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John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

In the isolated outpost of Chryse City, Mars, a badly damaged commuter train returns to the station on auto-pilot. Investigators soon discover that the vehicle is deserted, save for a Martian police officer named Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), who has been severely wounded. Demanding an immediate report, the matriarchal Martian rulers hold an exploratory hearing, and Ballard spins quite a tale. She had been sent, along with her commanding officer Helena (Pam Grier), to supervise the transfer of prisoner James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) to a more secure locale. But once inside the jail, Ballard and her companions find several anomalies, not the least of which is the complete absence of all the guards; apparently, a strange force has been unleashed on the surface of the red planet, something with the ability to possess a person's mind and body, converting them into a helpless puppet controlled by an unseen force. Although brimming with expensive-looking costumes and sets, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars has a darker, grittier feel than much of the director's recent work. The film is part ghost story and part war flick, and contains a great deal of suspense and action. Or, more correctly, it contains a great deal of suspense followed by a great deal of action. As always, Carpenter is confident and sure behind the camera, giving us a film that looks consistently exquisite, if uncomplicated from a technical standpoint. But even with his meticulous preparation and attention to detail, it's difficult to pinpoint where this film ranks in Carpenter's canon. There are none of the usual Carpenter trademarks that die-hard fans have come to expect, and Ghosts feels more like homage to the genres of the past, including the western (Carpenter's acknowledged favorite genre) and the beloved zombie flicks of George Romero. Nonetheless, the film's excellent art and production design cannot be overpraised. Filmed entirely at night, the sense of Mars as a real place came through quite clearly, and that's no small feat. Columbia TriStar has released Ghosts of Mars is a handsome Special Edition DVD, although the platter feels a little too thin on supplements to warrant such a moniker. The anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) is gorgeous, along with the DD 5.1 audio. Features include two featurettes, a "Video Diary," and a hilarious but completely uninformative commentary track from Carpenter and star Natasha Henstridge. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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