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In 2176, a Martian police unit is sent to pick up a highly dangerous criminal at a remote mining post. Upon arrival, the cops find the post deserted and something far more dangerous than any criminal — the original inhabitants of Mars, hellbent on getting their planet back.

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John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

2001, Sci-fi/Horror, 1h 37m

What to know

Critics Consensus

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is not one of Carpenter's better movies, filled as it is with bad dialogue, bad acting, confusing flashbacks, and scenes that are more campy than scary. Read critic reviews

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John carpenter's ghosts of mars videos, john carpenter's ghosts of mars   photos.

Long inhabited by human settlers, the Red Planet has become the manifest destiny of an over-populated Earth. Nearly 640,000 people now live and work all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources. But one of those mining operations has uncovered a deadly mother lode: a long-dormant Martian civilization whose warriors are systematically taking over the bodies of human intruders.

Rating: R (Some Drug Content|Language|Strong Gore|Strong Violence)

Genre: Sci-fi, Horror, Mystery & thriller

Original Language: English

Director: John Carpenter

Producer: Sandy King

Writer: John Carpenter , Larry Sulkis

Release Date (Theaters): Aug 24, 2001  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Apr 27, 2013

Box Office (Gross USA): $8.4M

Runtime: 1h 37m

Distributor: Screen Gems

Production Co: Screen Gems, Storm King Productions

Sound Mix: Dolby SR, DTS, Dolby Stereo, Surround, SDDS, Dolby A, Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)

Cast & Crew

James "Desolation" Williams

Natasha Henstridge

Melanie Ballard

Jason Statham

Jericho Butler

Clea Duvall

Bashira Kincaid

Helena Braddock

Joanna Cassidy

Richard Cetrone

Big Daddy Mars

Rosemary Forsyth

Michael Descanso

Duane Davis

John Carpenter

Larry Sulkis

Gary B. Kibbe

Cinematographer

William A. Elliott

Production Design

Paul Warschilka

Film Editing

Robin Michel Bush

Costume Design

Reuben Cannon

Lance Wilhoite

Visual Effects Supervisor

Original Music

Robert Kurtzman

Special Makeup Effects Artist

Greg Nicotero

Howard Berger

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Critic Reviews for John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

Audience reviews for john carpenter's ghosts of mars.

Nothing redeeming about this movie -- poor story, writing, acting and special effects.

ghosts from mars

This is a John Carpenter movie? Well its not one of his best, not by a long shot. A Martian virus infects the Earth colonists and makes them go like Viking berserker kray-kray. Its told in flashback, and sometimes there's flashbacks in flashbacks, and then yet more again. You forget where you are in all of the tizzy. And most of the dialogue is delivered as if everyone onscreen thought they were Clint Eastwood in a Sergio Leone Western. It gets a little motononous. Its a peanut butter w/o jelly sandwich.

[img]http://images.rottentomatoes.com/images/user/icons/icon13.gif[/img]

Yep back near the millennium there was a bit of a Mars movie rush. Alongside a couple other action thrillers earlier in 2000 this horror thriller was obviously a more fantasy based trip to the red planet courtesy of John Carpenter. You know its Carpenter straight away with most of his films but this was different. For a start the soundtrack was a lot of actual heavy metal performers playing pieces created by Carpenter. So yes the tunes are all Carpenters work as usual but it just didn't have the cool quirky simple electronic vibes you associate with his films. The heavy metal stuff just feels too errr...heavy for what the film is, it tries to force the action and gore upon you with loud thrashing music which just seems childish really. Naturally with Carpenter it looks cheap, everything is normally basic but created well with clever lighting, camera angles and editing. In this there is none of that craftsmanship, it really does feel as if John has sold out and given us a loud cliched straight to DVD action flick with no real thought or imagination. Everything also looks really really poor, terrible sets, terrible effects and makeup work and why are the good guys all wearing ski masks?. You can virtually see the edge of the sets half the time, we are talking TV movie standards here people!. The plot is completely lame lets be honest, in fact it just feels like 'The Fog' but set on Mars or in space. That red dusty alien spirit cloud that goes around infecting the miners? come on John!. On top of that its all just a basic crappy zombie-ish horror theme. Humans are turned into mindless zombies that like to mutilate themselves and cut peoples heads off, errr gee...like wow!. Its a shame because the cast is pretty cool with good names. A very young slim looking Statham with a bit of fuzz left on his bonce, Grier who is always sultry n sexy (why does she have to buy the farm so soon John!?) and Henstridge does add a 'Ripley-ish' current but personally I would of cast someone else. Yes 'Ice Cube' is there too being ridiculously over the top trying to make us all think he's a rough tough gangsta' in space, when will you grow up and use your real name Jesus!. All together this really does feel like a rehash of previous thrillers 'The Fog' and 'Assault on Precinct 13' all mixed into one. Completely inept in every area, very cheap looking and totally un-thrilling in any way, how Carpenter produced such a generic piece of crapola like this I don't know. You only have to look at the space zombie bad guys to see how poor it is, looks like the makeup was applied by themselves and thought up by teenagers.

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John Carpenter's "Ghosts of Mars" is a brawny space opera, transplanting the conventions of Western, cop and martial arts films to the Red Planet. As waves of zombified killers attack the heroes, actions scenes become shooting galleries, and darned if in the year 2176 they aren't still hurling sticks of dynamite from moving trains. All basic stuff, and yet Carpenter brings pacing and style to it, and Natasha Henstridge provides a cool-headed center.

