Ghosts of Mars (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Sometimes you just feel that everything has been done before, and there's nothing new in the world. But if you want to make a breakthrough in film, there is still one world left to conquer: Mars.

Can you make a good Mars movie? That will be about the first one, or maybe the second if you count Total Recall.

Unfortunately, John Carpenter wasn't the man to break the Martian curse. This movie is so bad that it is even below average by Martian standards.


I can't imagine that anyone approved this script. John Carpenter must have sold it on his name, as a treatment, without a working script. Carpenter wrote and directed it, so he doesn't have anyone to blame for possibly the clumsiest script in history. The entire film is told in flashback. Within that flashback are many more narrated flashbacks which begin with statements like "I was working the daywatch out of bunco ...", and then transmogrify into the pictorialization. Amazingly enough, one of those flashbacks-within-a-flashback features a flashback, which may be a matter for the Guinness Records Division

What would have been so bad about telling the story as a straight narrative?

Frankly, though, I have to admit that the clumsy structure didn't really matter. If it had been a nice simple chronological narrative, it would still have been a poor movie. 

The plot: Mars is a self-governing colony of earthlings. A police detachment has to travel to an outlying mining colony to pick up a dangerous criminal. Once there, they realize that the mining operation accidentally opened a passageway which awakened the ancient race of Mars. The ghosts of these ancient beings have taken over the bodies of the miners, and have transformed them into a road company version of "Mad Max: the Musical". And I'm not really kidding. The monster-ghosts march in rhythmic steps, while grunting along with Mitch. Just imagine if KISS had been a marching band, and you'll have the idea. 

Oh, yeah, I forgot. They are also martial arts wizards. Mars. Martial arts. Get the connection?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • also a full screen version

  • Full-length commentary by the director and Natasha Henstridge

  • two making-of featurettes on the score and the f/x

The battle scenes and kung-fu fights are all backed by heavy metal music, which means Carpenter himself seems to have been possessed - by the ghost of Dario Argento.

A debacle, as poorly acted as it is scripted, this movie is absolutely no better than a grade-b straight-to-vid in any way, despite the $28 million dollar budget. 

I generally feel that the greatest blame for a film has to fall on the shoulders of the director, and certainly Carpenter is directly responsible for virtually every aspect of this film including the script and the score.

But in this case, he is not the main culprit. He created this mess, but someone else, I suppose an executive at Screen Gems, decided to throw 28 million of his company's dollars into bringing this project to fruition, and that's the person to blame for this one, because there was nothing in the concept or the script which indicated that it had any merit, either commercial or artistic. They pay those executives to know the difference between a real movie and a Michael Paré movie, because that distinction is the difference between approving a $30 million budget and a $1 million budget. Any one of us would have seen that this was a Paré movie, but that exec did not.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 1.5/4, 

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 19% positive reviews, 25% from the top critics

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.0, Apollo users 27/100 
  • a well-deserved failure. It cost $28 million dollars and grossed $8 million domestically. We can only hope that the studio executive who okayed this has been dismissed. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. Despite a big budget, it's a typical straight-to-vid SF movie. Where was Michael Paré?

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