would be a perfect opportunity to pay homage to the films of Edward D. Wood Jr., especially Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and other 1950s science fiction B movies,[4] such as Invaders from Mars (1953),[6] It Came from Outer Space (1953),[5] The War of the Worlds (1953), Target Earth (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).[4]

Burton set Mars Attacks! up with Warner Bros. and the studio purchased the film rights to the trading card series on his behalf.[7] The original theatrical release date was planned for the summer of 1996. Gems completed his original script in 1994, which was budgeted by Warner Bros. at $260 million. The studio wanted to make the film for no more than $60 million.[8] After turning in numerous drafts in an attempt to lower the budget, Gems was replaced by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.[4] Alexander and Karaszewski worked on the film through July 1995, focusing the characters and making the tone more satirical.

Gems eventually returned to the project, writing a total of 12 drafts of the script. Although he is credited with both the screen story and screenplay of Mars Attacks!, Gems dedicates his novelization of the movie to Burton, who "co-wrote the screenplay and didn't ask for a credit".[4] Warner Bros. was dubious of the Martian dialogue and wanted Burton to add closed captioning subtitles, but he resisted.[9] Working with Burton, Gems pared the film's 60 leading characters down to 23 and the worldwide destruction planned for the film was isolated to three major cities. Scenes featuring Martians attacking China, the Philippines, Japan, Europe, Africa, India and Russia were deleted from the screenplay, leaving only Paris and the Taj Mahal. "Bear in mind this was way before Independence Day (1996) was written," Gems commented. "We had things like Manhattan being destroyed building by building, the White House went and so did the Empire State Building. Warner Bros. figured all this would be too expensive, so we cut most of that out to reduce the cost."[8] Further discussing the differences between Mars Attacks! and Independence Day, Gems stated, "Independence Day is more like a movie called Fail-Safe and Mars Attacks is like Dr. Strangelove", in that both films had a similar story, but with different tones.[10] Howard Stern claimed that the film's climax, where an attack by Martians was thwarted by playing Slim Whitman songs to them, was originally created by him when he worked at WNBC in 1982, in a sketch named "Slim Whitman vs. The Midget Aliens From Mars."[11]

Casting[edit]

The decision to hire an A-list ensemble cast for Mars Attacks! parallels the strategy Irwin Allen used for his disaster films, notably The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).[4] Jack Nicholson, approached for the role of the President, jokingly remarked that he wanted to play all the roles.[12] Burton agreed to cast Nicholson as both Art Land and President Dale, specifically remembering his positive working relationship with the actor on Batman.[4]

Susan Sarandon was originally set to play Barbara Land before Annette Bening was cast.[12] Bening modeled the character after Ann-Margret's performance in Viva Las Vegas (1964).[5] Hugh Grant was the first choice for Professor Donald Kessler, a role which eventually went to Pierce Brosnan.[13] Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Stockard Channing were considered for First Lady Marsha Dale, but Glenn Close won the role.[12] In addition to Nicholson, other actors who reunited with Burton on Mars Attacks! include Sylvia Sidney from Beetlejuice (1988), O-Lan Jones from Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Danny DeVito from Batman Returns (1992), continuing Burton's trend of recasting actors several times from his previous works.[14]

Roger L. Jackson, best known as the voice of Ghostface in the Scream film franchise, makes an uncredited appearance as the voice of the Martian translator device. His performance in Mars Attacks! helped him get the audition for Scream.[15]

Filming[edit]

The originally scheduled start date was mid-August 1995, but filming was delayed until February 26, 1996.[13] Director Tim Burton hired Peter Suschitzky as the cinematographer, because he was a fan of his work in David Cronenberg's films. Production designer Thomas Wynn (A Beautiful Mind, Malcolm X) intended to have the war room pay tribute to Dr. Strangelove (1964).[16] During production, Burton insisted that the art direction, cinematography and costume design of Mars Attacks! incorporate the look of the 1960s trading cards.[6]

On designing the Martian (played by Burton's girlfriend Lisa Marie Smith) who seduces and kills Jerry Ross (Martin Short), costume designer Colleen Atwood took combined inspiration from the playing cards, Marilyn Monroe, the work of Alberto Vargas and Jane Fonda in Barbarella (1968).[17] Filming for Mars Attacks! ended on June 1, 1996.[18] The film score was composed by Burton's regular composer Danny Elfman, to whom Burton was reconciled after a quarrel that occurred during The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), for which they did not co-operate in producing Ed Wood (1994). Elfman enlisted the help of Oingo Boingo lead guitarist Steve Bartek to help arrange the compositions for the orchestra.[4]

Visual effects[edit]

The Martians were created using computer-generated imagery from ILM.

