For centuries the planet Mars has been a mystery for the human race. Some civilizations have worshiped it, while others have feared it. It has been said that The Romans were so inspired by Mars that they named their god of War after the planet, as they associated it’s red color with anger and power.
As society enters the 21st century, Mars is still a relative mystery to us. While there has been more learned about the planet in the last 40 years than in all of human history, much of the planet still remains a mystery.
As such, Science Fiction writers have long portrayed Mars as a planet where hidden Martians plot to unleash their fury on the human race while laying waste to all they encounter. While such popular sentiments regarding Mars was displayed in such films as “War of the World”, Mars Attacks” and the infamous “Mars Needs Women” other tales such as “the Martian Chronicles” painted a kinder face of Mars and the beings that dwelled on the red planet. While scientists debate the issues if there is or has ever existed life on Mars, one thing is certain. Humanity will eventually visit the red planet and colonize it as we go forth into the galaxy.
It is against this setting that veteran writer/director John Carpenter gives viewers his latest offering Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter rose to prominence with such classics as “Halloween”, “The Fog”, “Escape from New York”, and “The Thing” which quickly established Carpenter as a master of modern horror. The late 80’s-the 90’s were not kind to Carpenter as many of his films such as “The Prince of Darkness”, “Children of the Damned”, “They Live” and “Escape from LA” failed to reach a wide audience and many fans thought that Carpenter had lost his touch. The director seemed to rebound a few years later with “Vampires” as the film became a hit with fans and critics alike Carpenter announced to the media that he was setting his next film on Mars and would blend horror and Science fiction in a new and terrifying way. Ghosts of Mars is set in 2176 AD where Mars has long been colonized and is 84% terraformed to an Earth atmosphere. The film opens with a deposition by Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), as she tells a review board of her recent prisoner transport assignment to Shining Canyon to pick up the notorious criminal James Desolation Williams(Ice Cube). The story is told in flashbacks from Ballard and other characters and Carpenter changes the films direction often as he backtracks to illustrate the story from the points of view of other characters so the audience can see what they were doing during the time the action was elsewhere. Ballard is second in command of a police force of 5 under the command of Captain Braddock (Pam Grier) as they set out to bring the deadly Williams in for trial. Along for the trip are two rookie officers Kincaid (Clea Duvall), and Descanso (Liam Waite). Rounding out the group is the new Sergeant Jericho (Jason Statham), who seems more eager to get a crack at Ballard then he does on any aspects of the mission.
No sooner does the group arrive at their destination then they are met with a deserted town. After a few moments of searching, it is discovered that there are very few people left alive, but many dead and decapitated bodies indicate that something has gone very wrong. Those remaining alive aside from Williams and a few prisoners are acting very odd and seem to have developed a fascination with self-mutilation.
It is at this point that the film loses focus as a promising setup is lost. The characters seem to wander from setting to setting with no real plan of action. It is learned that the colonists have been possessed by an alien lifeform, and that killing the host does not kill the lifeform. Furthermore, a large group of the possessed colonists is massing for an assault on the survivors and the police force. While this should be a setting of tension and horror, it plays as little more than large groups of extras standing around as loud rock music plays in the background. The characters with the exception of Ballard and Williams are very bland and underdeveloped. The characters of Ballard and Williams do have some development but issues ranging from Ballard’s use of drugs to Williams past are left unresolved though they are hinted at during the film. The dialogue in the film has some real groaners such as, “When we blow up the nuclear reactor, will it make a big explosion”? The action scenes in the film are also uninspired as with a few exceptions; they are mostly hordes of extras being gunned down in mass as loud music blares. Ghosts of Mars could have been a good horror film as the cast and premise held much promise. Sadly Ghosts of Mars offers nothing new and is just another example of a good premise wasted.
Film * * – 2 stars ^ DVD Features Commentary, making of segment and theatrical trailers ^ DVD rating * * 1/2 – 2.5 stars