on 23 June 2011
I unashamedly like 'Ghosts of Mars'. I'm a Carpenter fan anyway, and 'Ghosts' is prime if not vintage Carpenter. It has that distinctive made-on-a-shoestring-so-we-used-imagination-instead-of-cash look, and has scads of atmosphere and weirdness, as well as grim wit. Pam Grier, Jason Statham, and Ice Cube are likeable, while Natasha Henstridge's lieutenant pulls disaster from the jaws of partial victory in a sadly plausible fashion.
The framing structure of the enquiry held into why the train came back from Mars mining-town Shining Canyon with one injured survivor (Henstridge)cuffed to her bunk works well for me, with most of the action in flashback. The surrounding society is sketched in: the lieutenant's safety is guaranteed by the matriarchy, hetrosexual 'breeders' are disadvantaged in an implicitly largely homosexual society. Carpenter lays in background and context with a light touch: not enough to lecture, but enough to say you're not in Kansas anymore.
I understand that a lot of people don't like 'Ghosts', but I don't understand why. My hope is that it will be gradually re-evaluated and emerge as a minor gem. All I can say is, if you like Carpenter, sci-fi, or b-movies, give it a go. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
Despite the basically unexplained absurdity of the whole storyline, Ghosts of Mars is a pretty entertaining film to watch, what with all of the explosions, gun battles, decapitations, and bare-fisted brawls riding the crests of John Carpenter's hard-driving musical score. Sure, it takes a little while to put the characters in place and set the Martian scene for us, but once the gauntlet drops, it's pretty much on. You don't need a lot of character development in an action thriller like this one because you know most of the characters you meet aren't going to survive in the end, anyway. I do have to deduct some points for the whole flashback business, though. It's bad enough that the bulk of the film is presented as a flashback, but when you start putting flashbacks inside your flashbacks, I've got to stop you right there and call Shenanigans. Flashbacks within flashbacks should be the sole province of fifth-year, we've-run-out-of-ideas sit-coms.
It's the year 2176 and man has established a strong presence on Mars, setting up mining colonies all over the increasingly terra-formed planet. Society is set up along matriarchal lines, which should be interesting but isn't because the story just throws that out there and does nothing with it. It certainly does nothing to stop the practice of male sexism because Sgt. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham, who always brings plenty of action to the party) spends most of his time (when he's not fighting for his life, of course), trying to get into the 22nd century knickers of his superior officer Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). Ballard and Jericho are part of a quintet of cops dispatched to a remote post to pick up a prisoner and bring him back for trial. This isn't just any prisoner, though; no, this is the formidable Desolation Williams (Ice Cube), a dangerous but as of yet thrice-acquitted murderer now accused of slaughtering six people. When the cops arrive, they are disconcerted to find a virtual ghost town. Williams is still secured in his cell, but most everyone else in town is hanging upside down, sans head, in one building or another. We already know from the early minutes of the film that Ballard is the only person to make it back to base camp (a fact which robs the movie of a great deal of potential suspense); what we don't know is what happened out there - and that doesn't become perfectly clear until the end of the movie.
Natasha Henstridge doesn't really do a lot for me, but she was pretty good in this film (although some of the scenes wherein she shows her authority and general toughness rang a little hollow). She's not your ideal cop, and that makes her character more interesting - especially when everything hits the fan and she's forced to seriously change tactics in an attempt to survive. I thought Ice Cube was great; his is really the most interesting character in the film, and even Jason Statham can't match him in the "one tough hombre" department. For their part, the "ghosts of Mars" aren't impressive at all, and their minions (whom they "possess") look like a huge gang of WWE rejects trying to channel The Crow. They are evil and relentless (not to mention ugly), though, which pretty much guarantees that all of the fight and battle scenes are going to be fiercely waged. Their little flying body slicers are particularly effective at disarming (and sometimes even "dis-heading") their victims.
Basically, Ghosts of Mars is more of an action movie that just so happens to take place on Mars than it is a makes-you-think kind of science fiction offering. If you're not into relatively bloody action movies, you probably won't enjoy this film very much.
on 5 December 2015
For those of you who have purchased or are considering purchasing this disc and are concerned about availability of English language audio tracks and subtitles I suggest you read the following information as it clears things up.
