Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5
Full disclosure: I have a major soft spot for John Carpenter. He’s made some of my favorite movie. The Thing, Halloween, They Live, just to name a few. I remember the first time I saw Ghosts of Mars, I was twelve, my parents were gone for the night and it was on HBO. Ah, 2001, like fine wine you were. But I digress.
Ghosts of Mars, written by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis (who was an non-credited writer for Carpenter’s ’95 movie Village of the Damned), is a multi-framed narrative which tells the story of a squad of space cops who are tasked with picking up a prisoner from a mining town which, surprise, is over run with possessed townsfolk. Possessed with what, you ask? Why the ghosts of Mars of course. Like you didn’t know the title.
I say it’s multi-framed because the movie starts with Natasha Henstridge’s character Ballard, arriving at the Martian city center where she’s put on trial over what happened during her apparent failed mission. The rest of the movie is her telling her story. There are a couple times where they dip a little further down the rabbit hole and other characters get flash back scenes within Ballard’s overarching flash back. It’s a narrative style you don’t see every day and it helps keep the plot moving.
One of the things that I love about John Carpenter as a filmmaker is his ability to create a fully fleshed out world. You can see it in this movie every once in a while from broad-stroke details like the socio-political system being run by women, to small touches like Ice Cube wearing Mars camo pants. Though I think my favorite little detail they add is the air-locks.
Throughout the whole movie, you see these people running around on Mars, breathing totally fine. That means the planets been terraformed. But, even though the air is completely fine to breath, most of the buildings have air lock style doors. Why? Because the world is lived in. There would have been a time when those air-locks would have been a necessity. The filmmakers did not over look that detail. I highly doubt the air-lock thing was Carpenter though. It could have been, but I doubt it.
From an acting stand point, there are some pretty great appearances. You got Pam Grier playing the head of this squadron. Jason Statham is like eight-teen in this movie. Ice Cube is…Ice Cube. If you note, I started this paragraph by saying the appearances were great, not the performances. That’s part of the beauty of a John Carpenter movie: the actors don’t act awesome, they are awesome. For all I know Ice Cube rolls of bed every morning wearing Martian camo pajamas and throws make-shift hand grenades into crowds of people. Don’t worry. The hand grenades won’t kill anyone. They’ll just make everyone jump really high while sparks fly off behind them. Seriously, that’s how hand grenades work in this movie, it’s amazing.
Oh, fun fact, this movie was originally going to be a sequel to Escape from L.A., but that idea was scraped after Escape from L.A. didn’t do so hot at the box office. So basically take Ice Cube out, put Kurt Russel in, that’s what it started out as.