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Every time a John Carpenter movie is released, the critics have a field day ripping the movie to shreds… Carpenter’s GHOSTS OF MARS ($28) was certainly no exception to that particular rule. I really don’t think critics understand what Carpenter was intending with GHOSTS OF MARS. GHOSTS OF MARS strives to be a solid "B" action movie, and as such, it succeeds marvelously. Of course, when Carpenter fans that look beneath the surface, they will discover that GHOSTS OF MARS is just another "western wannabe" from the director, like Carpenter’s own earlier ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

The only difference between these two western wannabes is that GHOSTS OF MARS has been "tarted up" in the guise of a science fiction movie. Looking at GHOSTS OF MARS from that perspective, one finds all of the typical western plot devices carefully set in place. A small band of Soldiers ride into an isolated fort to discover all of the inhabitants butchered. Soon after, they learn that there is an overwhelming number of Indians in war paint, outside the fort, getting ready to attack the fort again. Barricading themselves inside the fort, the soldiers try to stay alive until the cavalry arrives.

GHOSTS OF MARS stars Natasha Henstridge as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard, who is assigned to transport a criminal named Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) from a remote Martian mining colony back to a large city, where he will stand trial for murder. Unfortunately, when Ballard and her team arrive in the mining town, they discover that everyone is dead, except for a group of miners that have been taken over by long dormant Martian life forms- intent on ridding their planet of the human invaders. This situation forces all of the non-possessed humans to band together and fight against the ghosts of mars. The supporting cast of GHOSTS OF MARS also features Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, Rosemary Forsyth, Liam Waite, Duane Davis, Lobo Sebastian and Rodney A. Grant.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made GHOSTS OF MARS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is adequate, but fails to impress in any significant way. On top of that, there is something rather odd with the way the movie looks. I don’t know where the problem lies, but watching GHOSTS OF MARS on Blu-ray left me wondering why the cinematography displays a poor depth of field, which causes characters and objects to go in and out of focus at the drop of a hat. Perhaps it is not the cinematography, but some sort of digital processing applied to the image. While it is not as terrible as it sounds, GHOSTS OF MARS isn’t going to make the demo pile anytime soon. Still, I will give the presentation some credit, as many close-ups come across quite snappy, displaying a lot of fine detail. Colors fare better, despite the intentional red shift for the Martian planet setting. Blacks are average and whites seem fine. Contrast and shadow detail are more than adequate. The elements from which GHOSTS OF MARS have been transferred appear relatively clean. Grain is present in the image, but never appears excessive.

GHOSTS OF MARS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Considering that GHOSTS OF MARS has a lot of action sequences and gunfire, it should come as no surprise that the sound design is fairly aggressive, with plenty of activity in the outlying channels. Fidelity is pretty strong, which enhances Carpenter’s rock influenced musical score (which has been realized by the members of Anthrax), not to mention making for convincing sound effects. The bass channel is deep and adds just the right amount of percussion to gunfire and explosions. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD soundtracks are also present, as is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, which are carried over from the DVD release. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Natasha Henstridge. This is actually a fun commentary that finds both participants in very good humor, as they crack jokes while talking about the movie. Featurettes include the following four programs: The Video Diary: Red Desert Nights is raw video footage that gives one a look behind-the-scenes during the production of GHOSTS OF MARS. Also kind of raw is the Scoring Ghosts Of Mars featurette, which shows Carpenter, the composer, collaborating with the members of Anthrax. The SFX Deconstructions shows how a number of the films special effects sequences were envisioned and brought to the screen in various stages, then finally composited together.

GHOSTS OF MARS may not be John Carpenter’s greatest cinematic achievement, but shows why he is a master of making entertainment on a small budget. The Blu-ray presentation has some issues, but for the most part comes across well enough.



Ghosts of Mars [Blu-ray] (2001)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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