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Carpenter's films tend to age like fine wine. When they're released, they're lamblasted by critics and fans. Ten years later, they're classics; for instance, "The Thing", "Big Trouble in Little China", "They Live", "Prince of Darkness" -- and "Ghost of Mars" is no exception. This is a tremendously entertaining film that shouldn't be viewed as a horror film, but rather, as a tongue-in-cheek western, in the vain of the Spaghetti Westerns. You all have to pull your heads out and watch this film again...in about nine years. I'll bet you'll say, "You know what, that was a hell of a lot of fun." In the meantime, get off Carpenter's ass.
Firstly, if I see another review labelling Ghosts of Mars, Vampires or
Escape from L.A 'Carpenter attempting to have another hit movie' my
head will explode like Snake Plissken's would have done. Hello people:
CARPENTER HAS NEVER HAD A HIT MOVIE! Besides maybe Halloween, Starman,
Christine and Escape from New York to a lesser extent, Carpenter has
made bomb after bomb. Certainly the films that have the biggest
following today; The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live,
they all were torn apart on release. So, surprise surprise everyone
hates Ghost of Mars like they did The Thing. Now, I am in no way
comparing Ghosts to The Thing, which is an vastly superior film. But
Ghosts is in the same position; as it will be in fifteen years time
when people will look back on it and say 'Maybe it wasn't that bad.'
WHICH IT ISN'T. What elements in this film aren't Carpenter? The
western atmosphere? The focus on action and story, and not character?
Vast hoards of nameless enemies? These were all in Assault on Precinct
13. Oh wait, no one liked that in 1976 because they were so brain dead
they had to wait for a cult following to develop before they gave it a
second chance. So it must be the structure. Is the structure, with it's
flashbacks-within-flashbacks and weird editing any more bizarre than
the corkscrew science behind 'Prince of Darkness'? Oh that's right,
everyone hated that in 1987. So I'm looking for the faults
. That's it,
the action isn't very good. Oh damn, it wasn't very good in 'Big
Trouble in Little China' either. Wait, didn't it take people fifteen
years to 'get' that film as well? Maybe it's the fact that it has Ice
Cube in the lead. Yeah, Carpenter defiantly shouldn't have let a
non-actor take the lead
oh wait, Roddy Piper! If 'They Live' was made
in 2001 that would be bashed for having an non-actor carrying it, but
for some reason because it was made in 1988 (blasted on release) Roddy
Piper's performance is the stuff of cult legend.
All said and complained about, if Ghosts of Mars was released in 1987 or something it wouldn't be getting bashed now. Hell, Jason Statham might have been the new Kurt Russell. There's plenty of fun to be had here, and Carpenter certainly hasn't 'lost his vision' as a lot of the so-called fans who are stuck somewhere around 1982 claim. If anything, with Ghosts of Mars and it's OTT structure, Carpenter is developing on it.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't understand how someone can hate Ghost of Mars and have unconditional love for Assault on Precinct 13. Give Ghosts another go, and watch it with an open mind. If you can't at least do that, you are not a fan of John Carpenter.
John Carpenter, together with Brian De Palma, are the only active directors
who had created a body of work consisting of the representation of a
particular, personal world, forged by the mixture of a number of themes and
subjects, reinserted on tracks left by classic directors (Hawks and
Hitchcock respectively). They make one single movie over and over again,
reaching outstanding levels of accomplishment in style and
Thus `Ghost of Mars' is full of Carpenter's imaginary. The plot, the characters, the tone, everything can be linked to his previous work, most notably `Assault on Precint 13', that was yet a reworking of Hawks' `Rio Bravo'. And that's a significant point regarding this film: despite the zombies, the gore, the futuristic set-up, the red Martian atmosphere, the heavy metal score, `Ghost of Mars' is essentially a western in the most classic way. There is a train, a lawman (played by an actress), a group of deputies, a gang of bandits, a frontier town surrounded by the desert.
