Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea Duvall, Pam Gier, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, Peter Jason
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Ghosts of Mars is the most recent feature film from acclaimed horror director John Carpenter who did some amazing horror films such as Halloween, The Thing, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness and a few others that did pretty well. Unfortunately for fans of Mr. Carpenter, this film happens to be one of his lesser films and has unfortunately left us calling on him to redeem himself and give us something great to remember him by. Why? Well…because films and careers are the same when it comes to their conclusions, you never forget them.
This film takes place 200 years into the future and mankind is now developing colonies on planet Mars. A group of highly trained police officers led by Lt. Melanie Ballard(Natasha Henstridge, mainly known as “the girl from Species“) and Sgt. Jericho Butler(Jason Statham, he needs no introduction) are on a mission to transport a very dangerous criminal known as James “Desolation” Williams(Ice Cube, “Today Was a Good Day”?) from an outpost holding cell to a prison so he can stand trial for his crimes. When the officers arrive at the outpost they find it deserted and full of much blood and other various body parts, indicating something very bad has happened there. During a mining expedition a Marsian(I’m making this word up. It means “of and or relating to Mars” haha!) defensive mechanism in “mist” form was released from deep inside Mars and has taken over the miners, turning them into bloodthirsty killers who kill all who are not infected. The cops must now fight off the crazy miners and enlist the help of “Desolation” Williams himself in order to make it out alive.
The idea for this film is pretty cool to me because I love the use of “nowhere to run” elements in horror films and these characters being stranded at an abandoned outpost really ups the tension in the film. This film has lots of firepower, which I always love, and the “infected” people in this film had a pretty sweet look to them. They looked nothing like typical “zombies” and would suffer from extreme self mutilation like scratching chunks of flesh off of their arms and faces and even inserting homemade objects into their skin, much like how many indigenous tribes ritually pierce themselves with painful objects as part of their “transformation” to another aspect of their lives. The gore in this film was decent throughout most of the film, but we get a pretty fair amount during the last sequence when the “infected” begin throwing what looked like table saws at the survivors and cleanly severing heads and limbs. Pretty sweet stuff!
John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars however suffers in many ways that honestly left me quite surprised that this film would be associated with his name. I would be somewhat forgiving if he had simply directed this film but NO, he actually was one of the writers as well. WOW. The dialogue in this film is cheesy and poorly written and got quite annoying at times. Both of the lead cop characters Lt. Melanie Ballard and Sgt. Jericho Butler were given the bulk of the crap dialogue and Jericho’s sexual attraction to Ballard seemed like a lazy attempt to add a different element of conflict to the film. Surprisingly enough, my biggest complaint was John Carpenter’s direction in this film. The use of the “flashbacks” turned out pretty well and didn’t detriment from the film, but aside from that the direction was lazy. His use of “Citizen Kane” fading transitions gets quite annoying and was overdone. Once or twice may have been effective, but the fact that he used the translations AT LEAST a dozen times really gets to the viewer. Not to mention these transitions happened on very silly scenes involving Lt. Ballard’s illicit drug use. Carpenter’s direction was somewhat saved towards the end of the film as he strayed away from the crappy transitions and camera angles and gave us a climax I enjoyed. It was a bit on the cheesy side, but nonetheless enjoyable.
Ice Cube played his character well, which consisted of the overly clichéd “bad boy” image and attitude which you should expect once you see his name on the DVD/poster/credits etc. His character unsurprisingly does not add much conflict in the film given that it was the plan of the film’s writers for him to be a “bad guy” and then win over the viewers as he offers his help in saving the very people sent to take him to his demise.
Overall, this is a sub-par attempt from acclaimed director John Carpenter and should only be viewed if you don’t take this film too seriously. The gore is cool, story is alright, but this film just fails in nearly every other aspect.