“Did I hear right?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Ghosts of Mars! – Holy Fuck!”
I do not know if it is possible to do a double take within one’s internal monologue. But if it is...
I am seated here in the GFT. First Minister Alex Salmond is the guest of Kapow! – the Glasgow Film Festival’s comics, sci-fi and fantasy division – their GEEK Night Special. He has just announced that the film he has chosen us geeks to watch is: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. Indeed, he has had to cut short a meeting with the Swedish Ambassador to get here, the traffic was bad.
Opposite sits his interviewer – Mark Millar, Glasgow’s comics supremo and Kapow! co-curator: “So, why this film, Alex?” For those of us who have seen the film, the question might as well be followed by a crescendo of backwards strings. My God, are the rumours true? Is this man out to ruin Scotland? Is he even a man at all, or some batrachian mer-brute, sprung from Lovecraftian, Linlithgonian nightmare? What else could explain such a vile filmic selection?
“Well, the first thing to say is that it is an incredibly bad film.” Ecce Homo – my faith in Independence is restored.
In fact, as Alex and Mark’s introductory chat and audience questions continues, Millar’s description of Salmond as “First Minister of Fandom” seems more and more apposite. He knows that Carpenter co-wrote Dark Star with Dan O’Bannon, and that he turned down the opportunity to direct Top Gun. I don’t know these things off the top of my head,
and I certainly don’t have a small model of 7/9 from Star Trek: Voyager on my Christmas tree. He did get the name of Natasha Henstridge’s character in Species wrong, but I’ve had to look this up myself – I guess he really is human after all.
I suspect that if Salmond was prosecuting a Yes-vote on all nerds joining him to set up a new country on Arran, he would probably have it in the bag by now. He chats about seeing both broadcasts of the first ever episode of Dr Who, and reading Justice League of America when he was wee. His original choice for a film to show us tonight was Quatermass and the Pit. Originally a classic BBC serial, it was remade later by Hammer. I’ve never seen it. It is reputedly top-notch. But Salmond thought we would have more fun watching Ghosts of Mars, which he, interestingly, sees as Carpenter’s homage to Quatermass. Ghosts of Mars, however, is no classic.
I’ve now seen Ghosts of Mars four times: twice pretty much against my will. Carpenter has a special place in many people’s hearts for such classics as The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. And for many people, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars also has a special place – as the large spud of globular cholesterol that once almost caused them to have a cinematic coronary.
The film is truly dire. It is the only film I know to contain a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, and it brings new meaning to the phrase “Ice Cube in Red Desert Combats”. Mars is in the process of being terraformed, when contact mysteriously begins to be lost with outlying settlements. Miners have opened a Pandora’s Box, and are now facing consequences they never could have expected (“It’s like Britain under Thatcher” Millar quips). Ghosts of the ancient Martians have been realised, possessing many of the colonists, and slowly turning them into extras from 90s Aussie kids serial The Tribe. They are lead by their corpse-painted leader: imagine that Eric Draven and Top Dollar from The Crow took a break from beating the living Goth out of each other and instead had a giant lanky baby. In Ghosts of Mars, such a being now stalks the planet, with his blood curdling, Fozzy Bear inspired battle cry “WAKA WAKA WAKAAAARRRRR!!”
Unwittingly, in step Natasha Henstridge and a pre-beetle brow Jason Statham – Mars cops: armed and ready to deliver wooden dialogue – on a mission to transport criminal James “Desolation” Williams – played, with some of the best pet lip-based acting I’ve ever seen, by Ice Cube. Soon, the bad acting is everywhere, and it’s time escape (from Mars) or die (like Carpenter’s career did for nine years after this film was made).
As an ill-judged late night shite-fest, Ghosts of Mars is an unremitting slog for even the most dedicated connoisseur of Bad Film. As a cinema experience, with a rotund and charismatic nationalist trekkie at the helm, it’s a surprising hoot. I had a great time, as did the audience, to my reckoning. If Nicola Sturgeon approaches Mark Millar, suggesting a special screening of Battlefield Earth, what could my answer otherwise be, but: Yasssssssssss!
NB: The pro-independence sentiments expressed in this piece are the authors own, and should not be taken as representative of the attitudes of the Guardian staff. At any rate, it’s only a bit of salt to bring out the flavour: if you want to go to a Pink Floyd gig hosted by Alistair Darling then write about it, I’ll be grabbing the copy with gusto.