STARRING: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy

2001, 98 Minutes, Directed by: John Carpenter

Description: It's the year 2176, and human colonists on Mars are controlled by a political "matronage," with women (for reasons unexplained) holding court in the capitol city of Chryse. Mars Police Force Lt. Ballard (Henstridge) has been sent to retrieve James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube), the planet's most notorious criminal, from a remote mining-colony prison. With her ill-fated crew, Ballard discovers that the colonists have nearly all been possessed by ancient Martian spirits bent on reclaiming the planet, turning them into an army of self-mutilating freaks.

I watched Ghosts of Mars as a file downloaded from the Internet. There are several reasons why one shouldn't download pirated movies from the Internet: (a.) It is illegal and could get you into trouble. (b.) Depending on the compression/encoding used, such files can be of poor quality, even poorer than your bog standard VHS cassette. After all, movies should ideally be watched as their makers intended, i.e., on the big screen in the cinema. (c.) There is no such thing as "free". Such pirated movies are huge files, in the 700 megabytes and higher range. One can barely fit such a movie on a CD-ROM disk and downloading them can throttle your bandwidth, take up time and in the end wind up costing you more than a mere rental or movie ticket. (d.) You would feel really stupid going to all that trouble of downloading a movie as crappy as Ghost of Mars . . .

"Actual dialogue: 'What happens if we blow up the nuclear power plant? There'd be a big explosion, right?' . . ."

Ghosts of Mars is bad, very bad. With a title like that I was expecting at least a fun B-movie romp, but I didn't get even that. The acting throughout is terrible. Then again, the actors have to cope with terrible dialogue. Sample? "Let's go kick some ass," one character says. "Yeah," reply the other, "after all it's what we're good at." (Another favorite: "What happens if we blow up the nuclear power plant? There'd be a big explosion, right?") Get the picture?

The plot is Aliens on a cut price Total Recall set. A squad of cops has to pick up a prisoner for transfer at a remote Martian outpost. They find that the local populace has been possessed by, well, viscous Martian ghosts that turn whoever they possess into metal heads.

You read that right, yeah: the possessed people resemble heavy metal fans. Or KISS look-alikes. Take your pick. Their leader looks like Marilyn Manson. I don't know what this signifies: the heroes have short hair while the bad guys have long hair. Maybe the director just saw this sort of thing in The Roadwarrior. Who knows? Speaking of which, this movie is directed by one John Carpenter, who once directed cult genre classics such as Escape from New York, Dark Star, Starman and The Thing. However, when one considers that he also did the mediocre Village of the Damned remake, Memoirs of an Invisible Man and his previous movie was the horrid Vampires, then one can only guess at a career of sad stagnation and decay.

Sad as it is for me to say, Ghosts of Mars is bad because of Carpenter. The man wasn't let down by a bad script (he co-wrote it) or bad actors (the movie features several B-movie cult figures such as the chick from Species for example). Besides using an ill-advised flashback story structure that gives away the movie's ending, some of his editing and film techniques just kill the action dead in its tracks.

Apparently Carpenter said in an interview that after every film he has completed, he feels like retiring and stop making movies altogether. I think Carpenter should yield to that feeling, because after this tired recycling of his own earlier successful Assault on Precinct 13 (set to an awful heavy metal soundtrack) he has nothing new to say . . .



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