Ghosts of Mars
directed by John Carpenter
(Columbia TriStar, 2001)

In the not-too-distant future, Earthlings have terraformed and colonized Mars. On a mission to pick up a wanted criminal at a distant mining colony, police stumble onto a rising of zombie-like humans who've been possessed by the ghosts of long-dead Martians who want to protect their planet from its "invaders." The movie begins with Lt. Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) reporting to a tribunal the events that led to the deaths of her squad. The story is relayed through a series of flashbacks within a flashback, which proves to be a surprisingly effective if sometimes confusing technique.

The plot is intriguing and, in the proper hands, the story could have been good. But Ghosts of Mars quickly becomes a hodgepodge of self-mutilation and decapitation scenes mixed with bad makeup and an uninteresting heavy metal score. The actors (who include Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy) remain wooden throughout, with no attempt at (or opportunity for) three-dimensional character development. When characters die, it's hard to care -- or, in some cases, even notice.

The "ghosts" also lack motivation beyond the most basic mayhem; they grunt and scream and kill, and when they die they switch bodies. No hope, I guess, that the Martian civilization was in any way civilized; they were apparently all bloodthirsty, low-tech, head-hunting barbarians.

While the crew did a fine job transforming a New Mexico desert into a barren chunk of Red Planet, the movie needs more than good landscaping to hold an audience's interest for long. Ghosts of Mars falls a few lightyears short.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 29 June 2002

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