Ghosts of Mars (2001) Movie Review

Ghosts of Mars is officially called John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. This is because John Carpenter is a horror fan favorite, and the horror fans are a group of people who are known for their fanatical dedication to the genre regardless of quality (or lack thereof).

Ghosts of Mars has an intriguing plot: it’s the future, and mankind has colonized the red planet (that’s Mars to you laymen), except the planet’s original inhabitants, thought long dead, have awakened and now wants to kick out the invaders. If you were to make the pitch for Ghosts of Mars you would get a lot of interested looks. Except something happened from pitch to screenplay and to what finally appeared on screen. The result is a mess. Not only a mess, but also a boring, repetitive, and a waste of potential.

The fault for Ghosts of Mars lies mostly in John Carpenter’s hands. If I could get my hands on the original script for Ghosts, I am willing to bet my first born that the script’s pre-production draft was drastically altered by the time post-production came around. This happens a lot in filmmaking, particularly with big-budget studio films. In Ghosts, one gets the feeling that the final product probably looks nothing like the original idea that was pitched, sold, and written by the film’s two credited writers.

Ghosts of Mars is a Last Stand in a Haunted House movie (*read the review of Pitch Black for reference), only set on Mars, and within a mining colony. The colony is obviously a Hollywood set, complete with fake rocks and uninspired buildings. The exterior of the set is a mess, but the interiors of the buildings that are supposed to exist within the set are much better done. The interior sets give the movie the claustrophobic feel that all Last Stand in a Haunted House movie needs in order to thrive and be effective. Unfortunately for Ghosts, whatever tensions that could have been squeezed from the claustrophobic police station, jail cells, and blood-splattered buildings are undermined by weak acting and improbable situations.

Forget the fact that the “ghosts” of Mars are spirits who can inhabit any living body, effectively possessing them for their own usage. That is the kind of premise that you must accept in order to enjoy sci-fi movies, and I readily accepted the body-snatcher idea. Despite my willingness to go along with that premise, Carpenter completely destroys any “reality” (or as much reality that can exist in a sci-fi/ghost movie set on a mining colony on Mars) by making the Martian ghosts complete imbeciles who looks like World Wrestling Federation rejects instead of scary ghosts that can possess you at any time. The entire notion of being able to possess human hosts is done away with by the simple fact that the spirits, once killed and forced to leave their now-dead human host, seems to float around in midair for hours until the humans can safely go back into hiding, thus preventing their bodies from being co-opted by the now-bodiless ghosts.

And since when did spirits without physical form find doors and walls to be such a hindrance? If you didn’t have any physical properties, wouldn’t “phasing” through the metal walls or doors be a simple task? Not so in Ghosts of Mars, and this is of course to ensure that the characters survive long enough for the movie’s final, inevitable showdown. Did I mention that the main villain does next to nothing in this movie? Well, he does. Or actually, doesn’t.

I would continue to talk more about Ghosts, but I find it just as boring to talk about it and poke holes in it as I did while watching the actual movie. On the plus side, there is a background story about Mars being inhabited mostly by women, but this is glossed over without being explored. Actually, I find the idea of Mars being governed and run by women and men being only good for breeding children (or “breeders” as the movie calls them) to be much more interesting than the ghost story that takes place.

You want violence? There is plenty of violence in Ghosts. People gets their heads chopped off, people chops off their own hands, gets decapitated by flying metal frisbees, and oh yes, the ever popular riddled-with-bullets death. There is also a whole subplot about the Martian ghosts and their fixation with body mutilation, but this is never explained. As a whole, Ghosts of Mars looks cheap, is cheap, and has all the excitement and fine acting of a High School production.

Actually, that last statement is an insult to High School productions everywhere, and I wish to apologize.

On the plus side, Natasha Henstridge is one of the most beautiful women working in Hollywood today, and I’m relieved to discover that rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube really cannot act to save his life, which doesn’t make his character (the improbably named Desolation Williams, natch) any less fun to laugh at. Although, I’m sure we weren’t supposed to laugh at him, but there you have it.

John Carpenter (director) / Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter (screenplay)
CAST: Natasha Henstridge …. Melanie Ballard
Ice Cube …. James ‘Desolation’ Williams
Jason Statham …. Jericho Butler
Clea DuVall …. Bashira Kincaid

Buy Ghosts of Mars on DVD