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Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: John Carpenter

Starring:
Natasha Henstridge/Melanie
Ice Cube/Williams
Jason Statham/Jericho
Clea DuVall/Bashira
7 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
Humans have colonized Mars. Police officer Melanie (Henstridge) and her crew are sent to pick up a dangerous prisoner (Cube) and bring him back to the main city. But when they get to their destination, they find the habitants possessed by some kind of alien force that has turned them into Goth-looking, murdering psychopaths. High gore, body piercing, explosions, fight sequences and good times ensue.
THE LOWDOWN
John Carpenter never got the props that he deserved in the world of mainstream films but he has quite an underground following. I can’t see how any hardcore Carpenter fan cannot have a blast with this film. If you know your shite, you’ll find many Carpenter trademarks in "Ghosts Of Mars". We get a little bit of "The Thing", mixed with some "Escape From New York", with a dash of “Attack On Precinct 13” and a dose of "Prince Of Darkness". Does that sound bad? Not to me.

Carpenter goes for the campy, fun ride vibe and in that respect, he hits the mark and then some. The film is filled with funny one liners (from Cube mostly), has an ass kicking Natasha Henstridge (seeing her Kung Fu her way through this movie was such a turn on), has kool humorous characters (the three friends named “Unos”, “Dos” and “Trez” were a riot”) and has its fare share of action (the first massive fight sequence is a freaking crowd pleaser!).

The film moves at a fast pace and its sole purpose is to take you on a roller coaster ride of thrills and chuckles. I also yelled “holy shit” out loud on more than one occasion due to the "kick your ass" kill scenes (haven’t seen extreme kills like that in a while). Another thing I appreciated was the structure of the script. The Henstridge character remembers the events that unfold before us. That makes for the occasional play on time where we see a scene twice but from different character point of views. Think “Pulp Fiction”-light.

The film did however have a few things that didn’t go down perfectly for me. First off, the “alien” force that possesses the humans must be real dumb when it chooses its hosts (why possess the guy in jail instead of the humans that are free and holding guns) or be really slow (it’s impossible with the amounts of hosts that get killed that ALL of the humans didn’t get possessed at one point).

The other two things I didn’t dig were the “alien” leader (Richard Cetrone) being shamefully underused. He spends most of his time growling like the “Ultimate Warrior” but when it comes down to kicking some ass; he's a big pussy. And I also didn’t fully swallow the last plot point that has the survivors finally escaping their attackers to then have them go back for some trivial reason.

But you have to let shit like that go. I had a genuine good time watching this flick. Its humor really had me going. I mean even the un-intentional laughs worked. I didn’t mind the “matte paintings” or the cheesy blue screen; it actually complimented the B-movie feel that the flick puts out from frame one and slapped a grin on my face. Add to that, lots of gore and relentless action and you get a film that aims to please and well…it pleased me! Let's kick some ass!
GORE
I wont ruin it for anybody. We get many surprise kills that we don’t see coming and they’re fucking awesome. Trust me...heads roll, limbs fly and plasma flows.
ACTING
I’m so happy that Natasha Henstridge (Melanie) filled in for Courtney Love (who was originally cast for this film). THANK YOU! Henstridge handles her part well, we’re not talking Cate Blanchett here, but she’s getting better. You go, girl! I also relished every close up that she had…wow. I’m not a big Ice Cube (Williams) fan (in terms of acting) but here his tough street guy antics worked because the film doesn’t take itself seriously. He actually kind of reminded me of a new school Mr. T. Jason Statham (Jericho) does a good job as the horny officer and his Brit accent upped his charisma. Clea DuVall (Bashira) does a really good job of looking dumbfound and that’s pretty much it for her, not much of a part. I liked Pam Grier (Helena) in her old stuff ("Coffee" wuz dope) but here she stands out and tested my nerves. Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) does fine but again, not much of a part. Richard Cetrone (alien leader) looks like a wrestler and sure knows how to growl.
T & A
Nothing, but Carpenter knows well enough to slap Henstridge in her underwear late in the film. Thanks buddy.
DIRECTING
Carpenter doesn’t hold back visually. He displays some slick shots and lots of play with images; the film has a polished look. My only complaint on directing terms is that the movie doesn’t have much suspense. But it does have a few boo scares that got me jumping out of my seat. Carpenter keeps the pace tight and had me grinning for an hour and a half.
SOUNDTRACK
Carpenter did the music for this one and it’s not unlike the score in his other films. It’s simple, effective and engaging. I loved the electric guitar bombardment during the action scenes.
DVD FEATURES
Released By: Columbia Tri-Star

IMAGE: We get a spiffy Digitally Mastered Anamorphic Video image that delivers gangbusters in terms of sharpness and colors. No grains on this bad boy! We also have the option of watching the film in cropped "full screen" or in glorious widescreen. Guess which one you should watch this gem on?

SOUND: We get Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and it serves the film well. The dialogue is clear and the tough score pierced my speakers. I was bit letdown that the DVD didn't sport a "surround sound" option. This flick would've rocked in surround!

EXTRAS: The extras will have every Carpenter fan foaming at the mouth.

Commentary: John Carpenter and the charming Natasha Henstridge give us a very entertaining full length commentary. I had a blast listening to this one! Carpenter is obviously lightly flirting with Natasha (in a playful, nice way) and he asks her lots of questions about her modeling past, her acting technique, her fighting skills and her personal life (she has a second kid in the oven). John, of course, also comments on the film's effects, characters and give us some interesting, kool behind the scenes tidbits. This commentary is awesome!

Video Diary: They had someone on set with a camcorder shooting stuff and this feature gives us an edited 10-15 minutes of it with some "John Carpenter" composed music in the background. I for one love to see on-set footage and this segment delivers on that front. We get to see shots being taken, actors prepping up for scenes, makeup being applied, some stunts (nice torch stunt) and at one point a bunch of "extras" not knowing the meaning of the word "CUT" (hilarious). Overall, this feature is amusing but being a greedy guy, I would have liked some short on the spot comments by the actors to the camera and of course, it could've been longer. But again...that's me being greedy.

Special Effects Deconstructions: Here we get a 5-10 minute collage that cuts from effect storyboards to the actual effects and how they were created. This segment has a kool tune in the background (by J.C. again) and is fairly engaging. It's nothing to go nuts about, but it's a harmless bonus.

Scoring "Ghost Of Mars": This one was a blast! Here we get to see John Carpenter in the recording studio with the band Anthrax, guitarist extraordinaire Steve Vai and a guitar player that wears a white mask and a KFC bucket on his head (don't ask). You don't see DVD extras that concentrate on the film's score very often so this one was particularly interesting to me. Seeing John at work in the studio with the boyz was a hoot! Great fucking tunes BTW.

We also get the standard "Filmography" and "Screen Selections" options. Overall...a solid DVD! One question though...where was the "theatrical trailer"? Maybe it's on there as an "easter egg"...
BOTTOM LINE
If you’re looking for a thought-out essay on Mars or an exploration of the human condition then you’re knocking on the wrong coffin. This is not the serious film that "The Thing" or "In The Mouth Of Madness" were. It’s more in the veins of "Escape From New York". "Ghosts Of Mars" keeps its tongue planted deep inside its cheek the whole way and entertained me till the last frame (which is vintage Carpenter, BTW). If you want to see one of horror's top directors have some fun, then see this film and have a blast with him.
BULL'S EYE
The budget for "Ghosts of Mars" was about $30 Million.
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