As the film opens, a ghost train pulls into Chryse City, so named for a flat plain north of the Martian equator. No driver is at the helm, and only one passenger is on board. She is Melanie Ballard (Henstridge), a cop who headed a detail to an outlying mining town named Shining Canyon to bring back a killer named Desolation Williams ( Ice Cube ). Called up before a tribunal in the matriarchal Martian society, she tells her story, and most of the action is in flashback.

The mining camp seems empty when the cops arrive. Henstridge is joined by Helena ( Pam Grier ), Bashira ( Clea Duvall ), Jericho ( Jason Statham ) and Uno (Duane Davis). They start finding bodies. Desolation is still in jail, proving he could not be the killer, and eventually a survivor named Whitlock ( Joanna Cassidy ) tells the story of how the miners found the entrance to a long-buried tunnel. It led to a door which, when merely touched, crumbled into dust and released, yes, the ghosts of Mars. They possessed humans and turned them into killing machines, to take, she says, "vengeance on anyone who tries to lay claim to their planet." That's the setup. The payoff is a series of well-staged action sequences, made atmospheric by the rusty red atmosphere which colors everything. At one point the cops barricade themselves inside the mining camp's police station, which will remind Carpenter fans of his first feature, " Assault on Precinct 13 ." There is also something about the ghoulish way the possessed miners lurch into action that has a touch of the Living Dead movies.

These ghouls or zombies or ghost-creatures are not, however, slow.

They're pretty fast in the martial arts scenes, especially their leader, Big Daddy Mars (Richard Cetrone). But like all similar movie creatures, they're just a little slower than the heroes. They keep coming but never quite catch up.

Natasha Henstridge has come full circle. Her movie career began in " Species " (1995), where she played "Sil," an alien who looked like Natasha Henstridge part of the time, and like gloppy puke-monsters the rest of the time. Now she's fighting the aliens, and for most of the movie is partnered with Desolation, played by Mr. Cube with solid authority.

"Ghosts of Mars" delivers on its chosen level and I enjoyed it, but I wonder why so many science-fiction films turn into extended exercises in Blast the Aliens. " Starship Troopers " was another. Why must aliens automatically be violent, angry, aggressive, ugly, mindless and hostile? How could they develop the technology to preserve their spirits for aeons, and exhibit no civilized attributes? And, for that matter, if Earth-creatures came along after, oh, say, 300 million years of captivity and set you free, would you be mad at them? These are all questions for another movie. This one does have one original touch. After Melanie is possessed by a ghost, Desolation administers a fix from her stash, and the drug, whatever it is, inspires the alien to get out of her body fast. It is encouraging to learn that the ancient races of our solar system learned to just say no to drugs.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Film credits.

Ghosts of Mars movie poster

Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Rated R For Strong Violence/Gore, Language and Some Drug Content

Ice Cube as Desolation Williams

Natasha Henstridge as Melanie Ballard

Jason Statham as Jericho Butler

Clea Duvall as Bashira Kincaid

Pam Grier as Helena

Joanna Cassidy as Whitlock

  • John Carpenter
  • Larry Sulkis

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Den of Geek

10 Remarkable Things About John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

Ghosts Of Mars may have been one of John Carpenter's lesser works, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of remarkable things about it...

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Filmmaker John Carpenter isn’t just a respected genre director. He’s the screenwriter, producer, director and musician behind some of the greatest science fiction, horror and action films ever made, including  Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing  and  Escape From New York.  Even his films that weren’t big hits at the time, such as  Starman, Big Trouble In Little China  and  They Liv e, have since been embraced as cult gems.

Ghosts Of Mars,  meanwhile, came out in 2001, a point in Carpenter’s career where he admitted that he’d “burned out”  creatively. A sci-fi horror mash-up about cops and criminals under siege from an army of Martian-possessed people, it sounded on paper like it should have everything going for it – which we’ll cover very soon – but somehow, none of it gelled into a satisfying whole. The movie made only half of its $14million budget back at the box office, and it marked Carpenter’s temporary retirement from feature filmmaking.

But while  Ghosts Of Mars  is one of Carpenter’s lesser films, critically and financially (its aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes is 21%, if that’s any indication), that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of remarkable things to write about this oft-maligned film.

10. The cast is full of geektastic actors

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The star of the movie, though, is Natasha Henstridge ( Species, Maximum Risk ) as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard. She leads an expedition to a remote mining outpost called Shining Canyon to take captured criminal Desolation Williams from a jail and back to justice. Unfortunately, Ballard, flanked by Grier’s Braddock and Statham’s Jericho, discovers the once bustling outpost has become a silent ghost town. And on closer inspection, they also find out that Desolation might not be the most deadly entity still waiting for them there…

If the roster of actors above sounds eclectic, then bear in mind that it could have been even more unusual if the casting had gone to plan. Carpenter had originally intended rock musician Courtney Love to star as Ballard, but she had to bow out when her foot was run over by the ex-wife of her then-boyfriend.

Love probably would have been quite good in the role, given that she’d turned in some great performances at the time in films like  The People Vs Larry Flint  and  Man On The Moon;  certainly, her rock-and-roll image would have been a logical fit with  Ghosts Of Mars’  rough, heavy-metal aesthetic. Unfortunately, an interfering Volvo made that impossible, and so Henstridge it was.

9. It was shot in a New Mexico quarry

Like so many science fiction films and TV shows,  Ghosts Of Mars  resorted to some rather lo-fi means of recreating the look of an alien planet. In this case, a gypsum mine on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico were pressed into service as Mars. The problem, though, was that the natural cover of the mine’s rocks didn’t look especially Martian, so gallons of food colouring had to be used to stain them red.

Although some of the efforts to convince us that we’re looking at a settlement on Mars aren’t bad – some of the interior sets are quite good, as are the miniature effects used to create an armoured Martian train – it has to be said that the exterior shots really do look like they’ve been shot in the middle of a terrestrial colony at night. Fortunately, the landscape will soon be covered in far too many severed limbs to notice too much.

