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Ghosts of Mars

John Carpenter is one of the most controversial directors of our time. Not because he gets into touchy subjects, like he goes and does some movie about jesus doing somebody in the ass or whatever it is that offends people these days. But because of his actual work. Because no one can really seem to agree whether he sucks with a few brilliant exceptions, whether he used to be brilliant and now he sucks, or whether he is really one of the great masters of the horror and Badass Cinema and that some of these new ones are just an off day.

The correct answer is c.

This new one follows many of the great John Carpenter stylistic motifs and thematic type themes. For example, if you ever read an interview or listened to his dvd commentary tracks, you know that practically every movie he ever did he claims is “really a western.” So he always has some stranger walking into town, or has some prisoner being transferred from a jail or a new sherriff in town or what not. In Assault On Precinct 13 he has the gangsters doing blood rituals like evil movie indians in a John Wayne picture. In They Live Roddy Piper strolls into town, walking down the middle of the street even though it’s LA. In Escape From LA he does the old jumping from horse to horse routine, except with motorcycles. Vampires takes place in a sunny Mexican ghost town even though it’s about fuckin vampires. Even Big Trouble In Little China and if I remember right the Elvis TV movie started as western scripts but were re-written to modern settings.

Ghosts of MarsGhosts of Mars takes this updated western routine to new heights by doing a science fiction movie on Mars that has 1. a train! 2. A prisoner being transferred from a jail by the sherriff, and on a train 3. A ghost town 4. primitive martian ghosts who act like the movie indians of John Wayne movies and/or the gangsters in Assault On Precinct 13, but with piercings.

And that’s what you have to admire about this picture is that nobody else but John Carpenter would ever do it. Who in fuck wants to do a train movie on mars anyway. And is it martians or is it ghosts, make up your mind they would say. But not John Carpenter. He knows that if there’s ghosts, there’s ghosts on mars too. Fucking colonists, get out of their way. It’s like if you made a cowboy movie with an indian burial ground, only on mars.

And I mean this starts out promising, with a classic john carpenter electrical type keyboard and guitars score, creating that unique john carpenter mood.

Unfortunately, this has gotta be Mr. Carpenter’s worst movie. And as I said earlier, I KNOW the answer is C. John Carpenter didn’t lose it, otherwise how do you explain Escape From LA and Mr. John Carpenter’s Vampires, two very special testoterone filled b-pictures. So this is a surprise and disappointment to old Vern.

One problem you got here is the structure. Mr. Carpenter is best when he’s telling a simple story, building a mood. He tends to lose it as the story gets crazier – like in Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. (One exception is The Thing which keeps its powerful sense of isolation and what not even as the monster starts sprouting dogs and human faces.) But he at least builds that primitive rhythm for a while before he gets too complicated on you. This one doesn’t really give him the chance because every time you start to get involved it goes back to the narrator, Natasha Henstridge, sitting in a court room telling the story.

And I’m afraid Ms. Henstridge does not have the acting chops to be a new Kurt Russell or Roddy Piper. The poor gal looks good but she sounds like she’s reading off a card. You can’t sound tough if you sound like you don’t know what the words you’re saying mean. And the character loses all credibility when, after being sexually harassed by one of her men for the whole movie, she gives into him. I mean if she put on a strap-on and had her way with him or one of those type of things, that would be fine. Or even go for the cunnilingus, and then roll over and go to sleep when he’s done. I don’t care, just show that she’s in command here. But no. This guy uses that old sci-fi/horror pickup line about we’re all gonna die so “Let’s dance” and she says, “Okay” and kisses him.

They got Pam Grier in here too, but next thing you know she’s decapitated and what’s worse, you don’t even see her GET decapitated. Is that the type of respect you show Coffy? Hell no.

And then there’s Mr. Ice Cube who plays the Snake Plissken character. Only his name is even worse – Desolation Williams.

I mean I guess that says it all, doesn’t it? Mr. Carpenter, you fucking knew that name didn’t work when you first typed it. You decided to let it go though. You can’t just call somebody Isolation Armstrong or Hopelessness Pearlman and expect it to sound right, and you know it. I liked Ice Cube in the Friday pictures as well as The Three Kings, but the poor bastard has nothing to work with here. Roddy Piper and Snake Plissken get funny one-liners to say, and that’s why they are popular characters. I guess James Woods in Vampires improvised alot of his dialogue, so maybe you’ve lost it in that department. But you can’t just have poor Desolation doing this garbage about, “You would make a good criminal if you wanted to,” “Yeah, you’d make a good cop.”

