Ghosts of Mars (2001) is a fun futuristic science fiction story. I think it poses the question: “Do we have a savage nature locked inside us, waiting to get out?”
I won’t spoil the film by telling you all the details, but I’ll tell you just enough to see if you will like this film and a little extra to help you enjoy it a little more. Mars is a giant mining community, run by military police, and successful until weird deaths begin to occur. Savage killers appear from nowhere, and the police have a battle on their hands with tribal warriors who will give no quarter. The good guys must meet the enemy on their own terms, despite scary primitive behavior and the usual friction between two groups who want to be in control. All this takes place within a red desert, with scarlet clouds, blood-red moon, and among friends who might turn into your worst enemies at any time.
THIS NEXT SECTION HAS SPOILERS:
The box says that spirits of ancient dead Martians possess human bodies to fight against planetary invaders — sorry, but that sounds absurd. I don’t think the enemy is a bunch of phony dead Martian spooks — but it all make sense if we are battling our own dark inner selves. See what you think:
A sealed tomb is opened despite warnings and a deadly contamination (like a virus) comes out. When people contact the disease, they immediately fall into a primitive prelanguage culture, with tribal warfare; battle chants; ritual sacrifices; fetish art; fierce tribal masks; face paint; body art with scarification, fierce tooth filing & piercing; and loyalty to the strongest, fiercest tribal leader. The tribal features are very similar to what we see in primal human cultures on the Earth. But wait, how did this human cultural stuff get to Mars?
Karl Jung cataloged thousands of examples of evocative symbolism, creative primitive art, and world music that were common to all cultures (and very similar between prehistoric Native American, African, and Asian cultures). Jung called the cultural material we all share the “collective unconscious,” but he had no way to explain what it was or where it came from.
But what if the collective unconscious was buried deep in our primeval genetic code? What if our essential tribal essence could be released by a viral assault on our DNA?
NO MORE SPOILERS, NOW:
Whether you go in for my complicated genetic plot or not, Ghosts of Mars is a fun and entertaining movie, that has unique stuff, like:
1. A matriarchal culture, where women police/soldiers are in control.
2. A battle with police and crooks fighting on the same side.
3. A conflict between high-tech soldiers and primitive warriors.
4. A sly sense of humor from complex character interactions.
5. A chance to see Buckethead practicing in the Special Features
JOHN CARPENTER was 53 when he co-wrote and directed Ghosts of Mars (2001) — it was his last major film until 2010. It was originally entitled Escape from Mars, continuing the Snake Plissken saga after the disaster of Escape from L.A.
ICE CUBE (Boyz in the Hood, Anaconda) — his character was changed from Snake Plissken to Desolation Williams. Cube later said, “John Carpenter directed it but they really didn't have the money to pull the special effects off." By the way, the three dots next to his right eye are just moles.
JASON STATHAM (Fast and Furious etc., Transporter etc., The Expendables, Spy) was originally slated to play Ice Cube’s role until his character was changed to police officer Jericho Butler. In the movie you see his first screen kiss.
PAM GRIER (Coffy, Foxy Brown), gave her usually tough acting job, portraying police commander Helen Braddock. Originally a backup singer for Bobby Womack, she fought cervical cancer into remission.
JOANNA CASSIDY plays Dr. Whitlock, who started the nightmare. Cassidy was the snaky replicant dancer (NEXUS-6 N6FAB61216) who attacked Deckard at Taffey’s bar.
NATASHA HENSTRIDGE (Species I, II, III), played police officer Melanie Ballard. She replaced Courtney Love at the last minute when Love’s boyfriend’s ex-wife drove over her foot. Michelle Yeoh, Famke Janssen, and Franka Potente turned down the role.
CLEA DuVALL (The Faculty, Virtuality, Little Witches) played rookie officer Bashira Kincaid, who is busy sucking up to Pam Grier for advancement. She did little in this movie.
RICHARD CETRONE (Army of the Dead, Man of Steel, Thor, The Scorpion King, The Time Machine) played the 6 ft 3 in tribal leader, nicknamed “Big Daddy Mars.”
PETER JASON (Escape from L.A., Mortal Combat, Village of the Damned, Prince of Darkness, They Live) played McSimms, the long-suffering conductor of Train 74 Yankee.
CHARLOTTE CORNWELL, John le Carré’s sister, was the narrator.
MUSIC: John Carpenter wrote and performed most of the film’s music with Buckethead (Brian Patrick Carrol), Anthrax, Stevie Vai, Elliot Easton, and Robin Finck.
1. Ghosts of Mars was filmed entirely at night .
2. The film was shot in a New Mexico gypsum mine loaned by the Native American Nation of Pueblo Zia. The pure white gypsum was dyed with food coloring to create the red Martian landscape.
3. One of the Heads on a Stake looked like Harry Jay Knowles. Pam Grier’s Head on a Stake was really her, in a painful, complex effects harness.
Ice Cube runs away with the film. His brooding, thoughtful, deliberate performance radiates power and reveals him to be an angry man who just wants to be left alone. When the Cube is off-screen, Pam Grier’s magnetic acting powers the film. And the main villain, Richard Cetrone, creates a character who is truly fearsome.
Unfortunately, the weak link in this film is Natasha Henstridge. The scenes where Henstridge beats up huge criminals and kicks Cube’s butt, are just not believable. Apparently, she came on set at the last minute, refused to do her exercises, then pooped out and stopped production for a week with exhaustion. Off-screen, we can see her studying her lines. I get the impression that she quarreled with John Carpenter, who seems like a very easy-going guy.
Whatever the reason, Ghosts of Mars was a flop at the box office, making only $14 million against its $28 million budget. Carpenter was discouraged and didn’t make another feature film for 10 years.
I really like this film for its high concept, fast action, interesting characters, and humor. If you watch Ghosts of Mars expecting to have some light-hearted scary fun, you won’t be disappointed. Just pick one of the characters and experience the film through their eyes, and you will know what I mean. I suggest that you get the Blu-ray for the improved wide-screen vistas, close-ups, and music.
I hope this review was really helpful.