Tim Burton initially intended to use stop motion animation to feature the Martians,[5] viewing it as a homage to the work of Ray Harryhausen, primarily Jason and the Argonauts. Similar to his own Beetlejuice, Burton "wanted to make [the special effects] look cheap and purposely fake-looking as possible."[4] He first approached Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, to supervise the stop motion work, but Selick was busy directing James and the Giant Peach, also produced by Burton. Despite the fact that Warner Bros. was skeptical of the escalating budget and had not yet greenlit the film for production, Burton hired Barry Purves to shepherd the stop motion work. Purves created an international team of about 70 animators, who worked on Mars Attacks! for eight months[5] and began compiling test footage in Burbank, California.[4] The department workers studied Gloria Swanson's choreography and movement as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard for inspiration on the Martians' movement.[5]

When the budget was projected at $100 million[18] (Warner Bros. wanted it for no more than $75 million),[4] producer Larry J. Franco commissioned a test reel from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the visual effects company he worked with on Jumanji. Burton was persuaded to change his mind to employ computer animation, which brought the final production budget to $80 million. Although Purves was uncredited for his work,[5] stop motion supervisors Ian Mackinnon and Peter Saunders, who would later collaborate with Burton on Corpse Bride, received character design credit.[4] Warner Digital Studios was responsible for the scenes of global destruction, airborne flying saucer sequences, the Martian landing in Nevada and the robot that chases Richie Norris in his pickup truck. Warner Digital also used practical effects, such as building scale models of Big Ben and other landmarks. The destruction of Art Land's hotel was footage of the real life nighttime demolition of the Landmark Hotel and Casino, a building Burton wished to immortalize.[14]

Soundtrack[edit]

Mars Attacks!
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedMarch 4, 1997
Recorded1996
GenreSoundtrack
Length46:44
LabelAtlantic Records
ProducerDanny Elfman
Danny Elfman chronology
Extreme Measures
(1996)
Mars Attacks!
(1997)
Men in Black
(1997)

The film's music was composed by Danny Elfman. The soundtrack was released on March 4, 1997 by Atlantic Records.

Track listing[edit]

All music is composed by Danny Elfman (except "Indian Love Call", written by Otto A. Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Rudolf Friml, performed by Slim Whitman and "It's Not Unusual", performed by Tom Jones).

No.TitleLength
1."Introduction"1:40
2."Main Titles"2:22
3."First Sighting"1:26
4."The Landing"6:01
5."Ungodly Experiments"0:53
6."State Address"3:06
7."Martian Madame"3:02
8."Martian Lounge"2:54
9."Return Message"2:17
10."Destructo X"1:17
11."Loving Heads"1:20
12."Pursuit"2:55
13."The War Room"1:31
14."Airfield Dilemma"2:05
15."New World"1:45
16."Ritchie's Speech"3:09
17."End Credits"3:53
18."Indian Love Call" (performed by Slim Whitman)3:08
19."It's Not Unusual" (performed by Tom Jones)2:00
Total length:46:44


Reception[edit]

Release and box office[edit]

Warner Bros. spent $20 million on the movie's marketing campaign; together with $80 million spent during production, the final combined budget came to $100 million.[19] A novelization, written by screenwriter Jonathan Gems, was published by Puffin Books in January 1997.[20] The film was released in the United States on December 13, 1996, earning $9.38 million in its opening weekend. Mars Attacks! eventually made $37.77 million in U.S. totals and $63.6 million elsewhere, coming to a worldwide total of $101.37 million.[21]

The film was considered a box office bomb in the U.S., but generally achieved greater success both critically and commercially in Europe.[22] Many observers found similarities with Independence Day, which also came out in 1996. "It was just a coincidence. Nobody told me about it. I was surprised how close it was," director Tim Burton continued, "but then it's a pretty basic genre I guess. Independence Day was different in tone – it was different in everything. It almost seemed like we had done kind of a Mad magazine version of Independence Day."[4] During the film's theatrical run in January 1997, TBS purchased the broadcasting rights of the film.[23]

Critical reception[edit]

Mars Attacks! drew mixed responses from critics. Based on 85 reviews collected by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 55% of the reviewers enjoyed the film, with an average score of 6.00/10. The critical consensus reads: "Tim Burton's alien invasion spoof faithfully recreates the wooden characters and schlocky story of cheesy '50s sci-fi and Ed Wood movies – perhaps a little too faithfully for audiences."[24] By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 52/100 from 19 reviews.[25] Roger Ebert observed the homages to the 1950s science fiction B movies: "Ed Wood himself could have told us what's wrong with this movie: the makers felt superior to the material. To be funny, even schlock has to believe in itself. Look for Infra-Man (1975) or Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) and you will find movies that lack stars and big budgets and fancy special effects but are funny and fun in a way that Burton's megaproduction never really understands."[26]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Mars Attacks! is all 1990s cynicism and disbelief, mocking the conventions that Independence Day takes seriously. This all sounds clever enough but in truth, Mars Attacks! is not as much fun as it should be. Few of its numerous actors make a lasting impression and Burton's heart and soul is not in the humor".[27] Desson Thomson from The Washington Post said "Mars Attacks! evokes plenty of sci-fi classics, from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to Dr. Strangelove (1964), but it doesn't do much beyond that superficial exercise. With the exception of Burton's jolting sight gags (I may never recover from the vision of Sarah Jessica Parker's head grafted on to the body of a chihuahua), the comedy is half-developed, pedestrian material. And the climactic battle between Earthlings and Martians is dull and overextended."[28]

