Ghosts of Mars

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Ghosts of Mars (2001) is a action and horror science fiction film set in a mining town on the planet of Mars. Starring Natasha Henstridge as police  officer Melanie Ballard and Ice Cube as mass murder suspect “Desolation” Willaims, with a supporting cast of Pam Grier, Clea Duvall and Jason Statham.

In 2176 Mars has been terraformed to have a breathable atmosphere by a matriarchal corporation. A police special forces team (a kind of weird hybrid of a SWAT team and a FBI office) is sent to transfer notorious criminal James Williams from a mining colony. Upon arrival the team finds the outpost deserted and in disrepair. The locals are extremely aggressive and violent. What follows is a tale of survival and discovery as the long buried secrets of Mars are revealed.

The film is edited and presented in an anachronic fashion. Switching between the overarching narrative of an after-action review and the events being described. The viewer is left in the dark by the debriefing which works well in maintaining Carpenter’s classic suspense, you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. What starts as a simple murder mystery becomes an siege film with apocalyptic consequences.

As always Carpenter’s characters are loaded with ‘badass’ attitude, whether it’s the anarchic Snake Plissken or the cocky Jack Burton, his characters retain a separation from the norms of the times. In Ghosts of Mars this is typified in ‘Desolation’ Williams, a hot blooded male criminal in a woman’s world. This is juxtaposed with the equally badass Bullard who represents the cold authority of a harsh world.

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The film is almost a constant battle between the team and the savage natives with the protagonists hiding away in a police station, with much of the action drawing a parallel to Assault on Precinct 13 with a police station set and morally ambiguous prisoners locked up. Carpenter may re-use some of him most familiar stuff but it works well.

The music is awesome. Starting as low key, tense and atmospheric before switching to a loud and bombastic guitar score towards the end. It’s classic Carpenter but lacks a distinct sound compared to the brilliant scores for Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape From New York.

Ghosts of Mars is a solid but unspectacular film. It’s a tense and sometimes over the top science fiction film that honestly doesn’t stand up to John Carpenters earlier work. You’re left with a feeling that the director could have done a much better job with the ideas he had. The acting is solid in all regards, nothing stands out as awkward or out of place but there’s nothing great. Perhaps the best thing about this film is the idea of a matriarchal corporation in control of Mars but this idea is unfortunately never fully explored. Some have called this John Carpenter’s “worst” film but I feel this is somewhat misleading, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this film. It just doesn’t live up to Carpenter’s excellent standards.

5/10

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