This is a French release blu-ray disc, yes. And it has a French jacket / cover, the disc menus are also in French, and it has French subtitles. However, there are both French AND English DTS 5.1 Master Audio tracks on the disc, BUT they have to be enabled via the Pop Up Menu on your Blu-Ray player; the Audio button on your remote control won't switch the audio tracks. The French subtitles CAN be turned off for the main film but again, you have to do this via the blu-ray Pop Up Menu as the remote control's subtitle button doesn't switch them off either.
The menu's are all pretty clear, but just in any case, some instructions:
First, activate the Pop Up Menu on your bluray player using your remote control. Then when the menu is displayed onscreen choose 'VERIONS' from the three available menu options:
► VERSIONS ◄ | CHAPITRES | BONUS
and then choose
► VO DTS 5.1 ← This one is English
VF DTS 5.1
COMMENTAIRE AUDIO DE JOHN CARPENTER
Then to turn off French subitles choose
► SOUS TITRES
and then choose
► SANS ← This one turns off subtitles
The five onscreen informational outlines that appear briefly at the beginning of the film are in French and cannot be removed. This is how they are displayed on this French release blu-ray disc:
Informational outline 1:
Informational outline 2:
Informational outline 3:
POPULATION: 640 000 COLONS
Informational outline 4:
Informational outline 5:
LOI TERRIENNE APPLIQÉE PAR LA FORCE DE POLICE DE MARS
The Informational outlines, apart from being in French, are slightly different to the English DVD. The corresponding English language DVD onscreen informational outlines display as:
Informational outline 1:
MARS 2176 A.D.
Informational outline 2:
TERRAFORMING 84% COMPLETE
Informational outline 3:
POPULATION: 640,000 COLONISTS
Informational outline 4:
Informational outline 5:
EARTH LAW ENFORCED BY MARS POLICE FORCE
After these Informational outlines have displayed the film will continue in English language without subitles. So perfectly okay.
The bonus material / extras on the blu-ray disc are Standard Definition (straight from the DVD by the looks of it) with original English language audio ...but with French subtitles. The bonus material subtitles cannot be turned off however.
The picture quality on this blu-ray disc is noticably better than the DVD release but it's not an absolutely vast difference. The DVD picture quality was pretty good anyway, but you can nonetheless easily tell that this is an HD transfer. I'd give PQ a 6.5/10 personally. It's a difficult film to judge anyway, being as it is shot exclusively at night.
The DTS Master Audio sound track on my home cinema system sounds terrific and is a step up from the DD 5.1 track on the DVD. Effects are spread appropriately accross front and rear speakers with deep rumbling bass when called for, and the Anthrax film score sounds better than ever.
Aside of all the above, this is another one of my favourite popcorn movies. But then I'll buy anything with Mars in the title! Okay, acting and story are in the B movie zone but I like that and the lineup is diverse and unexpected and entertaining. That is, you get Pam Grier (Escape from L.A., Jackie Brown etc.), Jason Statham (Transporter, Crank etc.), Natasha Henstridge (Species, The Whole Nine Yards etc.) and rapper Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson, Sr) (Anaconda, Three Kings etc.) in the lead roles. Quite a mix there. It's an enjoyable horror sci-fi movie on Mars...by John Carpenter. Just don't over analyse it.
John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars was exactly as I expected – rough around the edges and a marvellously entertaining and totally unpretentious action SF horror movie. Set in the second half of the 22nd century when Mars has been mostly terraformed this tale is told mostly in retrospect by Natasha Henstridge’s police Lieutenant, the sole survivor of a disturbing incident at an isolated mining town. The chance discovery of evidence of an ancient Martian civilization leads to some horrific consequences as hitherto dormant beings are released and encounter human invaders on their planet. Accompanied by a pulsating heavy rock soundtrack there are some exhilarating action scenes reminiscent of two of the director’s previous films – ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’. There are some well-known actors present here – Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Jason Statham – all of whom buy into this frankly ludicrous screenplay but, as with all the actors involved, are fully committed to this superior B-movie, and despite some obviously clunky dialogue there is so much here to enjoy. Not a movie with artistic pretentions by any means, but with its wry humour definitely a potential future cult classic. I liked it.
on 1 April 2005
I enjoyed this film. It's refreshing and funny. There's no mistaking that it's a John Carpenter film. It has a good pace, witty one-liners and strong characters. It's also cheesy. But that's Carpenter for you.......
