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John Carpenter on Mars

By John Thonen     November 20, 1999

The wheels are beginning to turn at Storm King Productions, home of director John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) and his producer-wife Sandy King (VAMPIRES). An official announcement is expected soon for a now tentative spring 2000 production start on Carpenter's 20th film, the evocatively titled, GHOSTS OF MARS. The science fiction action-thriller is reported to be the first of a multi-picture deal Carpenter will soon sign with Screen Gems, the recently revived offshoot of Columbia Pictures, which itself is a branch of Sony Pictures.

Last year at this time, Carpenter was riding the crest of a modest comeback: following the back-to-back disappointments of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and ESCAPE FROM LA, the Halloween '98 release of VAMPIRES opened #1 at the box office and would more than recoup its production costs in its first week of release. The final tally for the film was solid, if unspectacular, and strong video sales made it clear once again that there was still an audience for the former young wunderkind, who turned 50 not long before the film's release.

In spite VAMPIRES' success, there was considerable talk at the time that the film might be its director's swan song. Some rumor mongers cited supposed health problems; other pointed out an undeniable sense of ennui in Carpenter interviews at the time. Both versions seem obvious gossip now, as Carpenter prepares for the likely arduous production of his next film, the first non-sequel derived from an original Carpenter script since 1988's THEY LIVE.

Details remain sketchy regarding GHOSTS OF MARS, but what has leaked out seems promising. Despite its galactic locale, the film will reportedly eschew most sci-fi trappings, using its setting mostly as a method for Carpenter to again tell a tale of survival in an isolated and desolate locationa common facet in his film oeuvre. Producer Sandy King has described the film as 'Zulu on Mars,' a reference to the classic 1964's action epic that pitted a handful of British soldiers against thousands of Zulu warriors. This hint of the film's storyline suggests another common presence in Carpenter's films, elements of the American western. Films as disparate as the director's ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13, THE THING, and PRINCE OF DARKNESS all bear more than a passing resemblance to numerous cinema renderings of cowboys defending a remote fort from marauding Indians.

GHOSTS OF MARS' tale of space colonists--200 years in the future, trapped on a dry, barren, world and fighting their possessed comrades--would seem another variation of a common theme of one of the industry's most iconoclastic and underrated directors.

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