Ghosts Of Mars Blu-ray Review
Ghosts Of Mars comes to UK Blu-ray with a MPEG-4 AVC encode that shows off Carpenter's regular 2.35:1 frame with accuracy. The image is strong and visually robust, coping with the predominantly red and orange-tinged vistas well, without lapsing into smearing or colour-banding. Carpenter's usually immaculately composed picture is well showcased, despite this not being the most captivatingly shot of movies. Gone are his usual roving cameras and his trademark depth. However, the image reveals a certain amount of pleasing vibrancy amid his wildly earthy colour filters and elaborate lighting. Grain is still apparent, but there has definitely been some slight elements of processing and noise reduction. Facial textures seem to vary from scene to scene, although I wouldn't say that the movie suffers much from any overt transfer-tinkering and does still retain a nice, cinematic look.
Colour-wise, as I have said, the palette is largely composed of ruddy hues, occasionally deeply saturated reds and browns for the landscapes and swirling dust clouds, or brightened scarlet for the Martian plague-cloud, or the warped vision of the possessed. Blood is new-school thick, gouty and very red. Skin-tones are variable and there are one or two shots when Henstridge's hair actually looks green as opposed to blonde - but whether this is down to the transfer or was always apparent in the film, I couldn't say. There is one sequence, when Whitlock's own flashback shows her hot-air balloon crash-landing in the desert, that delivers some terrific yellow/orange fireballs of rolling slo-mo explosions that look great in colour, depth and vividness. Contrast is reasonable, but there are times, out on the ridge, say, or in the Martian tunnel, when things are just too red to have any reference point to gauge. Interiors, however, have consistent levels of contrast. The stability of the black levels is also fairly strong and well-maintained. The overwhelming darkness of the sky and the shadows found within the cop-shop and the blighted buildings of the colony are deep and striking. I don't think any detail has been lost within them, either.
Detail in this 1080p incarnation is certainly agreeable, but nothing spectacular. Equipment and clothing appear clean and well-delineated. Certain faces are more visually interesting than others - Joanna Cassidy's, especially, seems to have more lines and texture picked out than many of the others' - and hair and eyes seem to be the province ruled over by Henstridge and Ice Cube. Weirdly, Big Daddy Mars, despite his Kiss-style makeup and his punkish pins, nails, bolts and flesh-scrapings, does not come across as all that clear and detailed. Likewise, the many wounds on show either aren't lingered on for long enough, or just don't register that deeply on the transfer - and I do look for these things, you know. Plus, there are a couple of crowd shots that have details at the extreme frame-edges that appear curiously smudged - only fleetingly, but still slightly noticeable.
Although there is precious little three-dimensionality with this image, there is also no damage to the print and virtually no artefacts or edge enhancement. It is hard to knock a picture as solid as this, but that wacky colour-scheme doesn't make crystal assessment of the transfer all that easy. But this is surely a worthy upgrade from the film's SD equivalent.
It is also hard to fault the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that empowers the film. There may be nothing to sing about regarding its performance, but it certainly provides plenty of bang for your buck when the time calls for it.
The sound design is something that is best played loud. Carpenter collaborated with Thrash group Anthrax for the score, and this certainly comes to dominate the track during a great many of the action scenes. Screaming, gunfire and explosions also have their day in the park and they are well-placed and lent substantial weight and clarity. The spread of sound across the front is wide and detailed and steerage is authentic, without being too elaborate, showy or whip-around. But a problem with the full-on combat scenes is that they can sound too crowded. There is certainly a lot going on - grunts, growls, shots, yells, impacts etc - but, combined with the score, there is a tendency for it all to blur into one wall of sound. Personally, I doubt that this is an error with the lossless mix, but rather fundamental to the original soundscape.
