Ghosts of Mars

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars is a trouble film. In that, the first time I saw it I thought what the hell is a great director like JC doing with this? 15 years later, I’d watch this again and again at the drop of a hat.

While most Hollywood directors in 2001 were moving forward John was looking backwards, not just into cinema past, but his own past career too. I consider this film John’s final sign off, even though he’s directed since, this seems like his final, tired and warn out statement.

Like a lot of Carpenter’s films this is a disguised western. Set on Mars, with the martian ghosts playing the Indians. But is there more to it than that? There are some wild theories about the politics of the time. And Carpenter was also very ahead of his time when it comes to predicting where America was going with itself (see They Live).

Consider, that we’re going to Mars to mine, to get it’s vital natural resources, consider that we wake up and irate an ancient people – consider that the ancient people are not pleased with us and they set out to attack. Consider (bare with me) that this film is actually about America’s attitude to the middle-east?

It sounds wild, but Carpenter is a very clever man and politically savvy – it wouldn’t surprise me that he got 28 million out of a US studio to make a sly political statement wrapped up in a very old fashioned B movie.

And it is a B movie, it’s funny and rousing at times, it’s one the first films that uses Jason Staitham well (although he was meant to be cast as Desolation Williams). There’s some mad stuff in it, there’s some ropey old fashioned action and there’s a train waiting just on the edge of the desert town.

A small word about Natasha Henstridge, she’s not a great actress, but she’s good in this and she’s naturally one of the best looking girls of the time. On the DVD extras there’s Carpenter and Natasha doing a commentary. JC admits that he was determined to find an angle on Natasha that would make her look more ordinary or ugly even. It was a little challenge that he set for himself while filming. He admits that he couldn’t do it in the end, whatever angle or lighting set up he used, she always looked great.

So, 38 films to go…

Matthew Cooper has written for Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. He was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge and the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize. His first short film starred a then unknown Ewan McGregor and was picked up by Channel Four when Matthew was 19 years old. He’s been a script writer for hire and filmmaker for hire for over 20 years.