*Originally written in 2004
What is increasingly, and unfortunately looking like John Carpenter’s last feature film (2017 note to past self – not quite!) Ghosts of Mars is another genre-blending experiment typical of his illustrious career. Set in the distant future, Ghosts of Mars is a mix of sci-fi, action, horror, and western which follows a large group of people including prisoners and prison guards who must work together to overcome a deadly, massing foe, much like Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13. There is a lack of trust between each character, minimal dialogue, a sense of claustrophobia, and the usual cliffhanger ending. Ghosts of Mars is a good film, much better than most critics and fans have said, yet inferior to Carpenter’s past classics. It does unfortunately suffer from some cheap looking sets and odd casting choices – perhaps if Kurt Russell had been here instead of Ice Cube it would have been a greater success, but this choice would have been too predictable and samey for Russell.
A group of Prison guards are sent to Mars to transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Cube) from a remote mining community to a maximum security prison. When Commander Braddock (Pam Grier), Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and her team arrive, they find the community ominously empty and quiet. As they look around, the sense that someone is watching them rises, and as the team splits we get their two different perspectives of events. Upon further investigation it seems that the inhabitants of the town have somehow been possessed and have become ultra-strong, vicious killers, ready to butcher any intruders. What soon becomes clear is that the survivors must work together to find a way out of the place alive, while not letting Desolation and his team get free. However, certain team members may also be possessed, and they are greatly outnumbered.
Even though everyone gives a good performance, Ice Cube has his critics and sometimes seems as if he is trying too hard to look as serious as possible. Many have spoken about the appearance of Mars, and the lack of logic behind the physics involved, but I’ll assume that as this is 200 years in the future technology will have magically changed. And that it is science fiction. Yes, the sets do not look like expensive buildings for millionaires, but this was the desired effect, a ghost town which has been worn down over the years which adds to the atmosphere of isolation. Perhaps there are too many characters, the dialogue is not as strong as in other films, the score will put some off and it is not as memorable as others. It is quite gory though, with some good effects when blood and death is involved, and there is plenty of action.
Although we can probably predict some of the survivors, there is enough intrigue to make us wonder who will be next to die, or turn. The direction is sound, and the split perspective at the start is a good idea. Henstridge is strong, Statham gives probably the best performance – one reminiscent of past Carpenter hits – Clea Duvall is also good, and Grier is fine in a short-lived part. Most fans expect greatness from Carpenter, and something fresh – this is something he has done all his career so it is hardly surprising when he just makes a fun movie which doesn’t try to be serious, and when there is not much originality. The B-movie feel will likely alienate many people, the characters and plot have been seen before, but for gory action this is sure to please, as long as you are not expecting a masterpiece.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Ghosts Of Mars!