In the distant future, a Martian police unit and a vicious criminal
join forces to fight off a horde of Martian spirits who want them dead.
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Larry Sulkis
Starring Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham,
Pam Grier, Clea Duvall, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine
Our closest celestial neighbor has been used many times over as the source of all things alien. So much so that the word “Martian” became synonymous with anything not of Earthly origins. What if we were the invaders from another world? What if we tried to take over another planet and the locals fought back? Wouldn’t we be asking for it? John Carpenter is a man of many talents. You won’t find many directors with his skill set or knowledge in film history. He also loves genre movies and his filmography speaks for itself. Ghosts of Mars is his foray into Westerns (though not his first) that has his signature style and music all over it.
It’s 2176 and 84% of Mars has been terraformed, creating an almost Earth-like atmosphere now home to 640,000 colonists. Those colonists are mostly miners, scientists, their families, and of course the cops. We always need the cops and this time around the Mars Police Force is here to keep the peace. Lt. Ballard (Henstridge) has been summoned to face a council of sorts to give her testimony of what happened with her crew during the transfer of a prisoner, James ‘Desolation’ Williams (Cube). The flashback device used and the mechanics of it (Ballard frequently hops into other characters reports to her) are a bit clunky to me and the biggest drawback of the film overall. Turns out, they’re not alone on the Red Planet and the locals (or their misty presence as it were) aren’t too fond of us being there. The spirits of these indigenous creatures have been dormant for centuries and it shows as they first appear confused with having a corporeal form. I’m sure wearing a new skin suit can be a shock as well though we aren’t given too much back story on these folks. What we do know is they have a flair for the theatrical as they treat their new bodies like a canvas and go Hellraiser-bent for leather with facial piercings and body modifications that would make Pinhead proud. They are also quite the interior decorators with strung up headless corpses hanging in various buildings at the Cheyenne Canyon settlement to greet Ballard and her crew when they arrive. The cast includes Pam Grier (her second or third Carpenter film up to this point), Jason Statham, Clea Duvall, and Robert Carradine so this movie shows that Carpenter can use a mix of new and established talent to provide opposition to the metal Martian crew.
I didn’t have the luxury of listening to Carpenter’s commentary for this and would love to know what Westerns he was thinking about when making this movie. While, for me, the mechanics of the story don’t work for me, it is a good Carpenter flick with his most metal soundtrack. Special shout out to the now legendary KNB FX team for their work on crafting the look of the Martians (keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by Greg Nicotero’s head in one of the flashbacks) as well as their contribution to set design with all those hanging corpses. So saddle up and ride this train if you’re looking for a Mars based Western made by the maestro.