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Review: Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Just as there are times when random elements magically combine to produce a classic movie (Casablanca being perhaps the most famous example), there are many more occasions where the ingredients simply fail to ignite and the project is left languishing on the launch pad. Sadly, despite clear efforts from cast and crew, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (its alternative title) falls into the latter category.

Initially conceived as a third outing for anti-hero Snake Plissken, then re-engineered following the box-office failure of 1996’s Escape from L.A., Ghosts of Mars as filmed is closer in set-up to Carpenter’s first hit, 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, whilst the colonists’ psychic possession by long-dead Martians is reminiscent of 1950s tv serial Quatermass and the Pit, penned by Carpenter’s hero Nigel Kneale.


Unfortunately, Natasha Henstridge (rushed in to replace an injured Courtney Love) and Ice Cube have none of the chemistry produced between Precinct 13 leads Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston, and there’s not much the supporting cast (including a youthful-looking Jason Statham and a criminally wasted Pam Grier) can do to make up the deficit. Indeed, pretty much everything here seems to be less than the sum of its parts, from the sketchy setting (Mars is apparently a matriarchy, for no obvious reason or benefit to the plot) to the curiously underpowered action sequences.

Edited down to 10 minutes, Ghosts of Mars might have made a memorable rock video for soundtrack collaborators Anthrax, but as an addition to the canon of an iconic director, it’s sorely lacking. Carpenter completists will no doubt be delighted with the restored print (although little grain is visible, there’s no evidence of excessive DNR), whilst those new to his work will wonder what all the fuss is about.

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