As in Hawks, the individuals work as a group, defined by codes of professional skill in a strictly masculine environment. Interestingly, Capenter portrays the Martian society as a matriarchy, but the elements operate the same way: the good guy and the bad guy differentiate from each other just for the fact that they are in opposite sides of the law, but are nevertheless exchangeable. Also, following Hawks' epic, the vulnerability of the hero is determined by a fault or weakness (Melanie's addiction to drugs is a progression of Dean Martin's alcoholism in Rio Bravo).
Told in a peculiar series of flashbacks from different points of view, and as in `Vampires', with the use of long, continual dissolves, the story introduces some original points, like the ghosts taking possession of human through the ears and Desolation's smart device to save Melanie with the aid of drugs. There are some plot holes, yes, some bad acting and gratuitous -though stylized- violence. But it's Carpenter unpretentious as ever, telling us how dark our future appears, not from a pulpit but from his director's chair. And I'm very grateful for his effort.
I'm not some naive fan who thinks Carpenter can do no wrong. I didn't care much for Vampires or Village of the Damned (they were alright, but the scripts for those two were not up to snuff for a great director like Carpenter). However, I think Ghosts of Mars is one of his greatest movies. If you can't appreciate this movie then you can't really appreciate Carpenter, IMO. From the Lovecraftian story and atmosphere, to the anamorphic photography, to the excellent music, everything here is Carpenter. Hopefully this movie will find its audience, in time, rather than be forgotten. One criticism of Carpenter I've never been able to understand is that people say he isn't subtle, he relies solely on shocks and violence. Yes, his movies have shocks and violence, they are the release mechanisms for all of the terror he slowly builds up, neanderthals! It seems some film critics are just too good for American horror, they can't stoop to its level from their lofty perch.
Mars has fascinated humans for years. It's the closest planet to us, and
the only one that comes close in terms of livability. Its forbidding
landscape and dire red color scheme are magnetic (at least in movies; I
can't tell you how disappointed I was when that little NASA toy-car thing
sent back pictures and Mars looks like Utah. No red sky,
But Mars has a curse. You just can't make a decent movie about it. Think about all the Mars movies in history (...Attacks!, Mission to..., Red Planet, Angry and otherwise, Santa Claus vs. the Martians, etc.), none of which have been able to rise above the "not bad, not great" category, if even that. The lone exception to the Mars Curse is "Total Recall", which is a fine film, but it can be persuasively argued that it never actually takes place on Mars at all.
Throw "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars" on the "not bad" pile. Many have argued that it's not really a Mars movie, but a Western with a weird setting, which is indirectly true. It's mostly a re-working of Carpenter's classic "Assault on Precinct 13", which was, itself, based on "Rio Bravo". (I wonder when John Carpenter is just going to give in and make a bonafide Western. You can tell he totally wants to.)
While I'm on the subject, can someone tell me why John Carpenter seems bent on titling all his recent movies with "John Carpenter's", as if we'll forget? It implies, oddly enough, that he didn't actually direct it, the way "Ian Fleming's James Bond" books were published long after Fleming was, technically, dead.
Anyway, the plot involves a squad from the Martian Police Force doing a prisoner transfer from a mining colony. Mars, it seems, is run by the "Matronage", a kind of Lillith-Fair dictatorship, which is a neat twist and gives some original zip to the movie. The transfer is quickly forgotten, as some sort of primal ghostly force is possessing the locals and turning them into a blood-crazed cabal of body-pierced mutilation enthusiasts (the movie often resembles a Slipknot video run amok). The throngs are led by a bulked-up Maximum Leader who looks like Marilyn Manson's steroid-pumped older brother. The cops and criminals join forces with the contents of the Hollywood Gun Shop, and mow down the screaming hordes in an effort to escape. One wonders why Merchant-Ivory didn't pick up this project.
The intriguing setting, the impressive visuals, and some creepy early scenes build up a lot of audience goodwill, which the film then chips away at relentlessly, as if willing itself to mediocrity. The narrative is clumsy,
with way too much reliance on flashback. The story itself is primarily told in flashback, which is understandable even if it does reveal too much about what's about to happen. But do we really need flashbacks within the movie to show us things we've already seen? There are also too many pointless camera tricks, such as time-lapse dissolves in scenes that don't merit them. The characters are needlessly stupid, especially the cops; they too often resort to using their guns in baseball-bat fashion, when they still have plenty of ammunition.
