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Ghosts of Mars

Entry updated 19 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2001). Screen Gems presents a Storm King production. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Larry Sulkis & Carpenter. Cast includes Joanna Cassidy, Ice Cube, Clea Duvall, Pam Grier, Natasha Henstridge and Jason Statham. 93 minutes. Colour.

In 2176, colonists mining a part-terraformed and irrelevantly matriarchal Mars activate the dormant bodiless form of a windborne native intelligence, which possesses the colonists' bodies and turns them lethally against the human invaders of their world.

Carpenter is on dismal form in this undercooked remix of his hits, with a weak script and bare-bones production scuppering what should have been a failproof formula: a Zombie western in space, staffed with an enviable cast of exploitation-film icons, and compositing all Carpenter's major obsessions and back-catalogue storylines (especially Assault on Precinct 13) in the most overtly Hawksian film of his career. Henstridge replaced Courtney Love in the lead a week before shooting, while Mars is played by a gypsum mine covered in red food dye on Native American tribal land; Carpenter claimed not to have considered the resonance with the film's plot. Unhappy with his original linear version, Carpenter restructured the film as a pointlessly complex system of multiple flashbacks in different voices, but this only serves to jumble the narrative continuity. The strongest feature is the director's score, which mixes Carpenter's own signature electronic drones with axe heroics from guesting celebrity rockers. The last and least of a trio of Martian flops after Red Planet (2000) and Mission to Mars (2000), Ghosts of Mars left a lingering perception that Martian films, like pirate films before the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, were box-office poison, with even John Carter (2012) forced by Disney to drop "of Mars" from its title. It would be the best part of a decade before Carpenter's next feature. [NL]


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