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Awfully Good: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars + My Favorite Martian (Video)

09.30.2015
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Let's hope Ridley Scott has better luck on the Red Planet than John Carpenter and Brian DePalma...

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham

 

A group of space cops must outwit and escape a horde of supernatural and super pissed off Martians.

John Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS. That phrase alone sounds exciting enough, but the idea of a sci-fi horror-action movie from the director of HALLOWEEN, THEY LIVE, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and so many of our other favorite movies had fans frothing at the mouth in the summer of 2001. However, after its release, Carpenter didn't make another movie for nearly a decade. I think you can guess how this one turned out. 


Jason Statham Is Confused By This Movie #1

GHOSTS OF MARS originally started off as ESCAPE FROM MARS, but when ESCAPE FROM L.A. (read our Awfully Good review) bombed critically and commercially, the studio bailed on future Snake Plissken movies. So Carpenter did the natural thing—kept everything the same and just changed the anti-hero's name to Desolation Williams. Yes, Ice Cube plays a character whose mother actually named Desolation. He's essentially  Snake Plissken minus the eye patch, even down to the same sleeveless black shirt. And thank God for the forced name change because I don't need another disappointing ESCAPE movie in my lifetime.


Like many fans, Ice Cube was disappointed that Natasha Henstridge stopped making SPECIES movies.

On one hand, I recognize that GHOST OF MARS is terrible, but my other hand can't help but still enjoy it on some levels. It feels like a greatest hits compilation of Carpenter's previous films, and as a fan of the director, that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's his undying love of the western genre and horror motifs and imagery. There's the requisite synth score, this time beefed up with rock guitar licks from members of Anthrax and Guns n Roses. And Carpenter even borrows from himself—a little bit of the body possession from THE THING, an assault sequence ala ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and a ghostly fog straight out of STARMAN. Unfortunately, none of these elements are used to their full potential. The fog is more set decoration than actual threat. The siege sequence ends with the protagonists pretty much just walking out the back door. And the alien-possessed people are quickly dispatched without any sense of suspense or paranoia. During the quiet moments of the film, you can actually hear the ringing sound of Carpenter phoning it in. 

  Jason Statham Is Confused By This Movie #2

So while it looks and feels like a John Carpenter movie, GHOST OF MARS really falls down on its script and casting. Carpenter employs a bizarre storytelling structure of flashbacks that kills any suspense or interest. The entire film is told via flashback, with space cop Natasha Henstridge explaining to her superiors what happened on their supposedly routine prisoner transfer, yet still has even more unnecessary flashbacks peppered throughout. No joke; at one point there's a flashback within a flashback within a flashback and I stopped to wonder if Christopher Nolan got the idea for INCEPTION while watching this. 

  Ice Cube only does one take, motherf*cker!

The plot itself is fine and has potential, but just isn't executed well. Humans have come to Mars and began terraforming the planet for eventual habitation. However, some dormant indigenous Martian spirit has been unleashed that inhabits and infects host bodies, causing them to self-mutilate and kill everyone around them. Our heroes quickly realize that the spirit floats around after death looking for a fresh human (exactly like the Denzel Washington movie FALLEN); however, they still insist on killing everyone anyways because the writing is bad. The whole thing also positions GHOST OF MARS in an awkward spot, like a cowboy vs. indians movie where you're supposed to root for the cowboys to murder all the natives trying to defend their home. The film even acknowledges this irony at one point, but quickly dismisses it with the line "This is our planet now!" 

Jason Statham Is Confused By This Movie #3

Poor Natasha Henstridge is saddled with a fairly bland and straightforward female cop role, but Ice Cube is woefully miscast as Desolation Williams. With his constant snarls and whispering-or-yelling line delivery (see also: XXX: STATE OF THE UNION), Cube just doesn't have it in him to pull off a Snake Plissken-style role. It's hard to take either actor serious as a hero and the film doesn't do them any favors by forcing a weird sexual tension between the two. And speaking of unwanted sex, Jason Statham plays Jericho Butler, a character who solely exists to continually try to sleep with Natasha Henstridge. Literally 95% of the dialogue out of his mouth is horrible pick-up lines or creepy, rapey suggestions. In the middle of the siege on their compound as they're about to die, Statham actually lures Henstridge to a remote location to try and seduce her one last time. And worse yet, she actually relents and gives in to his advances! On the supporting side, GHOST OF MARS also features Joanna Cassidy from ROGER RABBIT as Exposition Scientist and Pam Grier as the requisite black person to be killed off first.