The cast, unfortunately, is not up to the task of raising the movie above the bar. Natasha Henstridge, whose onomastically-pleasing name is inevitably abbreviated in movie criticism as "that chick from 'Species'", is wooden and uncompelling as the pill-popping police lieutenant. She is standing in in the role for an injured Courtney Love, who would have been more effective, if less pleasant to look at. Clea Duvall is wasted as a spaced-out and mostly useless rookie; she seems about as comfortable with a Beretta in each hand as Quaker Grace Kelly in "High Noon". But Duvall is at least more memorable than that other rookie, whatsisname. Pam Grier puts in a good-sport appearance as the commander, but her scenes are brief. And there is the obligatory Smart Person Who Explains It All, whose line deliveries and pseudo-science are such that you will wish the others would feed her to the Manson family outside.
The only standouts in the cast are Jason Statham as the weary (but horny) sergeant, easily the most tactically compentent of the MPF contingent, and Ice Cube as the prisoner whose transfer is in such turmoil. Mr. Cube's unfocused, pinch-faced rage and dumbfounded bravado are pitch-perfect, and he has all the funniest lines. (Ironic that in a movie about a distaff-dominated society, the best performances are by men).
"Ghosts of Mars" will not rank among John Carpenter's best work (and here I am specifically thinking of "Big Trouble in Little China"), but despite its deficiencies I enjoyed it. Carpenter still has it, and when he's good, he's very good. Desperate-survival-against-the-murderous-armies has a primal power as a story archetype, and there's plenty of gun-blazing, head-bashing, flying-buzzsaw-dismemberment fun to be had by all. The music's pretty good, too. And there's something about Henstridge and Duvall in black leather SWAT uniforms that just pushes a button somewhere. Maybe it's just me.
If you fight, you can enjoy this movie in spite of its efforts to the contrary, but you will be a little battle-weary by the time the credits roll. Not everyone will be inclined to put forth the effort. But hey, can you really hate a movie whose villain is billed as "Big Daddy Mars"?
Sure, it's predictable. This is basically the same story as _Pitch Black_.
And why is it that science fiction basically revolves around horror themes?
It would be nice to see a really thought-provoking science fiction film that
consisted of more than a motley group of people trying to escape from some
monster. Given this, _Ghosts of Mars_ is really a pretty decent film and
John Carpenter's best in some time.
I really wanted to like _Vampires_ and much of that was pretty good, but the small budget really hurt. Here, Carpent uses the budget limitations to positive effect. Most of the money apparently went for red dye for the ground. The buildings and "futuristic" train didn't require much. The story basically boils down to the basic stalk and slash as dozens of other "science fiction" films of recent vintage, but there isn't a lot of time wasted on extraneous plot.
The story is well-told, via a pretty complicated series of flashbacks and even flashbacks within flashbacks, as a group of gung-ho Martian police attempt to pick up a transport a prisoner, played by Ice Cube, only to discover that the mining station where he's being held has been overrun by the spirits of dead Martians, who inhabit their host bodies and make them do their bidding.
The story is also basically an updating of one of Carpenter's earliest films, _Assault on Precinct 13_. Along the way, there are intriguing glimpses at the matriarchical society that runs Mars, although it is never explained how or why things got to be this way. Carpenter supplies some neat music to the film's soundtrack as well. All in all, there are certainly worse ways to spend your money.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's funny how people try to intellectualize this movie; they
scrutinise the details (they don't like the shape of that gun, they
don't like this actor's attitude, blah blah...) They should try and
stick to the Star Wars universe, or to base-ball, or even their car's
performances. No matter how classy the car is, dudes, it's the fun of
the ride that matters! I mean, why try to make sense over this :
"vampires on mars" (for ***'s sake!) Carpenter always make sure the
tension, the pulse of his movie and its soundtrack (he's always doing
the same) are just right. No computer-assisted, gratuitous flashy
effects will ever be at the center of one's attention while watching
his "oeuvre". I feel good after seeing them, because I get what I paid
for : good IL' entertainment.