8. It’s a compendium of John Carpenter’s favourite things

When you analyse  Ghosts Of Mars  element by element, it’s a bit of a shame it didn’t come off as a better enterprise than it did. For one thing, it’s full of all the pet things that Carpenter appeared to enjoy exploring in his other movies – in fact, it almost reads like a compression of all his earlier films into a single story.

Its Western underpinnings and siege finale are straight out of  Assault On Precinct 13,  as are its wise-talking convicts and tough cops. Its themes of bodily invasion and possession bear echoes of  The Thing.  Even its army of demon-possessed miners has a precedent somewhere else, since they look vaguely like the creepy marauders in  Prince Of Darkness,  right down to their leader, whose long hair, pale skin and black eye make-up recall the look of Alice Cooper’s cameo in that earlier film.

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Somehow, though, Carpenter never quite gets a rein on all of this stuff in the way he did in those earlier movies. The numerous scenes of gunplay lack the intensity and impact of  Assault , and the sense of horror is undercut by a distractingly noisy metal soundtrack, which includes wailing guitar contributions from such fret-worrying gods as Steve Vai, and Robin Finck.

7. Loads and loads of people are decapitated

We later learn that scientific prodding at some ancient burial sites have disturbed the spirits of long-dead Martians, and that they’re now using human bodies as hosts. These demon-possessed humans are now hell-bent on exterminating the rest of the settlers on Mars, who they see as invaders. For some reason, they seem to take great pleasure in decapitating and lopping the arms and legs off everyone they see, either with improvised swords or these patented frisbee-type things they’ve invaded.

Poor old Pam Grier’s barely given a chance to utter two lines before her head’s mounted on a spike – though she does get to proclaim her undying love for Natasha Henstridge – and before the final credits have rolled, just about every cult actor listed in that first entry above has lost their head in some way or another.  Ghosts Of Mars  isn’t the best film of the 2000s, but it’s certainly the most head-choppy.

6. Statham spends much of the film unlocking doors and describing rooms

Back in 2001, Jason Statham was still fresh from his early turns in  Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels  and  Snatch , and  Ghosts Of Mars  was his second US acting gig after the hip-hopping drama,  Turn It Up.  Statham was originally set to play Desolation Williams, the convict role occupied by the pouting Ice Cube in the finished film, but he was nudged over into the slightly smaller role of Sergeant Jericho instead.

Coming at a time before we knew him as the oiled-up martial arts star of things like  Crank  and  The Transporter,  Statham’s given an awkward sort of role here. It’s established early in the film that Mars is a matriarchal society in the 22nd century, but this doesn’t stop Jericho from flirting and making suggestive comments to Henstridge’s Melanie Ballard throughout, and the fighting he does get to do is the semi-improvised, Adam-West-as-Batman sort of fighting, rather than the more technical stuff he’d do with Jet Li in  The One  later that year.

Jericho’s also the undisputed master of the understatement. Having discovered Pam Grier’s head on a spike, and looking over the edge of the quarry and seeing hundreds of demon-possessed people baying at the moon for blood, he mumbles into his radio, “Lieutenant, I think we’ve got a situation here…”

5. It’s another John Carpenter film with a tough guy in a black sleeveless shirt

One of the motifs that show up now and again in Carpenter’s films is the tough guy in a black sleeveless shirt.  Assault On Precinct  had one, and he was a thoroughly nasty individual who shot a little girl and got blood on her ice-cream.

Snake Plissken wore one in the marvellous  Escape From New York,  and you could tell he was tough, because he was played by Kurt Russell. 

In fact, it’s possible that someone wears a black sleeveless shirt in every John Carpenter film, it’s just that you can’t see them because they’re covered up by a cardigan or cagoule. At any rate, the lucky man who gets to wear one this time is Ice Cube, and he’s certainly tough in this film, with all his swearing, pouting and gun firing. It’s possible that Carpenter awarded Mr Cube with the shirt to make up for saddling him with the name Desolation Williams.

4. People keep shooting demons even though they shouldn’t

Unless we’re severely mistaken (and it’s possible we are – it’s happened before), there’s a bit of a plot fault in  Ghosts Of Mars.  It’s established quite quickly that if a possessed human’s shot, the ghost inside it will leave that body and immediately go in search of another. In other words, gunning down these ghouls leaves the shooter more open to being possessed than if they’d left their firearm in its holster.

None of this perturbs the good guys in  Ghosts Of Mars  too much, who merrily run around blasting long-haired miners as though bullets are on sale at Walmart. Wouldn’t they be better off just shooting the monsters in the arms and legs instead, so they can’t run around throwing deadly frisbees at everyone?

Ice Cube’s character even tries to address this plot point directly in the final act. “You know when we kill one of them,” Desolation asks Ballard, “whatever’s inside’s gonna come after us?”

“I know,” Ballard agrees, “so if one of us gets possessed…”

Here, the scene sort of trails off; Ice Cube mumbles something in response, but it’s entirely inaudible. Within a few seconds, they’re cheerfully shooting ghouls in the head again.

3. Drugs repel demons

Tough lawman though she is, Ballard isn’t entirely squeaky-clean. Around her neck, in a little silver box marked with a Celtic knot, she carries a few unidentified pills, which she pops now and again when she’s feeling a bit low. They obviously have some kind of shamanic, trippy effect, because pictures of the sea are superimposed over her ecstatic face when she takes one.

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Although this seems like a throwaway plot point at first, it circles back around later. When Ballard is suddenly possessed by a demon (because someone shot a nearby Martian ghoul, obviously), all seems lost until Jericho has the bright idea of sticking a pill in her mouth to see what happens.

