I don't have too many fond movie-going memories of the summer of 2001, since most of the films from that summer sucked (I will list a bunch of them in a second, but remember What's The Worst That Can Happen? Yeah - that's a pretty typical "Summer 2001" movie in my mind). But one wonderful August evening, some other friends and I worked on a short film for most of the day, and then three of us went to see John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars - one of them for his second viewing.
There were three other people in the theater, all of whom had walked out by the time it had reached its third act. Alone, we were free to laugh at the bad model work and confusing editing, and cheer like assholes whenever Big Daddy Mars appeared and made his death metal howl. The movie was... less than good (at the time I dubbed it Carpenter's worst ever), but goddamn that night was a blast.
Looking at the trailer for the first time in years, it's really no surprise that the movie didn't find an audience, as it might be one of the least appealing spots in history. The weird split screen and constant flash editing suggest a marketing team that was grasping at straws, and even though it's two minutes long they don't accurately depict what the movie is about - it's only because I have seen it that I understand what it is (a Mars-set Assault on Precinct 13, basically). And that summer was pretty action-heavy: the first Fast and Furious movie (back when it had "The"s in the title!), Jurassic Park 3, Rush Hour 2, Swordfish, Planet of the Apes, Tomb Raider, Mummy Returns, and Pearl Harbor had all come and gone, so by late August, a few explosions and a guy firing a gun weren't likely to wow anyone. The trailer even half-asses Carpenter's involvement - the voiceover from Keith David (!) just says "From the master of terror" over a zoomed-in shot of Joanna Cassidy, with too much time passing before he says Carpenter's name along with the title.
Hell, it doesn't even make the location particularly clear. Apart from the title and David's inaccurate "a million miles from home," there's nothing to suggest that they're anywhere but some bunker in the desert - no spacesuits, no zero gravity nonsense, even spaceships/shuttles are rare. Perhaps it's because this was the third Mars title to come along after (duds) Mission To Mars and Red Planet, but again, with all the other Earth-set action films, you'd think they'd play up the space angle since that was the one thing that summer DIDN'T really have.
Still, I've been meaning to revisit the film (it's been so long I can practically count it as a new film for Horror Movie A Day), and it has plenty of defenders, such as our own Phil. And with the Curiosity landing, now's as good a time as any. I'm much more likely to enjoy it a second time around (hell I didn't even know who Jason Statham was at the time), and if I knew when I first saw it that it would be Carpenter's last film for a DECADE I might have approached it differently. What about you fine folks? Guilty pleasure? Irredeemable mess? Flawed gem? Weigh in below!