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Ghosts of Mars (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 21, 2009 by  



“‘The Master of Terror’ brings us a sci-fi horror film that is essentially a modern day, campy horror B-movie.  Leave your logic at the door and just enjoy the film.

Images courtesy of © 2001 Screen Gems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ghosts of Mars

DURATION: 98 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Language(s): Dolby TrueHD English 5.1, French (Parisian) 5.1, Spanish (Latin Am) 5.1, Portuguese (Brazil) 5.1, Subtitles(s): English (US), French (Parisian), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Latin Am), Aspect Ratio: 2.40

RATED: R

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: March 24, 2009

Directed by John Carpenter

Written by Larry Sulkis and John Carpenter

Cinematography by Gary B. Kibbe

Film Editing by Paul C. Warschilka

Original Music by Anthrax and John Carpenter

Casting by Reuben Cannon

Production Design by William A. Elliott

Set Decoration by Ronald R. Reiss

Costume Design by Robin Michel Bush

Produced by Sandy King

Cast:

Natasha Henstridge as Lt. Melanie Ballard

Ice Cube as James ‘Desolation’ Williams

Jason Statham as Sgt. Jericho Butler

Clea DuVall as Bashira Kincaid

Pam Grier as Commander Helena Braddock

Joanna Cassidy as Dr. Arlene Whitlock

Richard Cetrone as Big Daddy Mars

Liam Waite as Michael Descanso

Duane Davis as Uno

Lobo Sebastian as Dos

Rodney A. Grant as Tres

Peter Jason as Engineer McSimms

Wanda De Jesus as Akooshay

From John Carpenter, the master of horror behind 1998’s hit John Carpenter’s Vampires and classics like The Thing and Halloween, comes a sci-fi thriller full of explosive action and bone-chilling suspense. Natasha Henstridge (Species) is Melanie Ballard, a headstrong police lieutenant on Mars in the year 2025. Humans have been colonizing and mining on the red planet for some time, but when Ballard and her squad are sent to a remote region to apprehend the dangerous criminal James “Desolation” Williams, played by Ice Cube (Three Kings), they discover that he’s the least of their worries. The mining operations have unleashed a deadly army of Martian spirits who take over the bodies of humans and won’t stop until they destroy all invaders of their planet. With a stellar cast including Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Jason Statham (Snatch) and Clea Duvall (The Faculty), as well as explosive special effects, John Carpenter’s GHOSTS OF MARS is an intergalactic terror fest like you’ve never seen.

If you love zombie films or video games like “Resident Evil”, you’ll probably enjoy John Carpenter’s “Ghost of Mars”.

A movie released back in 2001 revolves around the planet Mars, 2176, which 84% of the planet has been terraformed.  A train carrying a Mars Police group who went to a colony to apprehend criminal James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube) was supposed to arrive but all that was found was Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) who apparently was handcuffed to the train.

Ballard is called into court to get her story of what happened to her police group and thus Ballard explains her story.

Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) along with her team which consists of trained officers Lt. Melanie Ballard and St. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham) and two other rookies which include Bashira Kincaid (Clea DuVall) are taken by train to a mining town.  Their goal is to bring back criminal James “Desolation” Williams and escort him to face charges for murder.

When they arrive to the mining town, they noticed that the lively town has become a ghost town.  What happened to the inhabitants?  Upon visiting various rooms, they find bodies strung up on the roofs with their heads cut off.  The group then go to check the prison area where Williams is being held and learn that he’s stuck in his jail cell and he is not responsible for the murders.

Ballard finds other prisoners in their cells and inside one of the cells is Dr. Arlene Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) who voluntarily locked herself in the jail cell for protection.  Meanwhile, Jericho goes to find Commander Braddock who has gone after someone suspicious.  Jericho discovers that Braddock has been beheaded and as he looks down in the mines, he sees all this tribe of people following some sort of leader.  The tribe appears to be humans that somehow have changed into something.  Chopping off heads and self-mutilating themselves and using the faces of the dead as a mask.  This group who were the former miners and inhabitants of the city have been possessed by something.  Jericho radio’s in to Ballard.  Meanwhile, one of Ballard’s rookie cops accidentally falls for Williams plead for food and escapes out of the cell holding her hostage.  Next thing you know, the two are attacked by two people possessed and both use their fighting wits to take them down.  Ballard uses her wits and fighting skills to put Williams back in his cell.

With the possessed individuals having been killed and Dr. Arlene Whitlock explains that the organism possessing these bodies float to another living human and try to take over their bodies.   You can destroy the host but the organism continues to live.  The group witnesses as one of the prisoners becomes possessed.  You also learn that she and her crew who were busy terrarforming and knocked down rocks discovered a secret room and she was the one that opened pandoras box and unleashed the organisms.  If anything, these organisms are the original inhabitants of Mars and want the human invaders out of their planet.

So, while Lt. Ballard has to deal with the prisoners,  as for Jericho, he manages to find three people hiding from the evil tribe of martians and brings them back to the prison area.  Eventually, the three are friends and family of Williams who came to set him free and try to take the police officers hostage but with the martians now wanting the heads of the living, the police officers and the criminals must work together to defeat the killer martians and escape the mining area.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Ghosts of Mars” has a feel of a modern version of a sci-fi horror B-film.  The Mars landscape is redish as expected, a lot of the planet is CG graphics with almost a Star Trek feel with the big rocks and stage setup and a lot of dirt.  If anything, things are contained within the set and the focus is more on the characters and the many people who have been possessed by the Martian organisms.

