If pushed, I think I would have to say that John Carpenter is my favorite genre director. The original “Halloween” and “The Thing” are timeless classics and two of the greatest horror films ever made. “They Live” holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite sci-fi films. And of course, “Escape from New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China” are go-to “I want to watch something awesome with people and drink films”. If I’m in the right mood, I might even give him “Escape from LA”, but I readily admit that’s a debatable statement. That said, I’ve always heard that “Ghosts of Mars” is not only Carpenter’s worst film, but easily one of the worst things ever put to film. I’ve always wondered if that was true. Could John Carpenter really turn out a historically bad film with a cast that includes Ice Cube, Jason Statham and Pam Grier?
Holy fucking yes he could.
“Ghosts of Mars” truly is an epically bad film. If you were like me and thought that this had the potential to at least be a laughably bad film, you are totally wrong. There’s absolutely nothing to laugh at here. “Ghosts of Mars” is played completely straight, with no sign of that characteristic Carpenter sense of humor or charm anywhere in sight. Instead, “Ghosts of Mars” is a painfully uninteresting, boring, derivative disaster that should be avoided by everyone, including die-hard Carpenter fans.
If you can watch “Ghosts of Mars” and make it through the entire thing, you deserve an award because you might be the most patient person on the face of the planet. The crap begins almost immediately, with a horribly uninteresting expository scene with Natasha Hendstridge explaining what had happened to some sort of tribunal. This scene is so forgettable and so un-interesting, I actually had to rewind and watch the first 15 minutes three times to actually piece together what was happening. As it drags on, it’s just so un-engaging and dull and found myself drifting off and just blanking out. Three times. About the only interesting thing about this opening is that Jason Statham hadn’t yet realized he looks better with a shaved head. Balding Jason Statham. Not nearly as badass as shaved Jason Statham. It’s weird.
Eventually I was able to force myself to pay attention and get the basic premise. They’re on Mars, they need to pickup a prisoner, prisoner’s currently in a mining colony. Got it. Why that had to be slowly and painfully spelled out over 15 minutes of dull exposition, I don’t know. Regardless, that’s the plot. After I got that down I again found myself drifting away and not giving a shit. They get to the mining colony and then nothing. Nothing happens for another twenty minutes. They get to the mining colony to find absolutely nothing. They then walk around and remark on how there’s nothing. For twenty minutes.
John, nothing happening is not interesting. You know why the Norwegian camp scene in “The Thing” was interesting? Because they were finding things that were interesting. Keep that one in mind if you ever make another film that’s not “The Ward”.
So the expository bullshit scene is followed up by a whole lot of nothing. They then find Ice Cube. Being that Ice Cube is Ice Cube, this is where I thought interesting things would start happening. Nope, still nothing. They walk around some more and continue to remark how there’s nothing happening at this colony and how strange it is. I fight the urge to grab my phone and play Doodle Jump. No, I have to watch this shitty movie. God, this is hard.
Finally, something happens. Some dude locked in some sort of robot thingy kills himself. Boy that was dull. And apparently that was also it for a while. Some more nothing happens and then finally, we get to the action. Apparently the mining colony had dug up some ancient ghosts (of Mars, get it?) and those ghosts possessed the miners, turning them into a gang of gothic cannibals lead by a guy in a black metal band. They surround the camp and engage in some of the most boring, horribly CGed gunplay ever filmed. Then, there’s another super long lull in the action as our protagonists hide out from the ghost-goth-cannibal people before they have another pretty bad gunfight that leads to them escaping the mining colony.
And that’s when you think that “Ghosts of Mars” is mercifully over, but oh no, they decide to go back to finish the ghosts off for good. What follows is yet another super boring, terrible gunfight which is followed by a horrible CG'd explosion and then the setup to a sequel.
It’s awful. Absolutely awful. And I really can’t understand why. The plot is classic schlocky Carpenter, yet he decided to play it straight. Jason Statham has made a career out of movies heavily inspired by Carpenter classics, yet he’s totally wasted here. Ice Cube is made out to be the ultimate badass, yet his character is almost completely inconsequential to the story. “Ghosts of Mars” is so bad it just doesn’t make any sense. And it kinda makes me look at Carpenter in a new way.
It’s like your Sophomore year in College. You’re planning your housing situation and you think “I know, I’ll live with John. That guy rules”. Then you move in and you find out he collects jars of pee or is a furry or poops in the shower or something fucked up like that. While he may be a cool guy, you won’t ever be able to look at him without thinking about that weird raccoon costume you found in his room. “Ghosts of Mars” is like that. While I can still go back and appreciate “Big Trouble in Little China” for the masterpiece that it is, I’ll also remember the weird, stinky bottle hiding out underneath Carpenter’s computer desk that is “Ghosts of Mars”. Resemblance to any actual roommates I’ve had, living or dead, is purely coincidental.