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Every time a John Carpenter movie is released, the critics have a field day ripping the movie to shreds… Carpenter’s latest film GHOSTS OF MARS ($28) is no exception to that particular rule. I really don’t think critics understand what Carpenter was intending with GHOSTS OF MARS. GHOSTS OF MARS strives to be a solid "B" action movie, and as such, it succeeds marvelously. Of course, when Carpenter fans that look beneath the surface, they will discover that GHOSTS OF MARS is another "western" wannabe, like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, except that this film has been "tarted up" in the guise of a science fiction movie. Looking at GHOSTS OF MARS from that perspective, one finds the western plot elements carefully set in place. A small band of Soldiers ride into an isolated fort to discover all of the inhabitants butchered. Soon after they learn that there is an overwhelming number of Indians in war paint ready to attack the fort again. Barricading themselves inside the fort, they try to stay alive until the cavalry arrives.

GHOSTS OF MARS stars Natasha Henstridge as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard, who is assigned to transport a criminal named Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) from a remote Martian mining colony back to a large city, where he will stand trial for murder. Unfortunately, when Ballard and her team arrive in the mining town, they discover that everyone is dead, except for a group of miners that have been taken over by long dormant Martian life forms- intent on ridding their planet of the human invaders. This situation forces all of the non-possessed humans to band together and fight against the ghosts of mars. The supporting cast of GHOSTS OF MARS also features Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, Rosemary Forsyth, Liam Waite, Duane Davis, Lobo Sebastian and Rodney A. Grant.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made GHOSTS OF MARS available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Note that a pan and scan presentation is available on a separate layer of the DVD, although no John Carpenter film is worth watching in the cropped format. The wide screen transfer is terrific looking; rendering the dark, nighttime Martian landscape with excellent clarity and detail. The film element used for the transfer is free from blemishes and displays only a small amount of appreciable grain. Colors are strongly rendered on the DVD, without any signs of noise or smearing. Blacks are solid and inky, plus the picture provides good depth and shadow detail. Digital compression artifacts remain in check throughout the presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack features an aggressive action movie mix that takes full advantage of the discrete nature of the format. Sound effects are lively and pan around the entire sound field in convincing manner. Weapons fire and explosions are solid and make excellent use of the subwoofer channel. Dialogue is crisp, clean and fully understandable. GHOSTS OF MARS features a terrific "rock score" composed by John Carpenter and realized by the members of Anthrax. The score is well integrated into the mix, yet has a distinct life of its own. There are no other soundtrack options on the DVD, although English and French subtitles are provided.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplemental features. Starting things off is a running audio commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Natasha Henstridge. This is actually a fun commentary that finds both participants in very good humor, as they crack jokes while talking about the movie. The Video Diary: Red Desert Nights is raw video footage that gives one a look behind-the-scenes during the production of GHOSTS OF MARS. Also kind of raw is the Scoring Ghosts Of Mars featurette, which shows Carpenter, the composer, collaborating with the members of Anthrax. The SFX Deconstructions shows how a number of the films special effects sequences were envisioned and brought to the screen in various stages, then finally composited together. Cast and filmmaker filmographies close out the supplemental section.

I am a John Carpenter fan and think GHOSTS OF MARS is a solid movie that shows he can still produce real entertainment on small budget. Columbia TriStar’s DVD looks and sounds great, making this a movie that the director’s fans will definitely want to own. One final thought, since GHOSTS OF MARS is well-crafted little western disguised as a science fiction movie, I’d love to see how Carpenter fares with an actual genre outing.


John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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