Every once in a while a movie comes along so utterly, laughably bad it is at once entertaining, tedious and too gruesome to watch. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is such a movie. It is entertaining if you want truly ridiculous battles with Ice Cube gunning down possessed Martian self-mutilating space miners set to generic hard rock music. It is so bad and cliché that it redeems itself for the sufficiently willing.

One thing that struck me about this movie is its similarity to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Loosely in the root concept, that is. Alien ghosts kill pretty much every human they find. However, in FF, the protagonists seek to liberate the ghosts from their situation while the antagonist tries to kill them. In this flick, the heroes just blow the hell out of the aliens without a single moment of thought towards what the hell is going on. However in FF, the ghosts were non-corporeal, but in this movie they possess people, but when the person is killed, the spirit takes over someone else. (Unless you take drugs... see below)

Additionally, I learned from IMDB that leading babe Natasha Henstridge was a last-second replacement for Courtney Love, of all people. Shooting took a mere 8 weeks on a $30 million budget, and it's pretty obvious. The story leaves tons and tons of things unfinished. Why are the people in the jail safe from the ghosts? And what was with those weird metal things everyone made? No one knows...

Over the past couple years, we've been to Mars in critically unpopular Mission to Mars and Red Planet. (I've seen neither) Now we return yet again, though in this flick, Mars has been sort-of terraformed, to the point where people can breathe planetary air with some difficulty. However, all is not right... BUM BUM BUM...

The Plot:

Almost right from the beginning the narrative structure of the movie is weak as hell. Natasha Henstridge, police babe Melanie Ballard, rolls into Martian colony Chryse City on an abandoned train missing 2 cars, handcuffed to a bed. From here, the story seems sorta interesting, but because of the almost total flashback structure, much of the suspense over her survival is lost.

She goes to a council hearing with all the colony bigshots, explaining what happened to her team out in the sticks.

Cue Wayne's World flashback effect... A bunch of Mars Police officers arrive via train at an outlying colony (number one target of every alien hostile ever), where they find it abandoned. Now the colony, you can tell, is an cheap interior set. Nearly everything in this movie radiated a fun sort of cheapness. My friend and I just looked at it, and thought... Wow. In particular the train is such a cheesy little model. Having seen Total Recall, it seems no one can make Martian colony exteriors look at all cool. I bet there's some anime, but that doesn't count. Not only that, but the cinematography is really really boring. The camera, besides when it's from a ghost's POV, never does anything interesting. Perhaps if, say, it'd been located a few inches off the floor on some shots, unusual angles, then we could've let the cheesy set go. But... no.

The police are there to pick up a suspected serial killer for trial, James "Desolation" Williams. (Ice Cube) Before they get to the police station, they find a lot of dead bodies, many decapitated and hung upside down like Desolation's alleged victims were. But Desolation is trapped in the jail with some other unharmed people. The plot thickens.

Desolation claims that he's innocent, and the evidence is all around them. Desolation and Ballard get in a fight, and Desolation, holding his jaw, says "Damn, I'm beginning to like you already," and then decks her. I got a kick out of that on the trailers.

At some point commander Helena (Pam Grier), who has about 8 lines, get caught by a local lunatic with a perforated face, and decapitated. The 3rd-in-command finds her head on a stake. Well, that was pretty emotional, then.

It turns out that some miners (told in a flashback2) found an alien tunnel. Why are there dozens of ground workers instead of giant, cool-looking machines, like they use in mines here? Doesn't say, except that this means more people can get posessed by the RED DEMONIC CLOUD OF ALIEN EVIL which comes blasting out when a scientist vaporizes the tunnel door by touching it.

And so the workers become infested with the ghosts, who insist on self-mutilation with nails and stuff. Why? Don't know, except we get to see a woman drive a nail in and out of her cheek. Yay! I guess people possessed by aliens are immune from staph infection.

So a bunch of battles involving getting Back to the Train, Getting Away, Getting back to the Outpost to blow up the Nuclear Power Station, Battling on the Train again, and so forth, all occur set to ridiculous loud rock music. The battles reminded me a bit of The Road Warrior, with S&M lunatics, only no fun dune buggies. I never understood, how, during all the battles, if the spirits can possess another body, during the battles no Good Guy got infested. Also, many of the buildings were blown up for some reason by the bad guys, and even though they were mostly ceramic and metal, they burn for hours. And why is the radio to the train only Line-of-sight? I had a better radio working at the YMCA skate park this summer, and it took 3 AA batteries and went through a whole building.

The main bad dude is called "Big Daddy Mars" (Richard Cetrone) supposedly, and apparently is supposed to be really awesome and memorable, but he looks like a very muscular member of Kiss with sharpened teeth. He throws metal disks from the mine site at all the good guys. But he isn't compelling in the slightest, just a hollering dude slightly set apart from the other dudes.

At one point a ghost infests Ballard and she gets chucked outside, but Desolation gives her some drugs from her "stash" which apparently kicks out the demon. It's strange that Ballard, who apparently has strong cop morals, and insists on trying to bring Desolation in for trial, even when his innocence was proven, this cop has a stash?! Maybe... a legal stash. Hmm... There's also a minor character with an addiction to some inhaler substance who slices off his thumb because he's fucked up. Desolation says "Ya fucking idiot," or some such, which came out of nowhere and was one of the best lines in the movie.

They manage to blow up the power station, creating destruction "about 1 or 2 miles wide" yet visible as a giant fireball from space. Desolation manages to handcuff Ballard to a bed on the escaping train so he can get away. He leaves and the train arrives on autopilot in Chryse City. At this point the flashback finally ends. Just after the hearing, Ballard is laying in bed in the Super Hot blue sweater and panties... and the red evil mist rolls into the town. She gets her uniform on (Dammit) and Ice Cube shows up, and they go out and start shooting possessed people. The End. No nudity of Henstridge... if this thing is rated R, they should have gone for it, no matter how foolish the excuse. :-B

It could have been a lot cooler, but it was shot quickly with an emergency lead actress and a small budget. Apparently Ebert & Roeper gave it 2 thumbs up because it is just a straight-up silly action movie with zombie-like guys on Mars. I guess I can accept it on that level, but we don't get to visit Mars that much, couldn't it have been more well-done? My bud and I were pretty disappointed by this flick, but we hopped to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, (also noded by me) and got mega laughs.

If you want an OK, suspenseful movie about ghosts, try The Others. If you want a great movie with "ghost" in the title, think indie and go to Ghost World. Ghosts of Mars is just for silly teenage boys.

http://us.imdb.com/Title?0228333 and related comments
The author would appreciate it if no one noticed that he is a silly teenage boy.

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