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GHOSTS OF MARS

SYNOPSIS:
Around 200 years in the future, a matriarchal human society has been established on Mars, although not all of the planet has yet been terraformed to make it fit for human habitation. In the Martian outpost of Chryse City, a badly damaged commuter train returns on auto-pilot, deserted except for policewoman Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), who has been severely wounded and chained to a bed railing. Asked to explain herself, Ballard tells the Martian authorities that she was part of a team sent to the mining town of Shining Canyon to supervise the transfer of suspected murderer James 'Desolation' Williams (Ice Cube) to stand trial in the city. Upon arrival, however, they found the town and its jail deserted, while further investigation uncovered an evil threatening all human life on the planet.

On the most obvious level, John Carpenter's latest action-horror extravaganza is a headbanger's delight. There are explosions and gun battles galore, plus a rousing rock score composed by the director: the evident glee of this comic-book inferno is hard to resist, especially once the climax kicks in and hordes of pierced, scarred zombies start swarming across the Martian sands like groupies at a Marilyn Manson concert. Yet these moments of sensory overload are carefully positioned within the kind of story structure Carpenter has been refining since the '70s - tracking the shifting alliances within a ragtag group of heroes as they're besieged by nebulous enemies within a network of confined spaces. As in most Carpenter movies, this involves extensive use of the subjective camera: as we move between the perspectives of various human characters as well as their alien attackers, the ingenious use of flashbacks gives us the physical sensation of following multiple paths through a maze-like narrative (as in first-person shoot-'em-up computer games). The film is also enlivened by its throwaway decision to portray human society on Mars as a matriarchy. Does this gimmick make Ghosts Of Mars feminist, or sexist? Neither, really. Carpenter obviously appreciates the erotic appeal of good-looking women kicking ass, but he basically accepts his tough-as-nails heroine on her own terms, rather than archly parading her as a girl power fantasy. Though Natasha Henstridge can be a slightly wooden actress, her coolness serves the film well; the fine supporting cast is carefully varied, and the unusual power dynamics give all the character relationships an original tang. Some viewers will regret that the undercurrents of queer and interracial desire are never followed through, but overt romance is pretty unimportant here anyway. Jason Statham yaps at Melanie like a mongrel on heat, but he's mainly comic relief - a foil for the heavier masculinity of Ice Cube (who combines Vin Diesel's gruff sociopath from Pitch Black with a touch of Forest Whitaker's mystical Ghost Dog). The emotional heart of the film is the growing bond between Melanie and Desolation, a standard buddy-movie ploy given new life by its transposition across gender lines: beginning as antagonists, the pair establish a wary mutual respect, even tenderness, that's all the more touching for being purely platonic.
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See the TRAILER

GHOSTS OF MARS (MA)
(US)

CAST: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier

PRODUCERS: Sandy King

DIRECTOR: John Carpenter

SCRIPT: Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gary B. Kibbe

EDITOR: Paul C. Warschilka

MUSIC: Anthrax, John Carpenter

PRODUCTION DESIGN: William A. Elliott

RUNNING TIME: TBA

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Col Tristar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 25, 2001







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