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Ghosts of Mars

***
2001

‘…the public didn’t get it, but Ghosts of Mars has great action scenes, some cool tension, and funny dialogue…’

After digging the sandy intrigue of Dune, my search for more dusty yet interplanetary action led me back to 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, a film that didn’t win many adherents on release, but actually plays better in 2021 than it did on original release. John Carpenter is, of course, a horror king, as the ongoing popularity of his Halloween franchise attests, and that’s partly what went wrong here; Ghosts of Mars is less a horror movie than an action/sci-fi hybrid, and that’s a genre which has become more popular since. For Carpenter fans, there’s the single location of The Thing, the B movie action tropes of Assault on Precinct 13, and the fun, anything-goes aesthetic of Big Trouble In Little China; it’s an effective greatest hits package.

The character names are a clue as to how seriously we’re meant to take this; Jericho Butler (Jason Statham) is a rock-hard interplanetary cop who arrives on a Martian mining settlement to assist Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) with a prisoner transfer. Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) is a familiar character in the Snake Plissken mode (the film was originally developed as an Escape from New York sequel) and won’t come quietly. But when the cops discover that the ghosts of Martian past have revived and are possessing the human inhabitants, cops and criminals alike have to put their differences aside to fight their way out and reach the cargo train that offers their only way back to civilisation.

Statham with hair is always a plus for any movie, but there’s also plenty to enjoy in Pam Grier cutting around in a full leather trench-coat, plus a salty turn from Blade Runner’s Joanna Cassidy as a smart prisoner who sees the potential attack coming. Like many of Carpenter’s films, this feels more like a Western, with the same emphasis on camaraderie, and the intense, personal stakes of the Old West, transplanted to space. The structure, with Ballard testifying in court, flashing back to the action, and then flashing back again as each character tells their story to her, is a little confusing, but pays off in a neat, crowd-pleasing ending.

The public didn’t get it, but Ghosts of Mars has a lot going for it; great action scenes, some cool tension, a wonderful score from Carpenter and and funny dialogue. ‘Maybe I’d sleep with you if you were the last man on earth,’ Ballard dryly rebukes Butler’s advances ‘But we’re not on earth’….Meanwhile… ‘This is NOT making me happy’ mutters Statham between clenched teeth as possessed Martians attack him in droves. Today, this film would be 90 per cent CGI, but Carpenter works wonders with the old-school production values. Despite flaws, Ghosts of Mars is a guilty pleasure, a hard-action cops vs space vampires epic that really deserves another spin for genre fans.

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  1. Wonder if The Stath would pull in a bigger audience if he was making it now. There were too many of these scifi so-so ventures – what they lacked in plot or CGI they didn’t seem to make up anywhere else though this sports a decent cast.

  2. Uh, no. Do. Not. Get. Me. Started. On. This. Film. For it will only inspire my additional rant on Escape from L.A. — one that you do not deserve to be subjected to, as I respect you too much to burden your brain and fibers of your being.

    I have to leave . . . I can’t read this! LOL.

  3. Never understood how Ice-Cube ever made it into the “macho man” genre of movies. While not even chubby, he’s definitely not cut and when I look at him, I think “cookie”, not “hammer”.
    That being said, if this were to go on prime for free I’d probably give it a whirl.

    • I totally agree with this sentiment. He doesn’t look like he could win a fight with a paper bag.

      • I can totally see him in a dad sweater much more easily than I can seeing him toting some big space gun.
        Even Terence Howard would have been more striking, visually speaking. I’ve only seen him in the first Iron Man, so have no idea what his acting skills are actually like.

        • Ice T has a nice line in sullen frostiness, we’ll served in dad-kids movies like Are We There Yet? But he’s not a good choice to be Snake Plissken. Almost anyone would be better, including me.

          • YES! That’s exactly the role he looks good for. I’ve seen ads for movies like that and he fits in perfectly.

            I’d pay to see you as Snake Plissken. Well, 25cents anyway. I actually didn’t like the Escape from New York very much.

            • My version will be FAR superior. It’s called Escape from Atlanta. I play the eyepatch wearing tough guy who rescues the Prez when his plane crashes. The twist is, Atlanta is not a space-penitentiary filled with miscreants! Worth 25 cents?

      • Agreed. All grimace. All scowl. All brow furrowing. No guts underneath the B-movie, stock facial stock facial expressions.

    • It’s just a bonus. I like Vin Diesel with hair too. The hair he has here is very real, no CGI wig. Not saying that bald isn’t cool, of course, it is, but it’s nice to know that other flavours of Statham head are around if you fancy a change….

          • I’ve heard the projection equipment is a real drag to carry around everywhere, and that the effects can get pixelated when you go swimming or take a shower.

        • Sadly, after The Irishman, I fear that’ll be the norm. But, I do recall that one of the earliest CGI hair patches was with Bruce Willis on Hudson Hawk. Maybe not CGI, but I know that they went through, frame-by-frame, to cover his thinning crown.

          • I hate to say this but I’m a big Hudson Hawk fan. Liked it then, still like it now. I’ll turn in my badge and surrender to the authorities rather than give up my loyalty to that film.

            • I remember seeing in theaters and not hating it. I just remember the incident with Bruce’s hair. It was his “passion project,” or he was a producer, or something on it.

              • He does keep a hat on, and it was before his fine was a selling point. I’ve been ignoring his output for a while now, much to the disbelief of my younger self, but I can’t bear to see him going through the motions. I think he saw a potential franchise in Hawk, but misjudged how self indulgent audiences wanted to see him be. I like Return of Bruno too, so there’s no helping me.

                • Yeah. One of Sam’s writers at the site did a really spread his fandom of Nic Cage films. I think there’s one breaking down Bruce’s films to be done, for sure. Surely Bruce is into “Eric Roberts” territory, probably taking more questionable roles than he should. One of those, Precious Cargo, however, for being a low-budget overseas actioner, was pretty decent. Then again, I’m a Claire Forani fan. . . .

                  • Yup, I introduced her at a press event once, she’s very cool. Just saw her in The Rock last night, never knew she was in it.

                    I’ll check out Precious Cargo then, rather that than Apex Predator, or some other rubbish…he must get offered better than that…surely?

                    • Hey, Crystal Inferno, aka Skyscraper Inferno, made in Beligium for the Euro-crowd, isn’t bad, either. She really “Ripleys” it up. Not bad for a mockbuster of the Rock’s flick.

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