One expects certain things sitting down to watch a John Carpenter movie. The acting needs to be stiff, the dialog over-the-top, the effects appropriately cheesy, and when makeup is required, it must be excessively gruesome. Ghosts of Mars, co-written and directed by Carpenter, delivers on all counts.
The basic plot follows Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), a policewoman and survivor of a recent attack on a Martian outpost. Ballard spends the vast majority of the film recounting the events that led to the death of the rest of her squad (portrayed by Pam Grier, Clea Duvall and Jason Statham), and council interrogating her are none too amused by her tale.
Why would they be? Her tale is full of spirits invading the bodies of humans. The spirits convince the humans to mutilate themselves and murder the non-infected. And, to make things that much more difficult, killing an infected human just allows the Martian spirit to roam free once more and infect a new host. It's not your everyday sort of problem, but the film does take place on Mars.
Ballard's team was initially sent to the tiny outpost from their Martian headquarters to bring back a prisoner, the dreaded James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube). However, once they realize what is happening with the infected humans, they turn to Williams and his merry band of thugs for help. That's when the bloodshed, violence, and foul language occur.
In short, it's basically a low- to mid-level B-movie. It's got an improbable scenario, a couple of attractive women, some death, a moderate amount of violence, middling gore, and none-too-great effects. There's also talk about how the future is ruled by women and how to get ahead, women low on the totem pole must sleep with their female bosses.
Ghosts of Mars has everything it needs to be a top-level B-movie, but never quite goes far enough down the road in any direction, particularly in terms of the plot. Why anyone in the film acts in the manner they do is impossible to decipher; there were certainly ways to keep everyone on the squad alive if anyone on the squad had taken the time to contemplate their actions.
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release also fails to excel. The black levels are very good, which is necessary in a film that is so dark, and there is plenty of detail, but from time to time there appears to be an issue with the focus. While it is possible that the film was shot with the intent of having only a portion of some shots in focus, it seems wrong upon viewing it. The issue certainly isn't one of depth of field, there are moments when part of someone's uniform will be sharp, but other parts are not. It is also an issue only inconsistently, making it that much more disturbing. The TrueHD 5.1 channel sound however, is quite strong, with good use of bass and the surrounds.
The extras included on the disc are relatively minimal. There is a feature commentary with Henstridge and Carpenter, as well as some behind-the-scenes featurettes. These behind-the-scenes looks are most notable for being mainly just “looks.” There is no narrator to take the viewer through the filming in the desert or to deconstruct the special effects, they are just shown and then finished with.
The bonus features seem to suffer from the same issue as the feature itself – a strong sense that they could have, should have, and with a little more effort would have, been stronger.