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Ghosts of Mars - who's scared now?

01/10/2001. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Ghosts of Mars in the USA - or Buy Ghosts of Mars in the UK

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In 2176 on the planet Mars police taking into custody an accused murderer face the title menace.

A film review by Mark R. Leeper

CAPSULE: In 2176 on the planet Mars police taking into custody an accused murderer face the title menace.

There is a lot of fighting and not a whole lot of story otherwise. John Carpenter reprises so many ideas from his previous films, especially ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, that the new film comes off as his homage to himself.

Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4).

John Carpenter apparently believes that action scenes in which people fight something horrible are the same as horror scenes.

For a writer and director of horror films, supposedly an expert on horror, it is a very bad mistake to make. GHOSTS OF MARS is called a horror movie, but it is more just a drawn out fight between humans and a surprisingly low-powered alien menace.

In addition if anybody but John Carpenter had made GHOSTS OF MARS, Carpenter would have grounds to sue. This film is just chock full of pieces taken from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE THING, and PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

It is, in fact, surprising that Carpenter managed to fit so many pieces of his previous work into this film in such an admittedly novel way. But that still does not make for a really good science fiction experience.

GHOSTS OF MARS takes place in the year 2176. Mars has been mostly terraformed so that humans can walk on the surface without breathing gear (which is good for the film's budget).

It is never mentioned, but the gravity on Mars has been increased somehow to earth-normal, again making it easier to film. Society has changed a bit by that time, but it has advanced surprisingly little.

Apparently the culture has changed so that women are much more in positions of control. And from Carpenter's view, women have really made a mess of things. Society has stagnated under female control so that beyond some minor technological advances society has changed less in 175 years than we might expect it to change in ten.

The basic plot of GHOSTS OF MARS has much in common with that of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 except that Precinct 9 (yes, Precinct 9) has been replaced by a somewhat tacky looking rundown Martian mining colony.

Instead of having the criminal "Napoleon" Wilson, this film has the criminal "Desolation" Williams. Instead of facing hoodlums with automatic weapons the police face, well, ghosts of Mars.

Because the ghosts are somewhat alien in nature they should behave in some alien manner, but they essentially behave as human savages, in another lapse of imagination. The story is told in flashback, flashback within flashback, and flashback within flashback within flashback.

GHOSTS OF MARS takes place entirely at night and is filmed almost entirely in tones of red, yellow, and black. Carpenter manages to give us a powerful opening scene, showing a mining train rushing through the Martian night to the sound of music with a heavy beat.

Sadly what follows is not really up to the buildup. The terror he creates looks a little too much like fugitive wannabes from the rock band Kiss.

His idea of building suspense is having a bunch of sudden jump scenes that sucker the viewer into thinking something scary is happening and then prove to be just something boring.

These are standard haunted house film shock effects that require no great talent to give the audience. Somewhat newer but also unimpressive are the CGI digital decapitations in some of the fights.

Within a short stretch of time we have seen the release of MISSION TO MARS, RED PLANET, and GHOSTS OF MARS. After MISSION TO MARS was panned by too many reviewers it looks better and better and better as time goes by.

I rate GHOSTS OF MARS a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Following the movie I showed my wife, who liked GHOSTS OF MARS moderately more than I did, Carpenter's classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Her comment is that it was seeing the same film twice.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2001 Mark R. Leeper

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