Ballard has another drug trip, in which she sees the ancient Martians in their ugly,  John Carter -like original form, and then the demon is suddenly expelled from her mouth like a blast of bad breath. Now, this discovery seems so miraculous that we thought the rest of the cast would immediately start popping Ballard’s pills, and then merrily gunning down monsters in a chemical-fuelled haze, now immune from demon possession.

Instead, the whole matter’s quietly dropped, which, when you consider the events that take place later in the film, is a bit weird…

2. There’s a flashback within a flashback within a flashback

When Ghosts Of Mars begins, Ballard’s found alone on the train, and the rest of the film’s violent events are a flashback, as Ballard recounts her sorry tale to some sort of tribunal. But in a nod to the narrative complexity of the gothic novel  Wuthering Heights, Ghosts Of Mars  doesn’t stop there.

During the bit where we see the demonic events unfold at Shining Canyon – that is, the main bulk of the film – Statham’s Sergeant Jericho shows up at the colony’s main building with three extra survivors. “Where the hell did you find these?” Ballard asks.

As Jericho explains, he gets a flashback of his own, where we see him exploring a shed shortly after finding Pam Grier’s head on a spike, and discovers the three survivors within it. He then has a bit of a conversation with them, in which he asks them what happened to the colony. This then triggers a further flashback from the survivor’s perspective, as he describes seeing the demons possess the bodies of miners, and all the bloody things that happened next.

What we have here, then, is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Inception, eat your heart out.

1. It constantly spoils its own surprises

Flashbacks are nothing new in movies, and if they’re used carefully, they can be quite effective. The original  Invasion Of The Body Snatchers  has one, largely to avoid an originally intended bleak ending, but it’s inconspicuous enough that you almost forget that it exists.  The same’s true of Brian De Palma’s  Carlito’s Way.

In  Ghosts Of Mars,  though, you’re constantly being reminded that what you’re seeing is a flashback, because the story keeps cutting back to Ballard recounting her tale to the tribunal after all that’s happened. This makes Carpenter’s film relatively unusual, in that it’s essentially providing spoilers for itself before every major event.

Even towards the end, where Ballard and her crew have a chance to escape on their armoured train but decide to set off an explosion to get rid of the demons, the film cuts back to Ballard sitting in a chair and saying, “It was a simple plan. The only problem was it didn’t work how it was supposed to.”

Well, thanks for spoiling the surprise, Henstridge. Unfortunately, the gigantic explosion didn’t kill the demons, and the end of the film hints at a potential sequel: a gigantic demonic invasion hits Mars’ main city, and we see Desolation Williams and Ballard head off to war with their shiny machine guns.

Had  Ghosts Of Mars  been a hit, the sequel probably would have seen Desolation and Ballard high on anti-demon pills, and furthering the spread of possession by cheerfully shooting every human in their way.

Ryan Lambie

Ryan Lambie

  • Screen Gems

Summary A harrowing tale of rescue and escape from a colonized Mars 175 years into the future. (Columbia Tristar)

Directed By : John Carpenter

Written By : Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter

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Clea DuVall

Bashira kincaid.

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Joanna Cassidy

Richard cetrone, big daddy mars.

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Ghosts of Mars

Ghosts of Mars

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Pam Grier, Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Richard Cetrone, and Clea DuVall in Ghosts of Mars (2001)

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Pam Grier in John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

Hear me out: why John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars isn’t a bad movie

The latest in our series of writers standing up for hated films is a defence of the beloved director’s genre-splicing flop

T here aren’t many directors who’ve put together a run of great films quite like that of the legendary John Carpenter . The genre film maestro’s remarkable streak, stretching from his brutal Hawksian riff Assault on Precinct 13 in 1976, to his muscular political satire They Live in 1988, is a miraculous showcase of stylistic elasticity. Could any other film-maker have shifted from the greasy nastiness of Christine to the glowing warmth of Starman within a year, without breaking stride?

Then the 1990s arrived, and just like that the Carpenter magic seemed to evaporate – critical opinion harshened, and whatever commercial pull he’d had was gone. Even now, as the more minor entries in his 1980s oeuvre continue to be re-evaluated and championed anew, there still seems to be a consensus that the director’s form dropped off and never recovered – that his late-career catalogue isn’t of any particular value, save for one last masterpiece, In the Mouth of Madness.

It’s a shame that this era is so emphatically dismissed, because Carpenter never lost his touch, and actually put out some of his most formally fascinating work as his reputation dwindled. His last effort before a protracted hiatus from film-making, 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, is perhaps the best of these overwhelmingly maligned projects – a genre-mashing, thrash metal-infused curio, in which Carpenter pulls off one of his most impressive balancing acts, deftly commingling hyper-simplified entertainment with aggressive experimentation.

Ghosts of Mars began life as Escape from Mars, another installment in the Snake Plissken saga, but received some cosmetic adjustments after Escape from LA turned out to be a financial failure. Plissken, played with terse, gravelly charisma by frequent Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell, wasn’t a viable lead anymore – so the anti-hero mantle was assumed by a new prisoner, James “Desolation” Williams, played by Ice Cube. The transition is actually fairly seamless – the rapper does a sturdy job of preserving Plissken’s swagger and caustic wit, while at the same time making the role feel distinctive with his own specific tics and inflections. Carpenter fills out his main cast with Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, and Pam Grier, as members of the police squad sent to transfer Desolation to Chryse, the first human city on Mars.

