Ghosts of Mars (2001)
By: Craig Villinger  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Columbia Tristar (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, German DD 5.1. English, German, Hindi, Turkish Subtitles. 94 Minutes
The Movie
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea Duvall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy
Screenplay: Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter
Music: John Carpenter and Anthrax
Makeup FX: Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger
Tagline: You don't stand a ghost of a chance.
The year is 2025 and mankind is hard at work making the atmosphere on the planet of Mars a little more hospitable to the human lungs. Unfortunately for us, we weren't the first to arrive on the planet, and the original inhabitants are none too impressed by our attempts to move in and take over...

Lt Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and her team of futuristic law enforcement officers are sent to the town of Chryse on a fairly routine mission to pick up and deliver wanted criminal James "Desolation" Williams (Cube), who is the chief suspect in a recent extravaganza of murder, theft and decapitation. Upon arrival however they discover that the town is seemingly deserted and that all of it's inhabitants (with the exception of Williams and a few other cons who are still safely behind bars) appear to have been bumped off in rather nasty circumstances, which begs the obvious question...what the hell happened ? Before too long we discover that a paranormal type force has been released courtesy of the local mining colony and has set about possessing its inhabitants and turning them into crazed killers who for some reason feel the urge to deck themselves out in the manner of a black metal band, complete with a Marilyn Manson style leader (who is referred to as "Big Daddy Mars"). With escape from the isolated town impossible for the time being, Ballard and her group are forced to form an uneasy alliance with Williams and his cronies and take on the hostile welcoming committee in an all out battle for supremacy.

While it is hardly what you would call an original film, Ghosts of Mars is a fairly interesting twist on the alien invasion story, as this time around it is the human race who is the invader attempting to take over another planet and being met with resistance by the current inhabitants. Director John Carpenter has always been a fan of Western movies, and this film is essentially a classic "Cowboys and Indians" tale with a futuristic setting. All the ingredients for a western movie are on display here, from the secluded frontier town setting to the hostile natives decked out in their own style of war paint, complete with numerous homage's to some of Carpenter's favourite directors such as Howard Hawkes.

Natasha Henstridge is often put down because of her allegedly wooden acting style, however she was definitely a good casting choice for this film, providing a good mix of both bravado and vulnerability. Ice Cube also does a great job with his role as the anti-hero (a trademark of Carpenters films) while Jason Statham (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) is suitably entertaining as the comic relief. Most of the other characters don't get to do all that much, but manage to have their moments despite the fact that they are essentially "cannon fodder" for this type of film.

At the end of the day however, acting performances are of little consequence, as it is full scale carnage that most of us have come to see, and Carpenter certainly can not be accused of failing to delivers the goods in that particular department. After about an hour or so of build up, the film becomes a series of incredibly over the top action sequences, with martial arts, gunplay, explosions, limb separations, bodies flying though the air, more explosions, chases, beheadings, close calls, stabbings and just for good measure, a few extra explosions, all performed to the accompaniment of a soundtrack that will have you in headbangers heaven. There may or may not have been some serious flaws in this film, however Carpenter keeps things moving along at such a rate that they won't even be noticed by the non-discerning viewer.

While Ghosts of Mars is a long way from being one of John Carpenters best efforts, it is certainly an entertaining ride. There are some horror elements to the film, however these take a back seat to the action, and it ultimately has much more in common with the likes of Escape from New York and its subsequent sequel than some of his earlier efforts like Halloween and The Thing. There isn't much to complain about, and the high levels of gore and mayhem should make genre fans more than happy.
Ghosts of Mars is presented in the slightly wider than normal aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 television sets. The image quality is about as sharp as it can get, with a crystal clear picture and absolutely no signs of compression problems. Those who are incredibly fussy might make note of the minor aliasing that occurs from time to time, but apart from that this is a top-notch transfer all the way!
The DVD contains both an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a German DD 5.1 track. The English language track is extremely impressive and makes good use of the surround channels, particularly during the films numerous action sequences with the gunshots and explosions coming from all directions. The heavy metal soundtrack (courtesy of John Carpenter working with artists such as Anthrax and Steve Vai) compliments the action well, and you may find yourself overcome by the urge to jump from your chair and start banging your head like a madman (I know I was). Crank it up loud and share it with the neighbours!
Extra Features
The disc is not exactly crammed with extra features, however there is enough here to keep you entertained. First up is an audio commentary track from director John Carpenter and star Natasha Henstridge. The pair keep things entertaining all the way through with some good natured ribbing about each others talents and also manage provide some interesting behind the scenes facts along the way. Also on offer is Red Desert Nights, a 17 minute video diary of on-set footage which is at times a little dull to watch, however is makes for a nice change to the usual promo material that the studios seem so fond of cramming onto our discs. Special Effects Deconstruction is a look at the creation of some of the films digital effects that runs for a little over six minutes and there are also trailers for Ghosts of Mars, The Forsaken, Urban Legends 2, and The Glass House, as well as the usual cast and crew filmographies. The pick of the bunch for me was Scoring Ghosts of Mars, a collection of video footage from the recording sessions for the films soundtrack which features John Carpenter overseeing performances from Anthrax, guitar legend Steve Vai and a rather odd looking character who goes by the name of Buckethead. My only gripe with this feature was that at a running time of just over six minutes it simply wasn't long enough.
The Verdict
Ghosts of Mars is fairly enjoyable movie that will lend itself to repeated viewings, and combined with the entertaining extra features and great audio and video quality, this DVD is well worth adding to your collection. Buy with confidence!
Movie Score
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