Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Genre: Action and Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: August 24th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Carpenter Actors: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, Rosemary Forsyth, Liam Waite, Duane Davis, Lobo Sebastian, Peter Jason




n the year 2176 A.D., the terraforming of Mars is 84% complete. With a matriarchal society and a population of 640,000 people, the planet is governed by Earth law (and the Cartel back home) and enforced by the Mars Police Force. In the capital city of Chryse, the Matronage oversees the interrogation of Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), the sole survivor from a mission into Shining Canyon to retrieve and transport a prisoner. When her freight train returns from the Southern Valley on autopilot, with Ballard unconscious and handcuffed to her bed, it’s clear that an investigation is in order. Additionally, the illegal substance tetramonochloride was found in her system.

In flashback, Melanie relates her tale, involving the transfer of dangerous murderer James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), who has been charged numerous times but continues to find himself a free man (up until now). As the vessel arrives into the station, Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) leads her soldiers (including Sgt. Jericho Butler [Jason Statham] and rookies Bashira Kincaid [Clea DuVall] and Michael Descanso [Liam Waite]) to the penitentiary. But after a severe windstorm the night before, it appears as if the entire city has been evacuated. That is, until they discover dozens of bodies carved up, decapitated, and hung upside down from the ceiling in the mess hall.

The rest of the film is both a mystery and a thriller, growing unnecessarily complicated and disorganized when Science Officer Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) is given a moment of exposition that involves a flashback within a flashback. There’s also comic relief in the aggressive sexual innuendo between Melanie and Jericho. The narrative only works to make the horror less horrifying, especially as scenes cut back to the inquisitor, or when flashbacks cut back to moments witnessed just seconds beforehand – reiterations that aid only the most unobservant of moviegoers. And multiple characters receive flashbacks to detail how they all ended up together at Shining Canyon, giving the impression that no one could quite figure out how to tell this story. There are even sequences when one character wanders off on his own, only to have his departure shown a few minutes later as a flashback – rather than, simply and sensibly, playing out the scenes in order.

“Ghosts of Mars” does present a few amusing ideas for extraplanetary science-fiction, including breathing apparatuses that only require an occasional puff on a mouthpiece protruding from the collars of their uniforms; possessed, vampiric denizens who mutilate their bodies ritualistically with metal ornamentation; a flip on the idea of alien invaders; and an “Assault on Precinct 13” vibe in space. And, for some reason, there’s also evident commentary on futuristic narcotics, going so far as to show one of the inhabitants accidentally sever a limb while high. Plus, the character designs have an uninspired resemblance to the de-civilized denizens of Mad Max, set in the dusty, red, mining environments of “Total Recall.”

With the synthesizer-heavy soundtrack, practical gore effects, and macho attitudes, the film is instantly recognizable as a work by director John Carpenter. But the editing is so unforgivably sloppy, it would seem that someone of far less talent (or unfamiliarity with this much of a budget) chopped the footage together haphazardly. Additionally, there are screen wipes that would feel more at home in a “Star Wars” movie (and there’s even a transition effect from one angle to another in the very same shot). On the other hand, locations and lighting look good, the costuming isn’t bad, the action and stunts are decent, and the makeup effects are pretty sharp. But the possession/zombification premise just isn’t given the sincerity needed to be relevant or scary. And with this cast and these sets, the result should have been a far more engaging, nerve-wracking adventure.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10