In its core dynamics, the film is just as ruthlessly direct as Carpenter’s other variations on a Hawksian theme: a group of people find themselves confined to an area (in this case a mining town pulled straight from a classic western, awash with the Red Planet’s rusty hues), and are forced to survive under pressure as they’re besieged by encroaching hostile forces. In Assault on Precinct 13, those forces appear in the form of a bloodthirsty gang waging war upon the LAPD; in The Fog, they’re phantom pirates exacting revenge upon a coastal town with a wicked history; and in Ghosts of Mars, they’re the spirits of the indigenous Martians, awakened from their ancient tomb, possessing the bodies of the intruding human species and turning them into zombielike instruments of destruction.

That’s where the directness ends. If Ghosts of Mars were plainer, if its events played out in uncomplicated fashion, it would probably still be an absolute blast – with its buddy film repartee, pulpy horror, chunky action, and pulsating soundtrack. Instead, like Burroughs or Bowie, Carpenter chops the film into pieces and splices it back together again, creating a stranger, richer text. The resulting film makes its characters and its audience negotiate a disorienting structural maze, replete with recursive fades instead of conventional cuts, and flashbacks within flashbacks instead of linear narrative thrust. It makes for an engrossingly slippery, unreliable viewing experience, in which our usual perception of pacing and continuity is knocked off of its axis – which, given the extraterrestrial setting, makes sense.

Constantly coursing through this eclectic tangle is an interesting political current – there’s a perfectly valid reading of the film that contextualises the ostensible heroes as mere cogs in a colonial enterprise, reaping the violent consequences of their fixation on dominion. “This isn’t their planet anymore,” says Henstridge’s police lieutenant, as she resolves to wipe out the native Martians with an all-out offensive. Sound familiar? Admittedly, its all a bit too broad to be genuinely incisive, but there are definitely far more perfunctory pieces of commentary on the same subject in self-serious films that try a lot harder to be meaningful.

And, you know, you can always just ignore the allegory. Part of the beauty of Carpenter’s work is its flexibility – you can mine its thematic veins, or you can simply sit back and enjoy the ride. That Ghosts of Mars continues to be widely rejected for being corny and confusing is emblematic of the larger problem of homogenisation in a Hollywood wasteland that repudiates bold visions. Maybe it’s for the best that Carpenter spends his time playing synth music and video games nowadays, and hasn’t directed a film since 2010 – mainstream critics and audiences, whose taste is only getting blander and more incurious, and who mindlessly kowtow at the feet of creatively bankrupt corporations, don’t really deserve such a thrillingly idiosyncratic artist.

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars is available to watch on Starz or rent digitally in the US and to rent digitally in the UK

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Terror is the same on any planet. From John Carpenter, the master of horror behind classics like The Thing and Halloween, comes a sci-fi thriller full of explosive action and bone-chilling suspense. Long inhabited by human settlers, the Red Planet has become the manifest destiny of an over-populated Earth. Nearly 640,000 people now live and work all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources. But one of those mining operations has uncovered a deadly mother lode: a long-dormant Martian civilization whose warriors are systematically taking over the bodies of human intruders. With a stellar cast and explosive special effects, John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars is an intergalactic terror-fest like you've never seen. " John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is a brawny space opera, transplanting the conventions of Western, cop and martial arts films to the Red Planet. " - Roger Ebert Directed and written by John Carpenter ( Halloween, The Thing, Vampires ) Starring: Ice Cube ( Three Kings ), Natasha Henstridge ( Species ), Jason Statham ( The Transporter ), Clea DuVall ( Argo ), Pam Grier ( Jackie Brown )

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  • MPAA rating ‏ : ‎ R (Restricted)
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 0.7 x 7.5 x 5.4 inches; 0.63 Ounces
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ BRMV63394
  • Director ‏ : ‎ John Carpenter
  • Media Format ‏ : ‎ Dolby, Anamorphic, Surround Sound, Full Screen, NTSC, HiFi Sound, PAL, THX, Widescreen
  • Run time ‏ : ‎ 1 hour and 38 minutes
  • Release date ‏ : ‎ May 14, 2019
  • Actors ‏ : ‎ Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham
  • Studio ‏ : ‎ Sony Pictures Home
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 6317752982
  • Number of discs ‏ : ‎ 1
  • #19,328 in Blu-ray

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ghosts from mars

ghosts from mars

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

Cast & crew.

James "Desolation" Williams

Natasha Henstridge

Melanie Ballard

Jason Statham

Jericho Butler

Clea DuVall

Bashira Kincaid

Helena Braddock

  • Average 3.8
  • Reviews 110

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© 2001 Ghost Planet Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Ghosts of Mars

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Ghosts of mars.

2001 Directed by John Carpenter

Terror is the same on any planet.

Melanie Ballard is a hard nosed police chief in the year 2025. She and a police snatch squad are sent to Mars to apprehend dangerous criminal James Williams. Mars has been occupied by humans for some time and they have set up mining facilities. The mining activities on Mars have unleashed the spirits of alien beings who gradually possess the bodies of the workers. It soon turns out that catching the dangerous fugitive takes a back seat as the alien spirits begin to rid their planet of the 'invaders'.

Natasha Henstridge Ice Cube Pam Grier Jason Statham Clea DuVall Joanna Cassidy Richard Cetrone Rosemary Forsyth Liam Waite Duane Davis Lobo Sebastian Rodney A. Grant Wanda De Jesus Peter Jason Doug McGrath Rick Edelstein Rex Linn Michael Krawic Robert Carradine Eileen Weisinger Marjean Holden Matt Nolan Charlotte Cornwell Danielle Burgio Lena Milan Damon Caro Christopher Allen Nelson

Director Director

John Carpenter

Producer Producer

Writers writers.