I mean, there's 200 psychos on the rampage and you're not supposed to kill them! So what do our heroes do? They blow the consequences! That's John Carpenter!
It's not the best film he has ever made but to his credit he's constantly renewing the framework he builds his films around.
This film has been denegrated by many reviewers but have these people forgotten how cliched his films can be? Surely this is one of their main attractions: they don't pretend to be anything else!
It has many similarities to a legion of other films (eg. Assault on Precinct 13, Mad Max and Rio Bravo). Carpenter has never worried about these things- take 'The Thing' for example which is a remake of Howard Hawk's 'Thing from another World'.
Ultimately though it's not scary - it's 'safe' really despite the threat of extinction and there's not enough time in the film to build tension and suspense.
Natasha Henstridge is a revelation in the lead role - she's a good actress! Jason Statham is brilliant too as the Cockney Sergeant (although I've yet to see him as anything else but 'streetwise)
The fighting (and there's a lot of it) is stylised and well choreographed (especially Henstridge).
Once again Carpenter writes the music and this time it's courtesy of Anthrax- I now see them in a new light.......
And finally, the DVD extras good- giving you a real insight into how the film was made.
I really wanted to like this very promising SF/action film - but I simply couldn't. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
This film begins quite well indeed. On a largely terraformed Mars (air is breathable) governed by a matriarchate (!), a police patrol is dispatched by train (planes and choppers are absent from this movie) to a little mining town, to bring in custody a wanted criminal named James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube), just arrested by the local sheriff. But once the police patrol arrives, there is nobody to greet them there... And then the film begins.
The cast is one of the few strong points of this film. The police officer in command of the patrol is of course a woman, the very lesbian Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier). Her trusted (but not interested by her advances) second in command is Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). Under their orders are three more officers, the experienced tough Sergeant Nathan Jericho (Jason Statham) and two young rookies, Officer Bashira Kincaid (Clea DuVall) and Officer Michael Descanso (Liam Waite). Later in the film they will meet also another important secondary character, Doctor Arlene Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy).
As we can see, there was a lot of screen talent here. Pam Grier (thank you Quentin Tarantino for raising her from dead in "Jackie Brown") is still darn hot even at 51! Natasha Henstridge is GORGEOUS - in fact she is the main reason why I give this film two stars, as it would still be a pleasure to watch her even in a commercial for camembert... Jason Statham was at that time still in the beginning of his career (he was billed fourth!) but he certainly already showed big promise - also, making him a subordinate of not one but two women offered also some good opportunities for dialogs... Finally Clea DuVall, with her unique, non-conventional kind of beauty and veteran actress Joanna Cassidy were certainly also assets.
All of that however, together with the original premises and a considerable budget were wasted by the dirt-poor scenario, which the director should never have accepted in the first place, without a serious re-working. Therefore the one who must be blamed for the failure of this whole project is the director - John Carpenter. The man who made great films like "Escape from New York" and "The Thing", interesting flicks like "Assault on precinct 13", "Fog" and "Christine", comedies like "Dark Star", "They live" and "Vampires", as well as the burlesque head scratcher "Big trouble in Little China". And then this...
In this film we can actually see some reminiscences of his earlier works, but in a very inferior version. "Desolation" Williams is a kind of pale (pun very much intentional) copy of "Snake" Plissken. The idea of a besieged police post in which cops must make an alliance with criminals reminds of "Assault of precinct 13" - but is definitely less well shown. There is a kind of absolutely lethal mist like in "Fog" and an enemy who can hide amongst people you trust the most like in "The Thing". And then there is also a kind of tribute to this great cult classic "Heavy Metal" (a film John Carpenter was not involved with), especially the last story "Taarna", with Big Daddy Mars being an equivalent of Barbarian Leader and Melanie Ballard kind of reminding of Taarna herself...
