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Ghosts of Mars(2001)
By the year 2176, the planet Mars, long inhabited by human settlers, 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. Lt. Melanie Ballard of the Martian Police Force is on transport assignment to bring James "Desolation" Williams, the planet's most notorious criminal, to justice. Williams has no plans to make Ballard's job easy. What begins as a battle of force and wits between cop and criminal soon turns into something more fundamental: a battle for human survival in the realm of the Martian warriors. It's civilization against civilization as Ballard and Williams join forces in mortal combat with the Ghosts of Mars.
For more about Ghosts of Mars and the Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray release, see Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on March 26, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis
Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Clea DuVall
» See full cast & crew
Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray Review
John Carpenter still has some tricks in the bag, but no treats.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, March 26, 2009
If you like dark, macabre movies that are a throwback to the 1950s, cheap sets and brutal bad guys, Ghosts of Mars might be for you. But compared to Carpenter's earlier work, including The Fog and Escape from New York, the latest Carpenter thriller is lacking. The main problem is not the sets or the makeup or even the cast. It's the story. Where Carpenter's early films all had a good hook--and a good meat hook in the case of The Fog--lately his films have become foggy themselves. The audio and video of the Blu-ray will not dazzle the senses either--as much because of the way Ghosts of Mars was shot and engineered as the care taken in transferring it to 1080p.
The year is 2025. The place is Mars, where humans have set up colonies to mine the red planet's resources. A hard-headed police lieutenant, Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstrige), is assigned to an especially desolate colony to take down a rogue operative, James Williams (Ice Cube). But once dispatched to the remote region, Ballard and her team realize they face a more serious and terrifying threat. Apparently, in the course of mining Mars' caves, somehow the colonizers have let loose innumerable, deadly martian spirits that possess unfortunate humans who then become otherworldly warriors, vowing to fight the invaders to the death. A couple plot tweaks and a change in setting, and it might have been a story about the Iraq war. But depending how serious you are about your sci fi, the plot may not fly.
The supporting cast of Pam Grier, Jason Statham and Clea Duvall do an admirable job of wading through the suspense and action, but the nagging question remains: where do the ghosts come from? Why are they on Mars? And how do they infect humans? If you can suspend disbelief, Carpenter takes you on a fun ride with some edgy moments. Unfortunately, I couldn't get into it. All good sci fi hinges on a solid premise of "what if", and Ghosts of Mars throws too many half-hearted "what ifs" at the audience. The cheap sets and dim lighting don't help and as far as Blu-ray picture goes, while more fun than watching DVD, this wasn't too impressive. Neither was the sound quality.
Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ghosts of Mars is not a quality production. The sets look cheap and the overall picture, while defined and showing good contrast, does not exude quality either. Blacks are inky and deep but there seems to have been some digital processing used to reduce noise and the picture suffers a bit from looking flat, without the depth associated with reference quality 1080p. Detail is good, but skin tones rarely look right. This is undoubtedly because of the lighting. The sets are bathed in red to make sure we all understand Ghosts of Mars is taking place on--you guessed it--Mars.
Most of the scenes have a darkness that permeates the corners of the screen. While it doesn't make for the greatest picture quality, if does contribute to the suspense that Carpenter is going for, and is similar to his use of darkness in many of his previous classic horror pictures. Halloween, for example, was a study in how to use shadow and framing to maximize suspense and surprise. Of course, the red sets and crimson lighting is new for Carpenter.
The MPEG-4 encode appears to have been subject to DNR because the grain present is quite subdued. Either processing was used, or the Blu-ray was produced from a subpar master. Watch the scene where Williams tends Ballard's wounds. While it appears adequately detailed and lively, overall there is an uneven, 2-D quality to way the skin and clothing textures are rendered. But this is a nit for videophiles to pick and the picture, presented in 2.39:1, looks quite detailed when it comes down to it.
Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Compared to other HD audio content, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix of Ghosts of Mars appears processed and a bit dead. Highs are rolled off, not extended or microdetailed like reference quality Dolby TrueHD done right. The music in the soundtrack--featuring the venerable Buckethead, an older guitar hero of mine by the name Steve Vai, and the death metal progenitor Anthrax--was not particularly well recorded to begin with. So I was not surprised at its lifelessness here. It drones on with other sounds popping more noticeably. For example, the dialog rises to a higher level of clarity and crispness. Of course, there are fewer challenges in engineering one or two voices compared to an entire rock band.
In keeping with the economic production values, the soundstage is put together rather poorly and haphazardly, with occasional effects assigned to the rear channels but most anchored up front. It would have been cool if the soundstage added presence and provided the audio cues to make the listener feel like they are on Mars. Unfortunately that is not the case, and if you feel transported anywhere it will be to a cheap set of a B movie.
Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The bonus content on Ghosts of Mars is nothing new. As the movie originally was released about eight years ago, the NTSC content produced for the DVD has all been ported over for the Blu-ray release. No high-def to see here, folks.
Scoring Ghosts of Mars--As millions of other hard rock fans, I do have an affinity for some of the music on the soundtrack, so this six-minute documentary was probably my favorite docu-featurette. Anthrax members and John Carpenter himself talk discuss the music in some detail, but not enough to make it truly worthwhile.
Special Effects Deconstruction--Another interesting featurette, but not as detailed as it could have been--is this breakdown of the sets. Even cheap sets have to be set up and broken down, and it was interesting to see a time-capsule view of that.
Audio Commentary--the obligatory alternate audio track features commentary from John Carpenter and his lead actress, Natasha Henstridge. She is a babe, and that's why Carpenter wanted her for the part. Like the other extras, there isn't much detail and too much self-promotion, which is nothing unusual in bonus material.
Video Diary--More like 15 minutes of hurriedly thrown together set footage than a diary, this featurette might as well have been left out.
Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
My curiosity was initially piqued by this low-budget outing from a master of the genre, but unfortunately I just wasn't feeling it and can't recommend Ghosts of Mars. That said, if your vice is cheap horror flicks, you can do a lot worse than this John Carpenter foray into sci fi. He has been there before, with better results. His remake of The Thing has moments of brilliance. But, sad to say, few signs of Carpenter's genius are displayed on Mars. I realize it's been out on DVD for some time, but with the so-so video and audio performance of the Blu-ray, you might opt for a rent before buying. Unless you're sure Ghosts of Mars is up your alley.
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Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The One; Ghosts of Mars Announced for Blu-ray - January 19, 2009
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring Jet Li's 'The One' and John Carpenter's 'Ghosts of Mars' to Blu-ray on March 31st. Video for both of these titles will be presented in 2.40:1 1080p AVC accompanied by a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. ...
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