WHAT IN FUCK’S NAME? Is this Nash Bridges? No, this is John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, a movie in which the fans of Mr. John Carpenter hope to be entertained and delighted. We don’t need these generic words coming out of their mouth, even if they’re on mars fighting ghosts. It makes it feel like your typical on mars fighting ghosts movie.

And just one complaint about the computery effects now days. It has gotten to the point where even the director of landmark effects pictures like The Thing is using a fucking computer to show sand blowing in the wind.

Jack, you should’ve just used sand. It would look more real if it was sand.

I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that this picture is pretty much garbage. There are some touches here and there to enjoy. For example Desolation Williams wears camoflage pants, only they’re red. Because it’s on mars! Green camoflage doesn’t work on mars, see. It has to be red. I liked that.

But this does not offer the bang for your buck that a Vampires or a Halloween does. Mr. Carpenter will need to make a comeback after this and please don’t make it be Starman 2 or Return of the Invisible Man Diaries.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 25th, 2001 at 12:44 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Ghosts of Mars”

  1. Watched it yesterday for the first time in something like 10 years and I think it sucks even harder than back then! Seriously NOTHING worked in it! The script is just a lame re-hash of other Carpenter classics, the e-guitar score is cheesy, the characters are forgettable, the possessed are despite their look and number not even remotely scary*, the editing was amateur hour (every few seconds a new dissolve) and all in all it had a serious late 90’s DTV look and feel. Although the FX were not bad. (Sorry to say that, you were wrong about the CGI sand. Not just because it wasn’t meant to be sand and therefore was allowed to look nothing like sand.)

    *The only OH SHIT moment I had, was when “Big Daddy Mars” (who came up with that fucking name?) suddenly broke through the ceiling and started to fight against Ice Cube (Or was he fighting Henstridge? See how bad it was? I can’t even remember if it was the famous rapper or the blonde model!). Just because that was the first (and only) time how the audience could see how huge he was!

  2. Just watched this again for the first time in about 10 years and I forgot how fucking hilarious this movie is. I loved every fucking minute of it and probably for the wrong reasons. Was Carpenter serious about this thing? I laughed all the way through this thing and had a blast watching it. Reason’s why (spoilers):

    – Statham playing this utterly cocky and smarmy dude who hit on Henstridge it seemed like once every 5 minutes. It’s probably Statham’s most colorful performance to be honest. And holy shit, Statham died in a movie!

    – Henstridge is so utterly bland in this to the point where it’s almost laughable any time she tries to give a one-liner or make a heroic speech. Would anyone really follow her into battle?

    – Pam Grier’s head on a pike = awesome.

    – Ice Cube’s name “Desolation” Williams = Awesome

    – Desolation’s 3 buddies Uno, Dos, and Tres, were funny as hell. These guys should have their own movie.

    – The part where everyone heads for the train and the train isn’t there so Ice Cube starts running at the martians and yell’s “Come on you mindless motherfuckers!” and starts shooting is one of the most hilarious things i’ve ever seen. It had me rolling on the floor laughing for at least 5 mins.

    – It took me halfway through the movie before I realized that the head Martian guy was actually speaking some sort of language and not yelling random babble. I was laughing my ass off every time that guy started yelling.

    – The decapitation scenes were some of the best i’ve seen. They looked really damn good.

    – The over the top guitar heavy soundtrack (Anthrax I believe) combined with Carpenter’s usual synth heavy sound was cool.

    – Henstridge is a babe.

    – Ice Cube shows up randomnly at the end with two giant chrome machine guns and throws one to Henstridge. As they’re walking out he looks into the camera, says a line of dialogue, and they both walk out of the room. Fucking epic.

    Etc., etc., etc.

    This movie is the kind of giant clusterfuck of epic proportions that comes along once every 5 to 10 years (much like Batman and Robin) and should be cherished. You can’t try to make a movie like this, it just happens. Can’t wait to watch this gain, this time after a six pack or two.

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