Ghosts of Mars [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Chris Gould (25th January 2017).
The Film

***This is an A/V and Extras review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE***

John Carpenter blends horror and sci-fi in this action adventure set on Mars in the year 2176 as Martian police battle supernatural forces unleashed by a deep mining facility.

Video

Sonyís own US release of the film, was adequate back in 2009, but isn't terribly impressive in 2017. A comparison with the older release reveals more fine detail and superior grain resolution, indicating that the image has not been subjected to the same level of filtering as Sony's disc, while the relative lack of film artefacts also comes as a welcome surprise. Overall detail levels arenít too bad all things consideredóit's certainly better than previous releases in this regardóeven if they do serve to highlight the weakness of the cheap sets and effects. Compression is also very good.

I first saw the film theatrically, but don't profess to remember much about that showing so I can't attest to the veracity of the palette as it is presented here. What I will say is that colour rendition is handled much better on this Blu-ray release than it was on DVD. The latter format has a notoriously difficult time with the colour red, particularly when it has to render multiple shades within a single scene (bleed is commonplace). As you can imagine thatís a bit of a problem for a film set on the red planet, but it's not an issue here. Itís hard to gauge the accuracy of the rest of the palette as the red glow permeates pretty much every scene, but it looks natural enough for the most part. Black levels are suitably inky and a fair degree of shadow detail is retained, lending the image some depth. Sure, the dated master is the limiting factor, but this Blu-ray release still represents a welcome upgrade from the currently available standard and high-definition alternatives, offering small but appreciable gains across the board.

For the technically minded among you the 2.40:1 1080/24p transfer is AVC encoded, once again by David McKenzie. Mr. McKenzieís involvement pretty much guarantees that this is as good as the film is going to look on home video (at least with the current master).

Audio

The disc includes two audio tracks: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation and an LPCM 2.0 Stereo affair. Best I can tell the film was originally released with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, so Iím not entirely sure why the 2.0 track has been included. Iím assuming itís a recreation of the analogue Dolby Stereo that would have accompanied the digital 5.1 track theatrically, but who knows? In any case I stuck with the Master Audio track for the duration.

Although not the liveliest of tracks surround utilisation is fairly consistent for the majority of the runtime, offering up environmental effects such as wind and the eerie sound of the disembodied Martian spirits, and providing room for the heavy rock score to breathe. Dialogue is delivered cleanly and almost universally from the centre channel, while the various explosions and gunshots are reinforced by some reasonably potent, if not earth-shattering, bass. The various elements are well balanced, although some sound a lot flatter and 'canned' than others, which makes for a rather uneven presentation at times. Even so, it's a respectable enough track all things considered.

English subtitles are included.

Extras

Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge: This is undoubtedly one of the discís highlights. Carpenter has long been one of my favourite commentators thanks to his fantastic chat-tracks with Kurt Russell (and indeed Roddy Piper and Peter Jason), and this track is yet another free-flowing affair with some good-natured banter and plenty of anecdotal information about all aspects of the shoot. Carpenter and Henstridge are both a bit on the cheeky side, which adds a bit of edge to the track, but it's all done in good fun and makes for a fairly enjoyable experience (even if they do think the film is better than it is).

The Guardian Interview with John Carpenter - Part Two, 1984-1994 (40:45): In part two of this interview (part one can be found on the Indicator Series Vampires Blu-ray) Carpenter continues his frank discussion about his career with Nigel Floyd. This segment of the interview opens up the floor to the audience, although the quality of their questions is highly variable.

Video Diary: Red Desert Nights (16:58): Although initially buoyed by the running time, I quickly realised that this featurette was a bit of a lame duck. It's basically quarter of an hour's worth of hand-held camera footage of the on-set shenanigans, but without any narration or interviews to contextualise to the events being documented.

Scoring Ghosts of Mars (6:22): This short featurette goes behind-the-scenes at the recording session with John Carpenter, the thrash band Anthrax, and various guest musicians (including Buckethead and Steve Vai). Although there's no interview footage, we do at least get to hear the guys chatting about the various takes and such.

Special Effects Deconstruction (6:32): This sounded fairly promising, but turned out to be largely unsatisfying. It's basically just a series of storyboards, matte paintings, models and green screen sessions set to the film's score. There's no explanation as to how any of the effects were accomplished or any discussion with the SFX guys.

Concept Art Gallery (0:23): This one is pretty self explanatory!

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:07): The film's original trailer is included in HD, complete with Keith David voice-over and a radically different soundtrack. Surprisingly, it actually does a pretty good job of promoting the film.

Exclusive 24-page booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton, and a 2001 on-set interview with John Carpenter: The booklet is exclusive to the initial limited dual-format release of the film (7,000 units), so if you want to get your hands on a copy you'd best not hang around.

Overall

As an honest-to-God fan of John Carpenterís work it saddens me to say that I find Ghosts of Mars extremely disappointing. Prior to this viewing I hadnít seen the film since the 2009 release of the US Blu-ray, and to be completely honest the intervening years havenít done much to change my low opinion. That aside, this Blu-ray is a solid enough catalogue release hampered by the limitations of the source material. The audio-visual elements are acceptable, if not outstanding, but apart from the commentary and interview the extras are uninspired. That's not really Powerhouse's fault though, as they've done the best that they could with the available materials. Even so, I'm afraid that Ghosts of Mars falls into that band of Carpenter films that are for die-hard completists only.

View screenshots via the following links:
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