Quentin Tarantino was smart not to go with Elmore Leonard's original ending for JACKIE BROWN.

You may have seen the pale-faced Martian villain featured prominently in the marketing, but Big Daddy Mars (yes, this is what he's actually credited as), is a big giant nothing in the movie. He may look menacing with his Marilyn Manson-Alice Cooper getup, but he's barely featured in the film. And as soon as he opens his mouth to yell in his gibberish Martian ghost language, you'll cringe with laughter instead of terror. His Martian army is also rarely scary or intimidating, which makes for some cheap-looking action sequences. Much of the battles and gunfights look exactly like what it is—a group of actors running around with fake guns on a fake set. Thankfully, Carpenter doesn't rely on CGI too much, save for one hot air balloon sequence that looks like the terrible surfing scene from ESCAPE FROM L.A.

Jason Statham Is Confused By This Movie #4

[SPOILERS] The one thing I unapologetically love about GHOST OF MARS is how little the movie cares about its characters. Because of the flashback structure you know Henstridge is the only one to make it out alive (and if you were expecting some sort of twist, I have bad news for you), but it's still shocking how easily it dispatches everyone. Clea DuVall is a fairly major supporting character and she gets decapitated and no one bats an eye. Same goes for Statham, who dies a rather violent death in a swarm of Martians, but goes unnoticed by Henstridge, who he was just making out with. In fact, the entire team gets savagely murdered by the end and Hesntridge and Ice Cube never even bring it up when they escape together. Even more ridiculous is the random scene where they discover that narcotics can actually cure the Martian infection (…thank God our heroine was a drug addict!), but it's never brought up again and no one tries to use it to help any of the infected. They're too busy killing off all the indigenous people. 


Is John Carpenter the first director to put himself in Movie Jail?

Natasha Henstridge rejecting Jason Statham and his penis, some memorable lines courtesy of Ice Cube and Friends, and the awkward chemistry between the two leads.

Some of the best action moments and kills, and Jason Statham showing off his skills of seduction. 

The movie manages to get Henstridge in her underwear at the very last minute. 


At least it's not MISSION TO MARS! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Someone gets decapitated
  • There's a flashback within a flashback
  • Jason Statham hits on Natasha Henstridge
  • Someone loses a thumb
  • They nuke the planet they've been spending years trying to terraform

Double shot if:

  • There's a flashback within a flashback within a flashback

Thanks to Bill and Dennis for suggesting this week's movie!

Hold on a second! We've got one more Awfully Good for you this week. Granted, it may not be as exciting as water on Mars, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Host Jesse Shade takes on 1999's MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, starring Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, Daryl Hannah, and Elizabeth Hurley, showcasing a reasonably insane and silly adaptation of the '60's TV show. Check it out below!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Extra Tidbit: I'm going to take this directly from Wikipedia because it's worded so perfectly: "Courtney Love was originally cast [as Melanie], but she left the project after her then-boyfriend's ex-wife ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the picture."
Source: JoBlo.com

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12:00PM on 09/30/2015

It is awfully good

John Carpenter movies are sometimes like Ridley Scott movies, in that some of them take years if not decades for them to find an audience. They usually start finding an audience through the "awfully good" category, and end up improving their overall perception down the road from there.

I don't have a problem with rooting for the "cowboys," because I'm not under any delusion that "indigenous natives" were the magical peaceful arboreal neolithic proto-hippie vegan animist geomancers that
John Carpenter movies are sometimes like Ridley Scott movies, in that some of them take years if not decades for them to find an audience. They usually start finding an audience through the "awfully good" category, and end up improving their overall perception down the road from there.

I don't have a problem with rooting for the "cowboys," because I'm not under any delusion that "indigenous natives" were the magical peaceful arboreal neolithic proto-hippie vegan animist geomancers that directors like James Cameron likes to portray them as. Rather, they were brutal savages who warred among themselves for centuries before any Europeans arrived at their "home."

Besides, it's increasingly looking as though life on Earth may have begun on Mars through panspermia. [link] If genuine science confirms this, then it would mean that there isn't an "indigenous" anything anywhere on the planet.
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