‘John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars’ follows police on red-planet mission

Science FictionJohn Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, directed by, you guessed it, John Carpenter, feels like a sci-fi film produced over a long weekend on a slim budget. With a few more dollars (many millions more, actually) and a more talented cast, this one could have worked for some marginal fun. As it stands, the movie is a tough one to watch to the end; boredom and bad acting derail its best efforts.

The movie follows an elite group of police who have been dispatched on Mars to track a prisoner; they populate a world that is Bradburyian dystopia: dark shadows linger, the elements kick up blinding dust and no one can be trusted. When they arrive at an abandoned town, the prisoner plot becomes foiled, and everyone must out-run a deadly, unexplained force of warriors. These villains receive little understandable back story. They are simply in the movie to growl and cause havoc.

Natasha Henstridge is one of the police officials, and Ice Cube plays the notorious prisoner. Both actors have a difficult time carving out full characters. Ice Cube is not menacing enough to earn his character’s reputation, and Henstridge struggles with the manufactured script and implausible action. The supporting characters, including Jason Statham, Clea DuVall and Pam Grier, don’t add much to the proceedings either. One highlight is Joanna Cassidy, who is seemingly unable to offer a bad performance in her illustrious career. With her limited role, the actress is able to give justice to a story desperately in need of it.

The best attribute of Ghosts of Mars is Carpenter’s direction. The horror maestro has an uncanny ability to film eerie landscapes, and the Red Planet looks kind of cool and kind of terrifying. The opening sequence is particularly effective of laying the groundwork for the entire atmosphere that permeates the plot. The music perfectly matches the raw images of the barren landscape to create a ghostly feeling. The problem, of course, is that the rest of the film’s departments can’t match the imagery.

Carpenter is one of the best, a true American original, but Ghosts of Mars is unable to live up to his common threshold for excellence. It’s a movie in need of a larger budget, a rewritten script and some recasting in key roles.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars
  • 2001
  • Directed by John Carpenter
  • Written by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis
  • Starring Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall and Joanna Cassidy
  • Running time: 100 minutes
  • Rated R for strong violence/gore, language and some drug content
  • Rating: ★½☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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