Richard Schickel, writing in Time magazine, gave a positive review. "You have to admire everyone's chutzpah: the breadth of Burton's (and writer Jonathan Gems') movie references, which range from Kurosawa to Kubrick; and above all their refusal to offer us a single likable character. Perhaps they don't create quite enough deeply funny earthlings to go around, but a thoroughly mean-spirited big-budget movie is always a treasurable rarity."[29] Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader praised the surreal humor and black comedy, which he found to be in the vein of Dr. Strangelove and Gremlins (1984). He said it was far from clear whether the movie was a satire, although critics were describing it as one.[30] Todd McCarthy of Variety called Mars Attacks! "a cult sci-fi comedy miscast as an elaborate, all-star studio extravaganza."[31]

Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B" on a scale of A+ to F.[32]

Awards[edit]

Mars Attacks! was on the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects nomination, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected Independence Day, Dragonheart, and Twister instead.[33] The film was nominated for seven categories at the Saturn Awards. Danny Elfman won Best Music, while director Tim Burton, writer Jonathan Gems, actor Lukas Haas, costume designer Colleen Atwood and the visual effects department at Industrial Light & Magic received nominations. Mars Attacks! was nominated for both the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film (which went to Independence Day)[34] and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.[35]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gates, Anita (December 15, 1996). "Mars Attacks!". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  2. ^ Fountain, Clarke. "Mars Attacks!". Allmovie. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  3. ^ Alex Cox. "Writing". Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mark Salisbury; Tim Burton (2006). "James and the Giant Peach, Mars Attacks!, Superman Lives and The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy". Burton on Burton. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 145–163. ISBN 0-571-22926-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Christine Spines (January 1997). "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus". Premiere.
  6. ^ a b Susan Stark (December 7, 1996). "Director Tim Burton Rebels in His New Space Comedy". The Detroit News.
  7. ^ Cindy Pearlman (December 8, 1996). "Today, Vegas: Tomorrow, The World! Mean Little Green Guys Attack Earth". Chicago Sun-Times.
  8. ^ a b Anthony C. Ferrante (March 1997). "Hidden Gems". Fangoria.
  9. ^ Henry Sheehan (December 27, 1996). "Yak-Yak Is Way Martians Communicate". The Orange County Register.
  10. ^ Ferrante, Anthony C. (January 1997). "Duck for Cover when Mars Attacks". Fangoria (159): 30–35, 79.
  11. ^ Smith, Jim; Matthews, J. Clive (2002). Tim Burton. Virgin. pp. 174–5. ISBN 0753506823.
  12. ^ a b c Jeff Gordinier (February 23, 1996). "Jack's Back". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Staff (1995-07-28). "Target Hollywood". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 2012-03-01. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  14. ^ a b "About the Production . . ". Warner Bros. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  15. ^ "'I Knew It Had to Be Sexy' – The Voice of Scream's Ghostface Speaks". Vice.com.
  16. ^ Ken Hanke (1999). "A Plan 9 of His Own". Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books. pp. 183–92. ISBN 1-58063-162-2.
  17. ^ Richard Natale (November 21, 1997). "Art of fantasy". Variety. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2009.
  18. ^ a b Staff (August 23, 1996). "Fall Movie Preview: December". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  19. ^ Bernard Weinraub (January 2, 1997). "Season of Many Movies, but Not Many Hits". The New York Times.
  20. ^ "Mars Attacks! : A Novelization (Paperback)". Amazon.com. Archived from the original on July 1, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  21. ^ "Mars Attacks!". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on May 14, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  22. ^ Edwin Page (2007). "Mars Attacks!". Gothic Fantasy: The Films of Tim Burton. London: Marion Boyars Publishers. pp. 143–158. ISBN 978-0-7145-3132-8.
  23. ^ John Dempsey (January 22, 1997). "USA Network trumps net window for six features". Variety. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2009.
  24. ^ "Mars Attacks!". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on February 27, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  25. ^ "Mars Attacks! (1996): Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on December 8, 2010. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  26. ^ Roger Ebert (December 13, 1996). "Mars Attacks!". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 15, 2005. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
  27. ^ Kenneth Turan (December 13, 1996). "Mars Attacks! Tim Burton's Plan 9". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 23, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
  28. ^ Desson Thomson (December 13, 1996). "Mars Attacks! We Lose". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
  29. ^ Richard Schickel; Richard Corliss (December 30, 1996). "A Rich Film Feast". Time. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2009.(Subscription required.)
  30. ^ Jonathan Rosenbaum (December 12, 1996). "Flirting With Disaster". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on December 9, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
  31. ^ Todd McCarthy (December 2, 1996). "Mars Attacks!". Variety. Archived from the original on February 3, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2009.
  32. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  33. ^ Andrew Hindes (January 9, 1997). "7 pix set to vie for 3 Oscar f/x noms". Variety. Archived from the original on July 4, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  34. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Archived from the original on 2011-05-12. Retrieved April 14, 2007.
  35. ^ "1997 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards Organization. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved April 13, 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]