John Carpenter Larry Sulkis

Casting Casting

Reuben Cannon

Editor Editor

Paul C. Warschilka

Cinematography Cinematography

Gary B. Kibbe

Production Design Production Design

William A. Elliott

Art Direction Art Direction

Mark W. Mansbridge William Hiney

Set Decoration Set Decoration

Ronald R. Reiss

Stunts Stunts

Chad Stahelski David Leitch Henry Kingi Jennifer Caputo Keith Woulard Brian Imada Danielle Burgio Troy Brown Dana Hee Jeff Imada John C. Meier Diana R. Lupo Donna Evans Bridgett Riley Chona Jason Troy Robinson Cheryl Wheeler Duncan Erik Rondell Robin Lynn Bonaccorsi Cinda-Lin James Anita Hart Gloria O'Brien Patricia M. Peters

Composer Composer

Sound sound.

John Dunn Jeffrey J. Haboush Bill W. Benton

Costume Design Costume Design

Robin Michel Bush

Makeup Makeup

Fred C. Blau Jr. Ken Wensevic Jim Kail

Hairstyling Hairstyling

Beverly Jo Pryor Judith A. Cory Enid Arias

Animationwerks Screen Gems Storm King Productions

Releases by Date

24 aug 2001, 07 sep 2001, 01 oct 2001, 18 oct 2001, 26 oct 2001, 21 nov 2001, 29 nov 2001, 26 apr 2002, 01 oct 2007, 04 dec 2004, releases by country.

  • Theatrical 16
  • Theatrical 12
  • Theatrical 18
  • Theatrical VM14

Netherlands

  • TV 16 Yorin
  • Physical 16 DVD

Russian Federation

  • Theatrical 18+

South Korea

  • Theatrical R

98 mins   More at IMDb TMDb Report this page

Popular reviews

matt lynch

Review by matt lynch ★★★½ 2

Flashbacks within flashbacks, endless fades and wipes replacing simple cuts. In its own way as elegantly straightforward as THE FOG or PRECINCT 13 but filtered through the fever dream of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. I like this one more every time I see it.

Tony the Terror 666

Review by Tony the Terror 666 ★★★★ 28

A 2.3 average rating?! Y’all some haters up here on Letterboxd and I just don’t get it because I love this dumbass movie! I’m also very heavily medicated so forgive me for name calling an entire community and also for the very real possibility that nothing I’m about to say will make any sense.

I just got over a stomach flu last month and now I have the actual flu so I’m laid up in bed wondering what I did to deserve this much ickiness. Really, I’ve never been as sick in my whole life as I have been this winter and I’m so over it. I don’t want to watch anything new because I’m in and out of consciousness…

David Sims

Review by David Sims ★★★ 2

I like the Mars train, choo choo

Todd Gaines

Review by Todd Gaines ★★★½ 17

Natasha with her clothes on. Craig without Smokey. Foxy Jackie Brown. A hostage from Argo. The original Nerd. Some guy I've never seen before. Uno, Dos, and Tres. Big Daddy Mars looks like The Crow on roids. The Transporter doing his best Billy Sole impersonation as a character too badass to survive. The Horror Master John Carpenter paying homage to himself. It's The Thing meets Assault on Precinct 13. So what if it's set on Mars and the main characters are a hottie more known for being naked and a gangsta rapper turned Are We There Yet star. It's pure Carpenter and it kicks ass.

Rafael "Parker!!" Jovine

Review by Rafael "Parker!!" Jovine ★★★½ 16

Starring: The Bold, Bald, Gruff Action Man Jason Statham

Objectively speaking, this may be a bad film by any standard. The acting leaves a lot to be desired. Everything looks very phony, unreal quality with some poor CGI or its very clear it maybe was shot on a set. And both the music and a lot of the editing do nothing but age the movie.

But what can I say? As someone who saw this film probably at least 10 times as a kid, the film is still was pretty fun. Even if the acting isn't fantastic, everyone (particularly Ice Cube) does a nice job selling the campiness, and even Statham isn't too bad. The notion of ghosts controlling people…

nathaxnne [hiatus <3]

Review by nathaxnne [hiatus <3] ★★★★★ 4

John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars' is of a piece with its immediate predecessor, 'Vampires': a 1950's Western genre-transposed, in this case recast as a sci-fi/horror, but make no mistake, this is pure afternoon matinee fodder from any decade in the second half of the XXth Century and beyond. If anyone other than John Carpenter had made this movie, I think it would be far more beloved than it is, and I think it is a film in deep need of re-evaluation. 'Ghosts of Mars' operates at near-'Planet Terror' levels of crazed, what-the-hell cheapness/looseness, but does so with exquisite craft and care. The sets are like any dusty mining town Anywhere saturated in red-filter. The vehicles are pure 60's/'70's scale model-kit.…

Mike Thorn

Review by Mike Thorn ★★★★★

Frames within frames within frames. Carpenter's weirdest film: thrash metal invocations via pulpy space-horror/Hawks revisionism. Took me a couple viewings to even begin comprehending what this was getting at.

Matt Singer

Review by Matt Singer ★★½ 1

This was apparently written as a second Escape From New York sequel, with Ice Cube in the role meant to be Snake Plissken. The finished product feels more like a sci-fi remake of Assault on Precinct 13 , with ghost zombie dudes versus some soldiers and a few deputized criminals on Mars. It got terrible reviews in 2001; it’s beloved by a lot of Carpenter fans today. I thought it was mostly somewhere in the middle. It’s not bad, but it would be better if Jason Statham was playing Chev Chelios.

Will Menaker

Review by Will Menaker ★★★½ 2

Marilyn Monster leads army of nu-metal goth barbarians in revolution against the oppressive matriarchy.

