Can you remember when John Carpenter was really, really good? There was a time when the man was a legend with classics such as Escape From New York, Assault On Precinct 13 and, of course, my favourite film of all time Big Trouble In Little China, (which I will keep going on and on about until a sequel is made!) all hitting the screens. Hit after bloomin’ hit took us from deep space to the arctic to hell and back, in the space of a couple of hours, all accompanied by the most fantastic electro soundtracks which, incidentally, also too came from Carpenter’s visionary brain.
Then, of course, the 90s hit and people’s taste for film changed and Mr Carpenter became out of favour with the audience. It was a time for CG rather than latex and grunge rather than electro, and whether it was because of this or some other reason, Mr Carpenter’s career took a bit of a downturn. It seemed that once Nirvana and Beavis and Butthead were the in-thing, it affected John Carpenter and distilled the man’s genius; it stopped flowing and evaporated into the ether as a new ‘career’ beckoned for Mr Carpenter as straight-to-video hit followed straight-to-video hit and even ‘high profile’ movies such as Vampires and In The Mouth Of Madness passed us by with little more than a theatrical whimper.
This is also true of the Ghosts Of Mars, which is essentially Assault On Precinct 13…in space. It has Carpenter just acknowledging what he did right in the 80s and copying it (in space).
Basically, the premise is this: Mars has been populated by the good folks of Earth for a few decades with terra-forming and terrain development being the main source of industry on the red planet (think Total Recall). Resembling something like a futuristic wild west, there are good guys keeping the peace but also bandits, cowboys and all forms of futuristic bad guys to make their jobs interesting. As such, we have a situation that mirrors Assault perfectly, with both guards and prisoners set together. But there’s the an addition of a malevolent third party that makes things worse for both groups, having to make them work together to defeat this foe.
It’s a standard formula and has worked well for Carpenter in Prince Of Darkness as well as Assault and, while those films had solid casts to work around this clichéd story premise, Ghosts has erm…Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge. While we also get small cameos from Pam Grier and Jason Stratham (cool!), the weak cast is only half the problem and only really adds kindling to a rampant fire of mediocrity.
So with cast of the very best that sci-fi has to offer and a plot that was tippex-ed to death (replacing the words “Precinct” with “Mars”) what about the protagonists and the erm…’ghosts’? Well, they aren’t really ghosts at all, but possessed former Mars workers who appear more like pierced cannibalistic Mad Max extras for no real explained reason, and have the personality and screen presence of the two extras from E17 – vacant, boring, dull and completely pointless. With neither a reason why they look like they do or any reason to care, the film is really just a computer game come to life with level after level dragged on screen for you to relish in its puerile boredom.
Now, it may seem harsh to review the film in this way, but I got burnt buying the DVD of this nearly a decade ago, and even after this long, the film still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But hey, it’s in High-Def, right? So, really the movie could be saved by the quality of the print and the extras. Couldn’t it?
Well, sadly not, as the film still looks dreary, and even in 1080p the orange and red filters used throughout still look nauseating. And, no matter how clear the picture, there is no escaping the fact that you are watching Ice Cube and that woman from Species. Although the sound mix of the film has been looked, sadly, the same cannot be said about the extras. This is a re-hash of the video diary and audio commentaries from the cast and crew I have on the original DVD, which is disappointing. It once again shows that studios are releasing back catalogues of film on new formats without taking into consideration the format capabilities itself or the fact that people already own the film on DVD and will be reluctant to buy the same product again. Get a good upscaling DVD player instead, perhaps.
Please, Warner, MGM and co, take a leaf out of the Dark Knight and Iron Man discs. This is what Blu-ray is for.
While it’s not a bad thing to see Carpenter’s work in 1080p, and if you are a sucker for siege mentality horror, then the film will nicely finish off the trilogy of these films (Precinct 13, Prince Of Darkness ,of cours,e being the other two) all Ghost Of Mars is, really, is just a re-tread of old territory without the charm, charisma and skill of Carpenter’s former work. You are better off buying The Thing or waiting for Big Trouble.
Ghosts Of Mars Blu-ray is available now.