(Dir. Wayne Coyne, 2008)
Okay, so it didn’t take as long as Guns ‘N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” but Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne has been plugging the release of CHRISTMAS ON MARS since the dawn of this decade. After some festival screenings here and there, the film finally just dropped on DVD and it proves to be every bit the space oddity the Oklahoman art rockers have been promising.
What wasn’t expected though was that the film has no vocal pop songs on its soundtrack, just reams of ambient embellishments that mostly serve as incidental music. So don’t expect a Beatles-eque romp unless the idea of watching MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR with the songs edited out appeals to you.
In a scenario reminiscent of sci-fi staples like ALIEN, 2001, and the lesser known John Carpenter cult curio DARK STAR, a team of astronauts work to colonize Mars in the near future (2052?) while a baby is being birthed by extremely unconventional means which inspire qrotesque fetus hallucinations (think ERASERHEAD). This is mostly presented in grainy black and white shot on 16 MM film on makeshift sets making it resemble an art school project. Bright color sometimes blurry, sometimes jarringly vivid, does come into it in pointed places making it also resemble home movies of an acid test.
The birth is timed for Christmas eve so the colonists which include Lips members Stephen Drozd (pictured left - presumably the protagonist), Michael Ivins, and Kliph Scurlock plan an impromptu pageant to mark the event. A Martian played by Coyne painted green with antennas (described by one character as looking like something “that crawled out of Godzilla’s ass”) appears and is recruited to don a Santa Clause suit. Dialogue consists of ponderings such as:
“Humans aren’t meant to live in outer space; it destroys your internal beliefs…makes you think about ‘where is Heaven when you’re in outer space?'”
“I’ve got such a bad feeling that it should make you have a bad feeling.”
(shout-out to STAR WARS?)
“Space is cold, unfeeling, and mean. It crushes all the little things like a moth on a window sill.”
The rising conflict through all this psycho-babble occurs with a capacitor malfunction that threatens their oxygen supply. But with Coyne’s E.T.-esque chest light you can expect a Martian Christmas miracle! None of the Flaming Lips members are good actors (Coyne conquers this by not speaking at all) but there are a few talented thespian folks who ostensibly as fan favors lend a hand.
Adam Goldberg (DAZED AND CONFUSED, 2 DAYS IN PARIS) as “Mars psychologist” has a great scene describing a Lynchian dream about a marching band that all had heads of human genitals, and SNL’s Fred Armison has a nice casual cameo credited as “Philosophical and Hymn-Singing Astronaut”.
Emulating the Russian sci-fi of the 60’s (the likes of which Francis Ford Coppola was enlisted by Roger Corman to rework for American audeinces - NEBO ZOVYOT which became BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN), and distilling dystopian elements down to lazy shoe-gazing isn’t quite the space pop opera cinema that I anticipated.
Artists though should constantly thwart expectations and dive into different mediums with different ideas not caring about consequences so it’s hard, or downright impossible, for me to dismiss or dislike this effort. CHRISTMAS ON MARS may gain cool credit as a ironic holiday late night movie to put on after feasts of food and other altering substances are consumed in seasons to come but for now I can’t get past that it’s just weird for weirdness-sake.