Carpenter is a craftman. He knows what he's doing and he's good at it. If he'd make chairs, you could still sit on them in the next century. And that's why people will keep on watching his movies over and over again, like I do. Plus, his are "B" movies. A B-movie : a movie with a trashy look, that doesn't long to please, sets itself apart, criticize society by reflecting our fears, has an punky-ish attitude. You get a hero that takes drugs not to become a zombie! (Groooooovy! open you mind! This is the sixties again!) You get a feeling of despair, everything is narrated as a flashback, so that we know from the beginning who's gonna live and who's gonna die.
(SPOILER : Everything is solved by destruction.)Remember 'They Live', Snake Plisken... ANARCHY!!!! We know who the real zombies are since Romero. You see, it's all about the heart, feelings... After years of Star Wars re-hash, can you still feel something?
A team of future cops take a bullet train to a Marsian colony to retrieve a murderer played by Ice Cube. Upon arrival they're attacked by colonists possessed by the Ghosts of Mars. John Carpenter's penultimate theatrical feature to date is easily one of his best, considering the odds against it. The film borrows from Total Recall, The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13, but still looks fresh and original. The pace is steady and the mood consistent. The electronic/metal score recorded by Carpenter and Anthrax, while being uncharacteristically modern, still is very much signature Carpenter. The glorious Panavision cinematography is fresh just like it was in the 80s. The (then) young stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham and Clea DuVall fit their roles perfectly, most notably Henstridge, who effortlessly portrays a woman in command and *not* a tough chick with a chip on her shoulder. The seasoned actresses Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy add a punch here and there. Ghosts of Mars leans closer to Escape from LA on the fun meter, but retains the quality and edginess of The Thing. A good movie.
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars never appeared in the theaters of
Turkey,have seen the movie on DVD about two years ago.As a big John
Carpenter fan,enjoyed the movie from beginning to end.The movie has all
the basic elements which we look for in a Carpenter movie;a cool
anti-hero,a beauty in the lead,raw action,some effective scares and of
course great Carpenter dialogs.(cheesy but very smart)Also the movie
has a strong and effective Carpenter score like most of his movies.As
you can guess from the headline,the movie is a brief summary of his
earlier works.The plot reminds us one of his very best movies;Assault
on precinct 13 which is now considered as a cult classic and which
caught a minor attention before Halloween.Like his masterpiece about
human nature and paranoia;The Thing,the story is set in a resurrected
area where the characters are all by themselves.Carpenter created
almost the same atmosphere just like he did in Assault on precinct 13
by making the criminals and the police squad fight against the enemy
together.Finally,Ghosts of Mars can be considered as a weak chain in
Carpenter's career by some of his fans but if you sit on the couch just
to have a good time without thinking much,the movie gives plenty of
excitement.Remember,it's a Carpenter flick from beginning to end.
It's the Assault on Mars.
It's the Rio Bravo of science fiction.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes you want a deep film, sometimes you want escapism and a few
shocks and thrills. Ghosts of Mars fits the bill perfectly. It is a
very easy film to get into. The tension is palpable as along with the
characters you see things rapidly going downhill on this mars colony
but don't know exactly why, what is doing this. This leaves ones
imagination to fill in the blanks, all you know is that crazyness is
everywhere. The sense of dread and tension in the film is palpable as
you feel the Ghosts of Mars closing in on the heroes. The film moves
along at a good pace and when things finally reach their boiling point
the movie delivers the goods in an all out action tour de force.
And to boot the ending delivers an interesting twist.
Who could ask more from a sci-fi film? Interesting premise, tense fast-paced story, great action.
Some sci-fi films try for hyperealism, some suck you into their world and then have some fun with a wink and a nod. This is that film, and frankly thats the only reason I can see that some people don't like it.
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