John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars
While many complaints can be directed at John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars, at least the title doesn't lie. It's set on Mars. It features ghosts. And it's unmistakably the work of director John Carpenter, incorporating all the elements of a great Carpenter film by combining a genre-bending B-movie setup with a setting that allows for social commentary, action, and creepy thrills. Unfortunately, in what's becoming a trend for Carpenter, those elements are mixed poorly this time out. Two opening bits of information establish the setting as a Mars that's still being colonized, and is ruled by a matriarchal society. Anyone familiar with Carpenter's output, especially his recent work, will know he can't wholeheartedly stand behind that kind of political structure; as policewoman heroine Natasha Henstridge discovers, the fringes are filled with the discontents of a pacified civilization. One such discontent is notorious outlaw Ice Cube, whom Henstridge, along with a crew whose ranks include Pam Grier and Clea DuVall, has been sent to retrieve from an untamed mining town. Once there, however, they discover a scene grislier than anything even Cube could create. Ultimately, the culprits are slowly revealed as the remnants of a long-dead, but still angry, Martian society. Carpenter used to get a lot of mileage out of combining other creators' films. The masterful Assault On Precinct 13, for instance, found common ground between Rio Bravo and Night Of The Living Dead. Here, he borrows mainly from himself, combining the basic scenario of Precinct with the claustrophobic paranoia of The Thing. That would be fine if it worked, but the long setup is dull, and characters and action sequences alike share a frustrating flatness. Even the ghost-possessed monsters don't have much going for them, resembling the pierced and tattooed modern primitives of any major city rather than beasts from another world. Carpenter no doubt meant this touch as pointed commentary, but instead, it just looks cheap—a good idea too underdeveloped to work, kind of like the film itself.