Ghosts of Mars

Synopsis: Terror is the same on any planet.

From John Carpenter, the master of horror behind 1998’s hit John Carpenter’s Vampires and classics like The Thing and Halloween, comes a sci-fi thriller full of explosive action and bone-chilling suspense.

Natasha Henstridge (Species) is Melanie Ballard, a headstrong police lieutenant on Mars in the year 2025. Humans have been colonizing and mining on the red planet for some time, but when Ballard and her squad are sent to a remote region to apprehend the dangerous criminal James “Desolation” Williams, played by Ice Cube (Three Kings), they discover that he’s the least of their worries. The mining operations have unleashed a deadly army of Martian spirits who take over the bodies of humans and won’t stop until they destroy all invaders of their planet.

With a stellar cast including Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Jason Statham (Snatch) and Clea Duvall (The Faculty), as well as explosive special effects, John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars is an intergalactic terror fest like you’ve never seen.
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Ghosts of Mars 6.0

‘The Ward’, John Carpenter’s upcoming feature, will be unveiled soon. It will be his first full-length film in almost a decade. 2001’s ‘Ghosts Of Mars’, his last effort, got slammed critically and commercially and he has barely been heard of since (one exception being the TV series ‘Masters of Horror’)

Mind you, Carpenter had been on a streak of poorly-received films that stretched back to the mid-’80s, so he was probably due for a break. Heck, let’s face it: we probably all were. And ‘Ghosts Of Mars’ only seems to prove it.

Set on the “Red Planet”, our film takes us into a future where a matriarchal society has managed to terraform the environment to 84% – enough for humans to live comfortably. Despite their progress, humans still haven’t managed to root out criminal behaviour, however, and our story begins when a police
force is sent out to retrieve a mass murderer.

But not all is as it seems – for there are ghosts on the loose! And, not only that, but these ghosts can take over the bodies of hapless human beings! Heehaw! Chills and thrills ensue!

Look, let me get this out of the way: I’ve seen worse. I thought that there were some enjoyable bits to this film and I wasn’t bored at all (even if I was nodding off by the film’s end ). But it’s hardly a masterpiece.

Now let me tell you why:

When Jason Statham is the best actor of your cast, you know that you’re in trouble. And this was early-Statham; he had presence, but was hardly realistic in his interpretation. Meanwhile, our female lead, Natasha Henstridge, is basically a poor man’s Julia Roberts. This speaks for itself. As for the rest of the cast, they’re of b-movie calibre at best. Except for Ice Cube. He just plain sucks here.

The story is far-fetched enough as it is, but at least they tried to set the stage properly; the story is mapped out effectively enough. Having said this, I got the sense that someone wanted to trim the film down (Was it the studio? The producer? The director?), but couldn’t because it’s full of long-takes – and most of the scenes were important enough in moving the story along that cutting them would have been damaging.

So what did they do?

They resorted to a strange editing style that basically consists of fading in and out segments of scenes. So, as an example, if a character needs to walk 100 feet, you’ll see them walk to about 20 feet, then the film will flash forward to 40 feet, then to 80 feet and then to 100 feet. It’s very distracting, because it’s an unusual stylistic choice – and it made me wonder who was in such a hurry that we couldn’t just let the damn scene unfold normally. Thankfully, this didn’t happen all the time, but it was enough to stick in my mind.

Also, a lot of the special effects look so bad that you’d think this was made 20 years prior, circa ‘Dune’. It was strange to see, because, if you didn’t know any better, you might think that the film was older than it
actually is; it would be a natural mistake to make (I mean when characters ‘fly’ in front of projections, the film’s either old or seriously low-budget). Even the “ghosts” were really crappy: the red mist/fog/smoke
that spews out in lieu of actual ghosts is really stupid and dumb-looking. Even when we get to see things from a Martian ghost’s POV, it looks like it was done with minimal skill – by tinting things red. Whoop-tee-doo.

I don’t know… to me the setting and concept seemed like an effort to repeat the success of ‘The Thing’ – but in reverse (humans go to Mars, instead of the alien coming to earth). Except that it’s not nearly as well thought-out or crafted. It is claimed by some that it is essentially a remake of ‘Assault on Precinct 13’. I have yet to see it, so, let’s say it’s ‘The Thing’ crossed with ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, just for argument’s sake.

Basically, if you liked either of those, then you might like ‘Ghosts of Mars’. If you didn’t, then only the infinitely curious should bother – while it’s not a horrible film, it’s still rather forgettable.

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