Ian West

Review by Ian West ★★★ 6

My snowed in Carpenter fest started off by revisiting Escape from Precinct Mars . There’s some things I reallllllly like about this movie—for starters, it’s absurd and totally made in the wrong decade... I could see this as an amazing Snake Plissken yarn filmed in 1985... hell even if Snake wasn’t involved it would still be awesome. Filled with over the top madness, mars ghost POV shots, matriarchal society (!!!!! I just wish that was utilized better), heads on spikes, mars train, and nods to Assault on Precinct 13 . 

I’ll never turn down a space prison western on mars by my boy J-Carp, especially with a awesome/goofy villain straight out of Subspecies , but my only real complaints are too much anthrax and buckethead playing over Carpenters great synth score, and under usage of Pam Greer (that’s a sin). It’s fun!

Also  my cat watched  this whole movie so it gets an extra half star for that.

Sally Jane Black

Review by Sally Jane Black 6

Random thoughts:

* Awful soundtrack. Carpenter should stick to the more eerie stuff and never, ever work with Buckethead.

* Great action sequences, even if the effects (especially because the effects) are a little cheezy. It's easy to follow, there's a lot of ridiculous gore, and there's tension. Watching my favorite character get gibbed was a bit startling, too, even if I knew who made it to the end.

* The black lesbian dies first. Ugh.

* Oh the effects really are awful. I laughed at the red mist coming out of someone's body, and at least one tragic death cracked me up.

* Regardless, Carpenter seems to have had fun with the Rashomon meets Doom thing he has going. I love Mars as a setting, come to think of it, especially one with some sort of archaeological or mystical mystery.

* Carpenter needs to do a Marvel movie.

Will Sloan

Review by Will Sloan 1

Revisiting John Carpenter’s exquisite final wide theatrical release, I learned that Carpenter, who seemed like such an elder statesman at the time, was only 53 — the exact same age that current blockbuster directors James Gunn and Scott Derickson are now.

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Ghosts of Mars (2001)

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Ghosts of Mars  is a 2001 American science fiction horror movie written, directed and scored by  John Carpenter . 

  • 3 Production
  • 4 Reception
  • 5 External links

Argument [ ]

It is set in Mars in the year 2176. Mars has been colonized and it has been terraformed by 84%, allowing humans to walk on the surface without pressure suits. Partial breathers, however are still necessary. The human colony there is also matriarchal.

The story is about police officer Lt. Melanie Ballard, who is sent with a team of policemen to a remote mining outpost at night in order to transport prisoner James 'Desolation' Williams, who has been arrested for several murders. Arriving at the remote mining town, Ballard and her team find all of the people missing despite of the fact, that it is a Friday night. They investigate and, in time, they discover that part of them have been murdered. They have been hung and decapitated. She also discovers, that another part of them have become savages, who killed the murdered ones and also intended to kill all of them, too. Only a few are still alive there.

After the murder of the team leader Helena Braddock, Ballard has to take her place. She learns from a survivor that the miners in the outpost had discovered an underground doorway created by an ancient Martian civilization. When the door was opened, it released disembodied spirits or "ghosts", which took possession many of the miners, who now behave savagely and begin to kill everyone else, because they see them as an invading species that has to be wiped out so that the planet will be theirs again.

She allies herself with the criminals there under the leadership of Williams, who turns out to be innocent of the murders, to survive. To worsen things more, if they kill one of them, the ghost will leave the body and posess another human. Ballard casually manages to find a way to fight them by casually taking a drug, which enables her to be immune to them and even find out their intentions.

Only she and Williams survive the fight and ignite the nuclear powerplant there to go critical, turning it into a small atomic bomb in the hopes of preventing them to kill everyone else on this planet. Not wanting to be blamed for the massacre, Williams later handcuffs Ballard to her cot and escapes from the train on the way to the capital which she reaches.

After that she reports what happened to her superiors, but noone believes her. Later it turns out that the quest to stop the ghosts has failed. They now attack the capital and Williams and Ballard join forces again to survive.

  • Ice Cube as James 'Desolation' Williams
  • Natasha Henstridge as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard
  • Jason Statham as Jericho Butler
  • Clea Duvall as Bashira Kincaid
  • Pam Grier as Helena Braddock
  • Joanna Cassidy as Whitlock
  • Richard Cetrone as Big Daddy Mars
  • Liam Whaite as Michael Descanso
  • Duane Davis as Uno

Production [ ]

The script originally started off as a potential Snake Plissken sequel. The title was  Escape from Mars. The story would have been largely much the same; however, after  Escape from L.A.  failed to make much money at the box office, the studio did not wish to make another Plissken movie. The character Snake Plissken was therefore changed to "Desolation Williams," and the studio also insisted that Ice Cube be given the part.

Natasha Henstridge replaced Courtney Love (the original choice) in her role at the last minute, because the ex-wife of her boyfriend ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the motion picture. The actresses Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente and Famke Janssen were also briefly considered for that role. 

The filming began on 8. August 2000 and ended on 31. October 2000.

Reception [ ]

The movie was a box office failure and received mostly negative reviews. Because of that, John Carpenter left the business of filmmaking for several years.

External links [ ]

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Giant quake that shook Mars for hours had a surprising source

NASA's InSight lander captured the 4.7 magnitude seismic event in 2022.

By Laura Baisas | Published Oct 17, 2023 5:00 PM EDT

An artist's illustration of a cutaway of Mars along with the paths of seismic waves from two separate quakes in 2021. These seismic waves, detected by NASA’s InSight mission, were the first ever identified to enter another planet’s core.

