Halloween was a classic, but everything else that I have seen with "John Carpenter" in the title is pure crap. Can John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars return him to his old glory, or continue his downward trend?
The answer is neither. Ghosts of Mars is a simple, unoriginal, poorly-acted, badly-written sci-fi horror film, but, surprisingly, it is entertaining and really not at all God-awful. While I have no interest in seeing this movie again, I must admit that it pulled me through its hour-and-a-half running time without making me roll my eyes once, and with John Carpenter involved, that is about as nice as I can get.
The movie works in a series of flashbacks where a prison guard (the beautiful yet career-stalled Natasha Henstridge) explains what happened at a remote town on Mars. It turns out that some ghostly Martians have possessed a mining colony and turned all of its inhabitants into mindless monsters.
The flashbacks create a dilemma. I guess they make the movie a little better, because the audience basically gets to see the end point (only Henstridge is alive, apparently) and slowly the movie pieces the mystery together starting from the beginning. On the other hand, the plot is hardly complicated enough to ask for a flashback kind of storytelling, and some of the suspense is taken away by revealing that Henstridge survives (unless she's possessed). Furthermore, the smaller flashbacks cause some problems, because while Henstridge is telling the story, smaller flashbacks cut in and explain what other characters experience. These smaller time lapses just seem like an easy way out, and they are so poorly done in terms of editing that it affects the overall look of the film.
In terms of action and horror, Ghosts of Mars has a lot of shooting but not much else. It isn't very scary, although at times you can tell that Carpenter is trying to be, and I never cared enough about the characters to feel suspense if they get into a tight jam. Clea Duvall's character is a perfect example; she barely talks, so when she finally gets it, I didn't give a damn when I probably should have. Some of the action scenes are okay, but they aren't great, and I couldn't help but think that I was watching some futuristic version of Day of the Dead, because these "monsters" look and act exactly the same way Romero's famous zombies do.
I would also like to question the explosion at the end of the film. The surface of Mars is shown from space and it appears as though the explosion covers hundreds of miles, yet in reality it was only supposed to impact a radius of one or two miles. I just thought I'd mention that.
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars was nowhere as bad as I expected it to be, and it was actually rather entertaining, but technically, it is way behind. The acting is unimpressive, the script definitely needed work, and everything else just seems dated. I would suggest that next time John Carpenter release a movie, he does not put his name in the title.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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