Also, a great deal of lethal weaponry is used, which should in principle please action film freaks like me - you can check them in detail following this link to Internet Movie Firearms Database.
But all of this is mostly wasted in this film because of rather stupid scenario, mostly weak dialogs (there is only like two or three really good one liners or comebacks), not so good action scenes, interesting characters dying much too soon, disappointing use made of villains and of the Martian armoured train and last but not least a very lame ending. Also, the original ideas mentioned in the beginning (terraforming, Martian matriarchal government) or in the middle of the film (possibility of discovering Martian ancient artefacts) are not developed. At all. Instead, the film goes at "full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes" pace into a "shootout, gore and F... bombs" direction - and then fails to deliver good action scenes...
So bottom line, this is a huge disappointment and a waste of good idea, good actors and good money. Watchable only if there is nothing else and then only for Natasha Henstridge luminous beauty and nothing else. If possible, avoid.
on 17 October 2013
Aside from questionable but not particularly distracting design choices (the breathing apparatus springs to mind) and weird, suspense sabotaging moments ("It was a simple plan, it just didn't work how it was supposed to!"), Ghosts of Mars is a really fun film.
If you expect it to rock your world like the best of Carpenter films, you will be disappointed. Like Vampires, this is explicitly violent the way even Carpenter's classic The Thing was not, and also like those films, it's good qualities come to the front after repeat viewings.
Basically Assault on Precinct 13 in space, with the plot of Doom and details from Lovecraft and a hundred sci-fi books thrown in for good measure, the plot is simple but told in an interesting way. However the set design - reminiscent of Hadley's Hope in Aliens and a small scale Total Recall - is attractive and functional, and the trains, buggys and the like are futuristic enough to be sci-fi but not hugely implausible or fantastic.
The music is standard videogame wallpaper - metal churning, Buckethead and Steve Vai soloing over the top - but it works in the movie, as do the quieter, ambient moments by Carpenter on his own.
One can see some desperation in the movie - Carpenter wants to carry on making his own kind of movies but is at something of a loss to be commercial and still be himself. I like the film a lot more than most, and even if The Ward is a better film technically, this one feels more like a John Carpenter film.
Blu-ray is fantastic - picture and sound are extremely vivid and real. Extras the same as the DVD but there's no trailer on here. What gives?
on 24 September 2002
I've loved Carpenter's stuff since I first saw Halloween and The Thing and I stuck in there with Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Vampires and Escape from L.A. and so on.
If I know one thing about Carpenter's films, it's that they aren't meant to take themselves too seriously and I don't think we are as the audience. I think he wants us to have fun and perhaps get a little scared in the process. I'd never advise anyone to analyse a Carpenter film and demand of it any real psychological depth to the characters or deep meaningful substories to the plot. It isn't Carpenter's best, sure, but it IS Carpenter and does have many of his trademakes. SO, if you are a fan, I don't think you'll be too disappointed making this part of your collection.
If you are bored of Hollywood's tiresome offerings of buddy-buddy films, America saves the planet films, American re-writes history films and sickly cliched spiritual moment films, this just may be the light relief that you're looking for.
on 15 January 2014
Ballard and her team have an assignment of transferring a dangerous criminal named Desolation Williams to a prison in an outpost city on the planet Mars.
But in a turn of events, a mining team on the Red Planet has unearthed an ancient Martian defence device that unleashes ghosts of the planet's inhabitants who in turn possess most of the workers.
Upon arriving at the outpost, Ballard and her team, including Desolation Williams, must band together to survive the vengeful spirits bent on eradicating all human life on their planet.....
It's basically Assault on Precinct 13 with a little bit of Fallen added in for good measure, with a lot of bad sets and bad special effects.
And while its no where near as good as his early eighties efforts, it's a lot of guilty fun, which I fear a lot of people on here are afraid to admit.
The cast are good, never really doing anything but argue, flirt, and occasionally fight, but its what you expect from the form of narrative, and the synopsis that accompanied the film at least six months prior to release.
It's not going to win any new fans for Carpenter, and it does have a stench about it, but I liked it.
on 9 May 2013
This is a great film, with great actors. And John Carpenters background music is really great Natasha Henstridge is very good in the role.