A giant seismic event on Mars—a “marsquake”— that shook the Red Planet last year had an unexpected source, surprising astrophysicists from around the world. They suspected a meteorite strike. Instead, enormous tectonic forces within Mars’s crust, which caused vibrations that lasted for six hours, caused the quake and not a meteorite strike. The findings are described in a study published October 17 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters .

[Related: Two NASA missions combined forces to analyze a new kind of marsquake .]

NASA’s InSight lander recorded the magnitude 4.7 marsquake on May 4, 2022 , which scientists named S1222a. Its seismic signal was similar to those of previous quakes that were caused by meteorite impacts , so the team began to search for an impact crater. 

In the new study , a team from the University of Oxford worked with the European Space Agency, Chinese National Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency to scour more than 55 million square miles on Mars. Each group examined the data coming from its own satellites to look for a crater, dust cloud, or other signature of a meteorite impact. Because the search came up empty, they now believe that S1222a was caused by the release of huge tectonic forces from within the Martian interior. 

That doesn’t mean Mars’s tectonic plates are moving the way they do during an earthquake. The best available evidence suggests the planet is remaining still. “We still think that Mars doesn’t have any active plate tectonics today, so this event was likely caused by the release of stress within Mars’ crust,” study co-author and University of Oxford planetary geophysicist Benjamin Fernando said in a statement . “These stresses are the result of billions of years of evolution; including the cooling and shrinking of different parts of the planet at different rates.”

While Fernando explains that scientists do not fully understand why some parts of Mars seem to have more stress than others, these results can help them investigate further. “One day, this information may help us to understand where it would be safe for humans to live on Mars and where you might want to avoid!” he said.

Mars photo

S1222a was one of the last events recorded by NASA’s InSight mission before its end. The InSight lander launched in May 2018 and survived “seven minutes of terror” to touch down on Mars, where it studied the planet’s interior and seismology for years. The last of the spacecraft’s data was returned in December 2022 , after increasing dust accumulation on its solar panels caused InSight to lose power. 

[Related: InSight says goodbye with what may be its last wistful image of Mars .]

In its four years and 19 days of service , InSight recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes. At least eight of these events were from a meteorite impact ; the largest two formed craters that were almost 500 feet in diameter. If the S1222a event was formed by an impact, the team estimates that the crater to be would have been at least 984 feet in diameter.

The team is applying knowledge from this study to other work, including future missions to our moon and the tectonics that are similar to California’s famed San Andreas fault located on one of Saturn’s moons named Titan . They also hope that it encourages additional major international collaborations to study the Red Planet and beyond. 

“This has been a great opportunity for me to collaborate with the InSight team, as well as with individuals from other major missions dedicated to the study of Mars,” study co-author and New York University Abu Dhabi astrophysicist Dimitra Atri said in a statement. “This really is the golden age of Mars exploration!”

Laura Baisas

Laura is a science news writer, covering a wide variety of subjects, but she is particularly fascinated by all things aquatic, paleontology, nanotechnology, and exploring how science influences daily life. Laura is a proud former resident of the New Jersey shore, a competitive swimmer, and a fierce defender of the Oxford comma.

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Mars was shaken by its strongest marsquake ever in 2022. Now we know what caused it

The strongest recorded quake left no visible traces on the Red Planet surface.

artist's concept depicts NASA's InSight lander after it has deployed its instruments on the Martian surface

The strongest-ever quake to violently shake Mars arose not because of a crashing asteroid but rather the tectonic forces within the planet itself, scientists reported on Tuesday (Oct. 17). The new findings show the Red Planet is more seismically active than previously thought.

On May 4, 2022, NASA 's now-retired InSight lander recorded a magnitude 4.7 quake, five times stronger than the previous record holder of magnitude 4.2 that InSight measured in 2021. Unlike most marsquakes that cease within an hour, the reverberations from the summer quake continued for a record six hours, marking the strongest and longest quake ever recorded on another planet.

After landing in Elysium Planitia on Mars in November 2018, Insight sensed over 1,300 marsquakes, at least eight of which were traced to asteroid impacts. The signal from the massive May 2022 quake, measured by a sensitive seismometer onboard the lander, was similar to others caused by asteroid strikes, so scientists began searching for a fresh, 300-meter wide crater on Mars and a plume of dust, both of which would have appeared immediately after an asteroid impact. Teams in India, China, Europe and the United Arab Emirates searched for these indicators using their respective orbiters circling Mars, but they were never found, scientists say. That's why after months of searching, scientists concluded that the quake was tectonic in origin.

Related: Scientists hail scientific legacy of NASA's Mars InSight lander

Conventional wisdom holds that unlike Earth , Mars is too small and too cold to host tectonic processes. Earth's tectonic plates — massive, irregularly shaped rocks whose boundaries are buried beneath oceans — move in response to forces in the mantle (the layer between its crust and core) and usually lead to landslides and earthquakes . Mars' surface, however, is not broken in the same way Earth's is, so plate tectonics are not believed to occur on the Red Planet.

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Instead, the quake detected by InSight was likely caused by the release of billion-year-old stress within Mars' crust which formed and evolved due to various parts of the planet cooling and shrinking at different rates, according to the new study.

"We still do not fully understand why some parts of the planet seem to have higher stresses than others, but results like these help us to investigate further," Benjamin Fernando, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford in the U.K., said in a statement. "One day, this information may help us to understand where it would be safe for humans to live on Mars and where you might want to avoid!"

This research is described in a paper published Tuesday (Oct. 17) in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Sharmila Kuthunur

Sharmila is a Seattle-based science journalist. She found her love for astronomy in Carl Sagan's The Pale Blue Dot and has been hooked ever since. She holds an MA in Journalism from Northeastern University and has been a contributing writer for Astronomy Magazine since 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @skuthunur.

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