Sub-action is emphatic and nicely rendered. There are metallic crunches and high explosive elements that certainly deliver some oomph, although this is still far from the top tier of .LFE-junkies' nirvana. Voices are always clear, though, so you can catch all of that woeful dialogue and naffly spouted tough-talk. Off-screen chanting, knocks on metal, the wind rustling around the back and other assorted ambient effects are all given their fair due. The track plays loud and aggressive but not at the expense of the smaller things and this is quite nuance-friendly during the quieter moments. The soft tapping on the other side of a bulkhead door is nicely heard around the set-up and there are definitely other effects that are thrown out to have you glancing, involuntarily, over your shoulder. Panning from front to back is rare, and not all that convincing. But this is a track that doesn't seem too intent on impeccable steerage or subtlety. It wants to rock - and it certainly manages to do so.
A good, solid track, folks.
Normally one of the better commentators on disc, John Carpenter, here, is so distracted by having Natasha Henstridge beside him that he can hardly contain his boyish infatuation. And whilst this can't help but endear him a little more to fellow red-blooded males, it does little for a cogent, well thought-out and informative dissection of the film in question. Which is, of course, a great shame. We all want to know what was going through his mind with this project and, consequently, just what had gone wrong with it. But despite a smattering of anecdote and some on-set info regarding the shoot, itself, as well as the in-jokes that can be found within it, this is light, back-slapping and easily disposable. Just listen to how Carpenter congratulates that totally stupid final shot of Henstridge and Ice Cube, as if something great had accidentally come together.
The rest of what is on offer here doesn't really pass muster either.
SFX Deconstructions takes a look at the evolution of the visual effects from storyboard to final image, but there is nothing at all new to learn from this. We've seen this type of lazy filler a gazillion times before, and usually much better and more informative than this.
Scoring Ghosts Of Mars is a six-minute look at the style of Carpenter's music for the film. Now, normally I would take delight in this sort of featurette, since I am a massive fan of many of Carpenter's scores from the past - but this is most definitely not one of them. With his fondness for rock bands and metal finding a potent outlet with the Martian “infected”, the score for Ghosts is brash, grating and a thrashing mess. Basically, I hated it, but fans of this type of thing will undoubtedly enjoy seeing the likes of Anthrax, Buckethead and Steve Vai pop up in this segment.
Video Diary: Red Martian Nights is simply 16 mins or so of footage from the New Mexico shoot. It reveals nothing and has no internal flow, being merely an aimless montage of on-set filming with no critical overview or personal analysis.
Although we have BD-Live capability with this disc, a decent making-of documentary would actually have been more fun than much of what is on offer here. I have no doubt that it would be a fawning, back-slapping self-praise-fest, but it would, at least, have shown us something of the actual production and the methodology that Carpenter afforded it. Better again, would have been to see a full retrospective of the film and the critical drubbing it received - but, then again, seeing the once-great John Carpenter bowing his head in shame and embarrassment would probably prove too upsetting.
Ghosts Of Mars is justifiably derided. It continues a ghastly career-decline from a former master of genre and reveals a treacherous lack of narrative understanding. From a hack filmmaker intent on shoving his exploitation-opus straight to disc, this would be have been true to form and quite acceptable, but from John Carpenter this is just further proof, if ever it were needed, that his golden apple has fallen very far its tree.
A worthless watering-down of what was fundamentally solid potential. Some atmospheric shots interspersed throughout turgid, ochre-tinted tosh can't save this 24-carat clunker. Being harsh on Carpenter for producing drivel like this is totally justified. No-one, but no-one is a bigger fan of his earlier films than me - as my other reviews will bear out - but Ghosts Of Mars is pure dreck that hurts like hell to sit through when you consider the talent that its maker once wielded and what could have been had he still been so inspired.
The intense lack of love for the movie shines through with its lack of interesting bonus material. Apart from the BD-Live, there is nothing here that wasn't available on the SD edition and certainly nothing that offers us anything even remotely rewarding. Ghosts Of Mars is a wretched film by anyone's standards - although obviously still a classic when compared to something from Uwe Boll - and I simply cannot recommend it. From any other director this would be pitiful, but from someone of Carpenter's pedigree this is unforgivable.Unless you are a Carpenter-devotee, this is one to avoid.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.11
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