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Ghosts of Mars

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John Carpenter
Natasha Henstridge
Ice Cube
Jason Statham
Pam Grier
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I like John Carpenter. Not only because of his films and music but also because of his sardonic sense of humour and his often self-depreciating attitude towards his own work. If people tell you that Ghosts Of Mars is one of his worst films, don't believe them.
We'll probably never see another Thing purely because Carpenter is unlikely to spend so much time in pre-production again, so all we can ask for is some darn good thrills and entertainment. That's all I'm asking for anyway!
Imagine the plot of Assault On Precinct 13 set on a futuristic Mars colony and fused with the second action-based half of They Live and you get the general idea. Add the most impressive Carpenter score to date and there you have Ghosts Of Mars.
I'm relieved that Natasha Henstridge stars instead of the originally cast Courtney Love (who I dislike immensely) and she does a particularly good job especially when you consider that she was a very late replacement. Henstridge only joined the cast just a couple of weeks before shooting was to begin.
The official story was that Love had somehow twisted or broken her ankle and was therefore unable to play the lead role. Thank God, eh? But on the commentary track when Henstridge asks about Love being the original choice, Carpenter remarks "It just didn't work out." After then being asked "Didn't she hurt her ankle?," John replies "She might have." Hmmm, interesting.
Mars has been colonised and the matriarchal led society sends a police squad to pick up "Desolation" Williams for the suspected brutal murders of several people and the subsequent theft of a payroll. Williams is played by Ice Cube who is very funny in his role as the outlaw and it also makes for an interesting combination when he's paired up with Henstridge. You see, it's soon discovered that Williams is innocent of murder and both the police and criminals have to work together in order to survive a greater threat.
Pam Grier is also here, as is the likeable Jason Statham who I recall previously seeing in the far less fantastical Guy Ritchie (Mr. Madonna!) directed UK comedy thrillers. It's cool to see Statham be about as far removed from his usual roles as possible and he's especially good fun to observe in this movie.
The film's plot is really just an excuse for Carpenter to build tension nicely and entertain us with large-scale action sequences although lots of humour and left-wing messages are also included. It's not "clever" but it has no pretensions at being so either. It's merely designed to entertain just like cinema should (and often doesn't!). The plot is basically the outnumbered cowboys versus indians albeit in a sci-fi/horror basis.
Digital effects are sometimes used during the fighting sequences, where we see arms or heads severed by the Frisbee-type buzzsaw discs that are thrown at the police by the possessed Mars colonists and these moments look very impressive as well.
When the police first arrive at Shining Canyon, Statham describes it as a shithole, to which Henstridge's reply is "...Friday night, the place should be packed. I mean, a whole 12 hours before sun-up and there's money to burn, whores to fuck and drugs to take."Hey, it doesn't sound too bad really, does it? (Silence from reader!)
What keeps the film fresh is the way that it tells the story in a pleasing flashback form by Henstridge at a later court hearing, and also by many of the other characters. It's a good idea by Carpenter and it certainly helps to hold my interest. Add to that a fabulous score, a lot of action and humour, and you have a very entertaining feature.
It sometimes seems like a lazy film in the sense that you wonder just how difficult this director would have found it to make but even a "weak" Carpenter film tends to be superior to other's best efforts. I'm also pleased to see a film such as this shot in a full widescreen ratio, something which I don't see as often as I should in today's modern horrors.
Carpenter's DVD commentary is a lot of fun with John on his usual good form and Natasha Henstridge also comes across very well indeed. It's a light-hearted commentary track and as well as enjoying listening to John poking fun at the size of Natasha's ears, I found myself fascinated by their comments on the narcotics issue.
The film does contain drug taking in the form of "Clear," a futuristic drug which Henstridge's character regularly uses. It even saves her life at one pointing the film and I feel that it's safe to say that a major studio would have serious concerns about such issues or the possible messages. Carpenter explains that the character's salvation via "clear" demonstrates his own ambiguity towards the issue of drug use.
The commentary discusses this subject in a (sensibly) reasonably guarded form. The actress explains that she imagined "clear" as "somewhere between acid and ecstasy," and I find it interesting to note how electronic the score becomes during those sequences. There's an almost techno(ish!) element to the soundtrack during those pill-popping and subsequent vision sequences of the film.
I have to share some of their extraordinary commentary with you:
John - "I was the only one taking serious drugs in the movie, you guys were straight."
Natasha - Sharp exhale of breath!
John - "Or maybe not?! Maybe I don't know? Maybe there's a lot I don't know."
Natasha - "I was, I know that, but not all of us were."
(laughter from both)
Natasha - "That's all I want to say."
John - " "You don't want to say anymore. I know, I know. I agree, it's best not to say. Best not to say."
And then Carpenter mentions later on, "I've enjoyed smoking marijuana since the 60's," but he wisely takes great pains to deny ever having tried anything else in response to Henstridge's questions. Blimey!
Anyway, this disc offers:
- Full widescreen
- 5.1 sound
- A commentary track by John and Natasha
- 3 featurettes totaling 30 minutes (behind-the-scenes, scoring the film, and a special effects breakdown)
- A trailer
- Filmographies
The featurettes are very entertaining and it fascinated me to watch the stuntmen at work and also to watch Anthrax, Steve Vai and Buckethead working in the studio under the supervision of John Carpenter (check out the guitar work!).
This DVD is the region 2 version which curiously has had the additional full-screen version from the region 1 equivalent omitted. But quite frankly, who cares?! I don't want to watch a full-screen version of this film and neither would anyone else surely?
My only serious criticism would be that Ghosts Of Mars featured DTS sound at the cinema whereas the DVD doesn't, which is a bit of a shitter to say the least! Oh well, at least the 5.1 sound is pretty impressive.
Ghosts Of Mars is an entertaining film which is supported by a good but not great disc. And it's a lot better than Vampires!!!
P.S. Keep an eye out for the cool Brad Dourif cameo.

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