‘Ghosts of Mars’ A Repurposed ‘Escape From’ Sequel With ‘Quatermass and The Pit’ Story Beats?
It’s no secret that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell had further plans for their character Snake Plissken. During the interview rounds for 1996’s Escape From L.A. (the sequel to the cult favorite Escape From New York), the pair commented on the potential third film given the working title of Escape From Earth.
Suggesting the only reasonable next step for Snake would be to leave the planet.
The ending of L.A. seemingly left the world without any technology and thrown into chaos because of this. Instead of a sequel, the film was considered a flop and any future plans for more movies were iced until further notice.
In 2006, there was a rumor making the rounds from JoBlo that Paramount was interested in resurrecting an apocalyptic-fuelled Escape From Earth. We assumed it would connect the series to John’s many other films that dealt with end-of-the-world themes. This would turn out to be untrue but it had us curious whatever happened to the Snake Plissken sequel.
Apparently, it might have been turned into the equally disapointing Ghosts of Mars as it’s been suggested that the film is a repurposed script for a Escape From L.A. sequel. Some have mentioned it’s original title was Escape From Mars. Other information would have us believe that because of the poor recception to the second Plissken film the character was written out of the script entirely and repackaged as an enitrely new film.
Snake was replaced with James “Desolation’ Williams as a stand-in for Kurt Russell’s gruff character.
By the year 2025, the planet Mars, long inhabited by human settlers, has become the manifest destiny of an over-populated Earth. Nearly 640,000 people now live and work all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources. But one of those mining operations has uncovered a deadly mother lode: a long dormant Martian civilization whose warriors are systematically taking over the bodies of human intruders. Lt. Melanie Ballard of the Martian Police Force is on transport assignment to bring James “Desolation” Williams, the planet’s most notorious criminal, to justice. Williams has no plans to make Ballard’s job easy. What begins as a battle of force and wits between cop and criminal soon turns into something more fundamental: a battle for human survival in the realm of the Martian warriors. It’s civilization against civilization as Ballard and Williams join forces in mortal combat with the Ghosts of Mars.
British newcomer Jason Statham is said to have been originally wanted for the role of Desolation but the studio/producers preferred Ice Cube instead. As Cube was better known at the time due to successful films like Friday and Anaconda. The lesser known Statham was relegated to a secondary supporting role as Jericho and didn’t make it out alive for the sequel teaser. Today, Statham is a well established international action star.
It’s hard to deny that Cube’s costumes were a Plissken knock-off to the point of cosplay further fuelling the notion this was formerly Escape From Mars.
Species’ Natasha Henstridge wasn’t the first choice either. As Courtney Love hot off the heels of acting debuts in The People Vs. Larry Flint and Man On The Moon was the original actress cast to play the junkie cop role. There are conflicting stories concerning Love’s exit which includes being replaced due to a broken foot another version is that Love wasn’t giving the effort needed and was let go. Henstridge apparently took over the role a week before production took place as suggested by her boyfriend who also had a role in the film.
Other actresses said to have been wanted for the role included Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente, and Famke Janssen.
It’s possible that Martian “ghost” element was later added by Carpenter when Plissken was removed from the script. There is some evidence that the script was indeed reworked using an existing story.
One potential story source is likely Quatermass And The Pit, a 1967 British film written by Nigel Kneale and produced by Hammer Films. The two scripts have direct similarities the major differences being that Ghosts of Mars is set in a mining town on Mars along with characters being overhauled.
There is a discovery of a mysterious object buried at the site of an extension to the London Underground. Much of the housing around the site was abandoned by its inhabitants 40 years ago because of strange noises and what was believed to be ghosts. Also uncovered nearby are the remains of early prehistoric human ancestors more than five million years old. Realizing that the object is, in fact, an ancient Martian spacecraft. The spacecraft has an intelligence of its own, and once uncovered begins to exert a malign influence, resurrecting Martian memories and instincts buried deep within the human psyche.
Inside the spacecraft, they find the remnants of insect-like creatures, all now dead. When the interior is exposed, a dead locust-like creature that resembles the devil is found. It is determined by Quartermass that these “locusts” are evil Martians who altered the brains of our simian ancestors to eventually lay claim to the Earth.
When Quartermass’s suspicion that the aliens can reactivate the dormant evil in humans is confirmed, all hell breaks loose. In disturbing the craft, they release an invisible force of immense power a strange energy field that sends London into a panic.
Such a similarity in story elements without crediting would suggest a major rewrite to an existing script (Escape From Earth/Escape From Mars?) and enough alteration between the two scripts as to avoid any lawsuit.
It’s extremely likely this may have happened organically. Carpenter is a big fan of British writter Nigel Kneale as John was credited as Martin Quartermass on the Prince of Darkness script. Professor Birack’s institution in the movie was given the name of Kneale University. It’s been cited that Kneale’s works such as Pit, The Quatermass Conclusion, The Road, and The Stone Tape influenced Prince of Darkness which was an homage to him.
Kneale and Carpenter previously worked together on Halloween III: Season of The Witch and the unmade The Creature From The Black Lagoon remake during the 1990s.
Not entirely shocking that Carpenter would return to Kneale’s work for Ghosts of Mars if not slightly more directly this time.
I’m curious, if Escape From L.A. had been a success would we have seen Plissken fighting Martian monsters?
During my digging for information I discovered this lovely Ghosts of Mars concept artwork from Star Trek concept artist John Eaves who worked on the film.