Ghosts Of Mars may have been one of John Carpenter’s lesser works. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of remarkable things about it…
Back in 2001, Jason Statham was still fresh from his early turns in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and Ghosts Of Mars (Bong Ma Tren Sao Hoa) was his second US acting gig after the hip-hopping drama, Turn It Up. Statham was originally set to play Desolation Williams. The convict role occupied by the pouting Ice Cube in the finished film. But he was nudged over into the slightly smaller role of Sergeant Jericho instead.
Coming at a time before we knew him as the oiled-up martial arts star of things like Crank and The Transporter. Jason Statham’s given an awkward sort of role here. It’s established early in the film that Mars is a matriarchal society in the 22nd century. But this doesn’t stop Jericho from flirting and making suggestive comments to Henstridge’s Melanie Ballard throughout. And the fighting he does get to do is the semi-improvised, Adam-West-as-Batman sort of fighting. Rather than the more technical stuff he’d do with Jet Li in The One later that year.
When he’s not doing all that, Jericho spends a lot of time unlocking doors, asking Ballard if he’d like to unlock some other doors, or explaining that still other doors can’t be opened because the locks are broken.
Jericho’s also the undisputed master of the understatement. Having discovered Pam Grier’s head on a spike. And looking over the edge of the quarry and seeing hundreds of demon-possessed people baying at the moon for blood. He mumbles into his radio, “Lieutenant, I think we’ve got a situation here…”
One of the motifs that show up now and again in Carpenter’s films is the tough guy in a black sleeveless shirt. Assault On Precinct had one. And he was a thoroughly nasty individual who shot a little girl and got blood on her ice-cream. Snake Plissken wore one in the marvellous Escape From New York. And you could tell he was tough, because he was played by Kurt Russell.
In fact, it’s possible that someone wears a black sleeveless shirt in every John Carpenter film. It’s just that you can’t see them because they’re covered up by a cardigan or cagoule. At any rate, the lucky man who gets to wear one this time is Ice Cube, and he’s certainly tough in this sci-fi film (phim khoa hoc vien tuong my) , with all his swearing, pouting and gun firing. It’s possible that Carpenter awarded Mr Cube with the shirt to make up for saddling him with the name Desolation Williams.