Music Features

The Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars

Christmas on Mars is the stuff of legend, the kind of project often talked about in hopeful hushed whispers, with the underlying probability that it would never be seen by anyone. Seven years in the making, tension has mounted. For years Flaming Lips shows have been punctuated by individuals parading around the stage in Santa Claus and alien uniforms with only a brief trailer to confirm that Lips’ leader Wayne Coyne’s pet project might actually manifest itself on celluloid. I actually forgot about it entirely until I viewed a more recent trailer a couple of months ago.  Needless to say, I was interested again.

The film premiered at Bumbershoot Festival earlier this year and should be on DVD by the holidays. I experienced it in New York’s KGB Theater, basically a small, dark, head-scraping box, but at least I was wished a “Merry Christmas” by the usher. The film begins with Wayne explaining the birth of the project, apparently as either a dream his mother had or a mash-up of movies that she mistakenly thought was one feature. He also warns us that the movie will be played LOUD. We never actually see the Flaming Lip’s playing their instruments, but the music is one of the most important parts of this endeavor. All instrumental (except a touching take on Silent Night) and mostly atmospheric with occasional the occasional fanfare, it’s not just a soundtrack, but a score.

The film is as weird as you may expect and a bit more profane, but the plot is surprisingly linear and actually makes sense. Make no mistake; this is no prolonged music video, but an actual film. On a grainy black and white Mars, General Syrtis (drummer Steve Drozd) is part of the disheartened crew. As hope of their survival grows bleaker a mysterious, silent alien (Coyne) appears and is drafted to wear a Santa suit in order to spread yule-time cheer. On a certain level, this could work as a conventional Hollywood film. The visuals, which are surreal and at times genuinely creepy, and the score are what really make Christmas on Mars a Flaming Lips experience. Unlike their live show, this is not an all out assault on the senses. The pace seems deliberately unhurried with colors used very sparingly, but when they are used they are trippingly oversaturated.

Look sharp for Will Armisen, Isaac Brock, Adam Goldberg and a few other surprise guests. They all try their best at acting and its good enough for such a low-budget production. For fans of the band, sci-fi or experimental films this will be a delight. With albums like Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin, I’ve always thought that any of their material could easily transfer to the theater. For the Lips this is a bizarrely natural new frontier that left me ready for Xmas three months in advance.