I’ve always been and will continue to be a staunch defender of John Carpenter. He’s one of my all time favorite filmmakers and even his weakest outputs have some great creativity to them. “Vampires” is fun in all its schlocky nonsense, and “Ghosts of Mars” is a fun remake of “Assault on Precinct 13” for a contemporary audience. Eighteen years later, “Ghosts of Mars” is fine C grade science fiction redeemed by Carpenter’s sharp direction, and the absolutely gorgeous Natasha Henstridge.
Long inhabited by human settlers, the Red Planet has become as over-populated as planet Earth. Nearly 640,000 people now live and work all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources. But one of those mining operations has uncovered a deadly mother lode: a long-dormant Martian civilization whose warriors are systematically taking over the bodies of human intruders. Now with the growing army of undead Martians controlling humans, a group of officers and a deadly prisoner have to team to fight their way off of the planet.
For reasons only Carpenter knows, “Ghosts of Mars” plays like a spiritual spin off to “Assault on Precinct 13” where much of what unfolds does so with the inevitable prison show down. There’s also a weird injection of “Prince of Darkness” with the endless horde of mindless zombies. In either case, “Ghosts of Mars” is still a ton of schlocky fun, even in spite of its baffling existence. There’s a great sense of novelty added to Carpenter’s style, even with his villain who is a very menacing and enigmatic monster that has somewhat embraced its form. Richard Cetrone is great as the Big Daddy Martian who leads his horde of undead Martians. Carpenter packs the screen with up and comers, and cinema icons, pairing Jason Statham and Ice Cube with Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy.
Carpenter implements his unusual cast beautifully, including Ice Cube who is something of a contemporary Napoleon Wilson, portraying anti-hero Desolation Williams. The film mainly belongs to Natasha Henstridge as Lt. Melanie Ballard, who not only comes face to face with the undead Martians, but also battles one that attempts to overcome her. Carpenter practices a lot of the same chaos and nihilism that he has with his previous films, even alluding to a larger mythology quite often. While “Ghosts of Mars” certainly is not up there with “They Live” or “Prince of Darkness,” it’s very good latter day Carpenter who does a bang up job offering up a unique science fiction tale, along with his favorite western and action movie tropes along the way.
The special features included are the same from the past Sony Blu-Ray release. There’s a pretty great audio commentary with John Carpenter who provides some great discussion and insight in to the filming. He is joined by the beautiful Henstridge. “Scoring Ghosts of Mars” is a six minute segment exploring the hard rock/heavy metal music and score of the film. “Special Effects Deconstruction” is a look at the use of sets to build this Mars world, and how Carpenter implements traditional effects and CGI. Finally there’s a short montage of rough footage during the shoot which is labeled a “video diary”; it’s not, really. Either way, a solid re-release.