Thursday Night Movie Club
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars
star rating graphicstar rating graphic½
Release Date: August 24, 2001

Director: John Carpenter
Ice Cube
Natasha Henstridge
Jason Statham
Clea DuVall
Pam Grier
Joanna Cassidy
Richard Cetrone
Richard Barela
Danielle Burgio
James "Desolation" Williams
Melanie Ballard
Jericho Butler
Bashira Kincaid
Dr. Whitlock
Big Daddy Mars
Local Cop
Ghosts of Mars movie poster
Ghosts of Mars graphic John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars" is an interesting space western that just misses being a great movie. It is very well directed but the story is a little week.

As the movie unfolds, we first meet Lt. Melanie Ballard, a futuristic cop chained to a bunk in an otherwise deserted supply train. The rest of the movie is done in flash-back as Ballard recounts her adventure before a company committee. She does not face any charges except for maybe the traces of an illegal drug found in her system.

Natasha Henstridge in Ghosts of MarsAs directed by Carpenter, the film is an interesting mix between what Ballard experiences and what actually happens. Unfortunately, like other movies of this genre, it is very difficult to generate any suspense when the outcome is foretold. The only surprise comes in who dies when and who survives. Take a guess by looking at the cast list and you won't be surprised. I wasn't.

Commander Helena Braddock (Grier) and her crew of part battle-tested and part rookies is sent to retrieve James "Desolation" Williams on charges of murder. The murders he is accused of are particularly gruesome. When the cops arrive at their destination, they discover similar brutality. They also discover Williams still safely locked in the local jail with a few other people including Dr. Whitlock. She claims she is in the jail because it is the safest place to be.

As it turns out, Whitlock is responsible for the carnage on Mars. She has unwittingly released the remains of the Martian civilization in the form of airborne microbes that seek an acceptable host. Once infected, the host becomes extremely violent to others as well as himself. If the host is killed, the microbes move on to the next available host and the process continues. As the story explains, this is the Martians way of protecting their planet from invaders.

Ice Cube as James Desolation Williams in Ghosts of MarsWhat doesn't make any sense is who locked away the Martians in the prison that Whitlock releases them from. And if these microbes reflect what the intelligent life on Mars was, its no wonder that they died out as a civilization. All of the infected beings are "hell bent on leather" to destroy everything around them, including themselves. There is precious little time left to build anything constructive.

Carpenter employees a clever use of story-telling. The flash-back technique is set up from the beginning. Additional scenes that Ballard does not partake in is told from a police officer's official capacity of relating "exactly" what was told to her from the other trained officers. What we see on the screen is not exactly as it happens. This leads us to the rather predictable ending.

Carpenter seems to be having trouble ending his movies. They are becoming character studies leaving the main conflict unresolved. He used this same technique in his last film "Vampires" (2000).

My problem with this movie has to do with the writing. The Martians are imprisoned, as if on purpose. If so, who confined them? Defending your planet against invaders is one thing, but it would be more constructive to take over a host in order to reclaim your civilization and begin rebuilding using the humans as their workers. This movie is not as wildly funny as Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China" or the above mentioned "Vampires", nor is it as dark and troubling as "Escape from New York" or his remake of "The Thing".