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Ghosts of Mars may not be one of John Carpenter’s finer efforts, but you can’t knock the veteran director for staying true to his roots–it’s clearly a Carpenter film, reveling in its B-movie blood lust, and fueled by the director’s rock & roll rebellion as well as the sex appeal of star Natasha Henstridge. This rickety sci-fi/horror hybrid recalls Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, with various connections from throughout the director’s career–for better and worse. It’s the year 2176, and human colonists on Mars are controlled by a political “matronage,” with women (for reasons unexplained) holding court in the capitol city of Chryse. Mars Police Force Lt. Ballard (Henstridge) has been sent to retrieve James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), the planet’s most notorious criminal, from a remote mining-colony prison. With her ill-fated crew, Ballard discovers that the colonists have nearly all been possessed by ancient Martian spirits bent on reclaiming the planet, turning them into an army of self-mutilating freaks suggesting an unholy union of Marilyn Manson and the sadomasochistic Cenobites from the Hellraiser films. None of this makes much sense, and the shaky alliance between cops and criminals is a predictable excuse for rampant battle scenes between surviving humans and the ghost-possessed maniacs. Exotic weaponry abounds (along with cheap special effects and some laughable dialogue), resulting in the gruesome dispatch of expendable costars Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine, and Clea Duvall. Driven by Carpenter’s synth-metal score, this violent free-for-all has a few brief highlights, but it’s suspenseless and ultimately absurd. It’s not much, but for loyal fans it’s probably enough.


It’s the year 2176 and man has established a strong presence on Mars, setting up mining colonies all over the increasingly terra-formed planet. Society is set up along matriarchal lines, which should be interesting but isn’t because the story just throws that out there and does nothing with it. It certainly does nothing to stop the practice of male sexism because Sgt. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham, who always brings plenty of action to the party) spends most of his time (when he’s not fighting for his life, of course), trying to get into the 22nd century knickers of his superior officer Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). Ballard and Jericho are part of a quintet of cops dispatched to a remote post to pick up a prisoner and bring him back for trial. This isn’t just any prisoner, though; no, this is the formidable Desolation Williams (Ice Cube), a dangerous but as of yet thrice-acquitted murderer now accused of slaughtering six people. When the cops arrive, they are disconcerted to find a virtual ghost town. Williams is still secured in his cell, but most everyone else in town is hanging upside down, sans head, in one building or another. We already know from the early minutes of the film that Ballard is the only person to make it back to base camp (a fact which robs the movie of a great deal of potential suspense); what we don’t know is what happened out there – and that doesn’t become perfectly clear until the end of the movie.

Natasha Henstridge doesn’t really do a lot for me, but she was pretty good in this film (although some of the scenes wherein she shows her authority and general toughness rang a little hollow). She’s not your ideal cop, and that makes her character more interesting – especially when everything hits the fan and she’s forced to seriously change tactics in an attempt to survive. I thought Ice Cube was great; his is really the most interesting character in the film, and even Jason Statham can’t match him in the “one tough hombre” department. For their part, the “ghosts of Mars” aren’t impressive at all, and their minions (whom they “possess”) look like a huge gang of WWE rejects trying to channel The Crow. They are evil and relentless (not to mention ugly), though, which pretty much guarantees that all of the fight and battle scenes are going to be fiercely waged. Their little flying body slicers are particularly effective at disarming (and sometimes even “dis-heading”) their victims.

The Blu-Ray is an amazing disc with reference quality A/V that sports 1080 HD. You get a ton of special features, but most of it seems to be holdovers from the last DVD special edition. What gives, Sony? The BD Live functionality seems like it might play into the Special Effects deconstruction, but I can’t tell since the BD-Live capability wasn’t live at press time. Still, I’d recommend the disc for a purchase. 
RELEASE DATE: 03/31/09

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