Video is featured in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 2:40:1.  Picture quality is good for the most part as outdoors showcases the redness of Mars and the indoors is mostly shot in the prison area.

The film benefits from its audio as audio is presented in English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and in Spanish 5.1.  The film does feature quite a bit of action and thus there is good utilization of your 5.1 setup.  You hear the sounds of the winds of Mars swirling around you and the film utilizes a lot of gun fire and fights but it’s the hard hitting rock music of Anthrax and the sound of drums that come through your speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

For the special features, the following are included:

  • DIRECTOR AND NATASHA HENSTRIDGE COMMENTARY –  Actually an enjoyable commentary as both John Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge have a fun conversation about the film and a few other things.  Carpenter uses quite a bit of profanity and has fun in the commentary discussing everything from the setup of the film, the talent, the rock music and even drugs.  So, with Carpenter giving commentary, you can expect a lot of fun things being said.
  • Video Diary: Red Desert Knights – A 14-minute featurette with behind-the-scenes filming of “Ghosts of Mars”.  No talking, just a video camera featured on what took place during filming especially trying to manage such a huge number of people in the film and then showcasing each of the main characters.
  • The Music Behind the Movie – A six minute featurette featuring John Carpenter and Anthrax and behind-the-scenes of the scoring of the film.
  • Special Effects (SFX) Deconstrutions –  This six minute featurette showcases storyboards and 3D animatics before rendering.

“Ghosts of Mars” is reminiscent of the schlocky B-horror movies of the past.  But this time with a cast that is well-known, modern futuristic setting with special effects, creep costume designs, hardcore rock music from Anthrax and somewhat of a low budget set design compared to big budget sci-fi films.  Even the acting can be somewhat schlocky and interactions seem quite unnatural at times.

The film is a sci-fi horror film but it was a bit hard to get frightened by this film.  Despite the many decapitations and body parts, it didn’t seem that realistic or that  scary.  If anything, the whole film reminded me of zombie video games like “Resident Evil”, “House of the Dead” and “Dead Rising” and because you have humurous exchanges with Ice Cube’s Williams and Henstridge’s Ballard, then you have Jericho (Statham) who, despite fighting these martians, all he can think about is having a one night stand with Ballard (just in case they don’t survive).

Even some of the futuristic technology and weapons being used had that B-movie feel.  The technology looked older with old school counters, nothing really digital and the group has to rely on pistols and machine guns.  I would assume by 2176, pistols and machine guns would be replaced possibly by laser-based weapons.  Granted, the film came out in 2001 but there are sci-fi TV shows that had a more futuristic looking style.

But despite the B-movie feel of the overall film, there must be something good about this film right?  If you are fan of the video games that I mentioned, then you know that part of a zombie-like stye of film is campiness, bad acting and how the heroes try to outlast and survive against the onslaught of killer martians.  Then you are going to enjoy this film.

Although the film is not a zombie film (and interesting enough the previews on this film focus on zombie films), the mars colonists possessed by the Martian organisms remind me of Mad Max craziness and the leader of the martians reminds me of Marilyn Manson.  So, suffice to say, the evil martians were not exactly terrifying.

In fact, the trademark John Carpenter’s horror films such as “Halloween” of no matter how fast and how far you run, you will still be caught by the killer who is walking at a slow pace.  It doesn’t exactly happen that way in “Ghost of Mars” but one of the most insane situations I’ve seen on a film of everyone escaping from the killer martians but  then going back.   For a large part of the film, the goal was to survive and escape out of the mining town by train.  But in a bonehead decision by Lt. Ballard who tells everyone they must go back.  Convincing everyone that they have the opportunity to rid of the killer martians, they all can go back by blowing a nuclear reactor and trying to eliminate all the martians at once and to test out a theory that if the host is killed, perhaps the martian organism may die.  With everyone weak and nearly out of ammo especially being outnumbered, why couldn’t they all have gone back and try to get reinforcements.  Especially alert the military on Mars who could have probably have coordinated some type of assault via air and killed them all off.

Granted, this is not a film that you want to overthink things.  In fact, John Carpenter films are not films you want to use a lot of logic.  You just take it as it is and enjoy.

Did I enjoy the film?  I enjoyed it for its campiness.  I think one of the fun factors of the film was casting beautiful and sexy Natasha Henstridge (“Species II”, “Eli Stone” TV series) and Ice Cube.  The two have a witty back and forth exchanges with each other. Henstridge brings the sexiness and Ice Cube brings the street cred of “I don’t give a fuck about you or this planet” mentality.   Jason Statham in his second film of 2001 as a police officer (the other being “The One” starring Jet Li) shows his potential and eventually he becomes a big action star years later.

But the film on its own has that B-movie campiness, horror that doesn’t terrify but almost makes you want to laugh and CG that seemed more 1997 than 2001.   Although not a zombie film, it has the feel of one and you just take it as it is, just be in awe of the really dumb decisions made by the characters and enjoy the ride.

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