SciFi
Ghosts of Mars
.
Dir: John Carpenter
Star: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 2001
Format: DVD R1
'

On Mars a train arrives back in town form a remote mining settlement on autopilot the only person on board is Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). She was part of a Sheriff's team sent to pick up the criminal Desolation Williams (Ice Cube). She tells of how the team was ambushed by the miners who have turned into self-mutilating zombies, thanks to the malevolent entities of the original Martian inhabitants. This is the story of how the sheriffs' team and the few remaining normal people of the settlement fight the insurmountable odds of the zombie hoard.

This film is Assault on Precinct 13 in space ( which in turn is a remake of Rio Bravo). Though in this case it is more of a western with sci-fi trappings rather than a sci-fi remake of a western. This said I must admit it works well. Even the look and feel of the town from the dusty streets to the saloon and the sheriff's office cries out wild west. Interesting original and well implemented, the only questionable concept was the idea to tell it in flashback, an idea that effectively ruins the tension.

The critics hated this film, and I have absolutely no idea why. Ok its no classic, but it is highly entertaining. Loads of big explosions and gunfights, a bit of gore, and some good character interaction help things along nicely. John Carpenter never lets the pace slacken and builds the tension (apart from the flashback thing) in the early part of the film well. It is definitely not as effective, or a good, as Assault on Precinct 13, but it is not bad either. At least the film has a strong story and western influence ensures that an over reliance isn't placed on the special effects,although those used are pretty good.

There are problems. It has been a long time since John Carpenter hit top form and this film is well short of his best (I've already mentioned Assault on Precinct 13 comparison but its no Escape from New York or The Thing either). Some of the visual compositions are great, but some really poorly choreographed action scenes often detract from them. Ambitious in scope but poor in realisation the fights include people failing to hit each other (Jason Statham take a bow), or falling over too early. Slicker editing and better fight direction \ training of the actors was definitely required.

The other weakness comes from the cast. Not the beautiful Natasha Henstridge (a last minute replacement for Courtney Love left due to 'things not working out' as John Carpenter puts it) who is surprisingly effective in the Ripley inspired action woman role, but from the sulky chubbiness that is Ice Cube (looking like a fat, less impressive Mr T). He is just plain wrong for the role of the misbegotten bad \ good guy (if only Kurt Russell were 10 years younger and in need of a job). This leaves a big hole at the top of the films cast that is only partially filled by the likeable Jason Statham playing another hard nut character that since Lock Stock etc he is danger of being typecast in. The rest of the cast are mere charactures and in this respect are adequate.

Flawed but fun sums this film up nicely. Casting and fight scenes could have been done better, but it is noisy explosive gory entertainment with a kicking John Carpenter \ Anthrax heavy metal soundtrack. The film is full of action and as such is a passably good piece of pulp sci-fi, just don't expect to be intellectually challenged. This is yet another Carpenter film that I am sure will find a cult following in time. Not his best work by a long shot, but not the disaster that the critics would have you believe.

Rating: 3 out of 5

DVD
Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Great but as its filmed at night will you notice
Audio 5.1 Dolby Digital
Features Video Diary: Red Desert Nights. A strangely quiet 17 minutes.
SFX Deconstructions (6 mins)
"Scoring Ghosts Of Mars" Featurette (6 mins)
Commentary With John Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge. John is annoyingly sycophantic but it is interesting listening to his views on the drug references in the film.
Verdict A good film transfer but a little lacking in extras. Where are the deleted scenes hinted at in the Commentary track? Collectors Edition please.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Link Back Top Home