The LBL Special: Christmas on Mars (2008)

Hello folks and happy X-mas Eve to you all. We're really getting things festive around the Lair. I've got all my little helpers wrapping presents, egging the nog, and trying to figure out what figgy pudding is so they can bring me some now! While Christmas on the moon is always a festive event where we don't forget the reason for the season (buying each other lots of cool crap), Christmas on other planets is not always the same. Take Mars for example. Today and tomorrow we'll take a look at how they celebrate the Holiday season on the red planet. 

Today we start off with a flick that was long in the making. It took seven years for Wayne Coyne and the fellows from The Flaming Lips to get this project finished. I have been awaiting it's release ever since I heard about the picture. Coyne is always one of the most fascinating people in the world of rock these days, and I was deeply intrigued to see what this flick would be like. Well, now I know and I'm still deeply intrigued about how they do....

Christmas on Mars (2008) starring Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Fred Armisen, Adam Goldberg, and Steve Burns. Directed by Wayne Coyne, Brad Beesley and George Salisbury.

Sometime in the future, the planet of Mars has been colonized by an American expedition. They live in a ramshackle station on the surface of the red planet, and it's Christmas eve. Major Syrtis (Drozd) is trying to organize some Christmas caroling for the night to celebrate the holiday and the birth of the first child on the planets surface. A mother who has been kept in isolation is due to deliver the baby which has been conceived immaculately by means of science. 

When the stations oxygen and gravitational systems begin to fail, collectively the crew begin to suffer from mental instabilities. Syrtis begins to have strange and horrifying visions concerning the birth of the child, but the crew is rescued when an alien super being (Coyne) shows up. The alien fixes their ailing systems, and even becomes the new Santa for their celebration. As the birth approaches, the crew begin to gain understanding about the universe and the magic and tragedy of their place in it. 

Film Facts

--The film once contained cameos from Elijah Wood (of Hobbiton) and Isaac Brock (of the band Modest Mouse), but these scenes were cut. The DVD does contain an easter egg of the scene with Brock and Adam Goldberg. (However I have yet to find it or any info on how to get there, bah!)

--Many of the sets were built in the backyard of Wayne Coyne's house. 

--The Grammy winning song "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)" was once part of the score to this film. When the scene that featured it was cut, the song was placed on the Flaming Lips album "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots".

The Bug Speaks

The Flaming Lips were a band that I did not think much of to start with. Back in the '90's when they had their "crossover" hit "She Don't Use Jelly" I found the song to be annoying at best. It was years down the road that a friend of mine played "The Soft Bulletin" and "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" for me and I was hooked. (That and their incredible cover of Kylie Minogue's "I Just Can't Get You Out Of My Head") I became a devoted fan of the Lips and count them among my favorite bands, but I do consider them an acquired taste. Much like Radiohead, I feel that there's a band that there's no middle ground on, you love them or hate them. 

I feel one of the reasons for this is that their blend of pop, psychedelia, and philosophy can be heady and a little obtuse at times. More often than not, I like the feeling of  the songs rather than have any idea exactly what Coyne is going on about. The same applies to this film. While it wears it's heart of it's sleeve with a message that strikes of optimism in the face of horrendous odds, it's sleeve is also muddied, ripped, and multicolored. 

The film is both a mess and a near perfect realization of the music the band has been putting out for year. The dreamlike qualities to the scenes evokes influences such as Eraserhead or Tetuso: The Iron Man, but in it's quieter moments there is a still beauty that neither of those films contain. It is not a masterwork like Lynch's opus, but rather a film but together by people more concerned with the idea of making a movie than the finished product. Hence the direction and acting is weak throughout, and the plot-line such as it is makes little to no sense. I'm sure my synopsis reflects that seeing as it was laborious to try and figure out a way to sum the film up. 

I should probably get into some specifics. Steven Drozd, the bands multi-instrumentalist/ composer/arranger, does a fine job pretty much carrying the film. Other than the band the film does contain a few other recognizable faces.  Fred Armisen of SNL shows up as a stong voice of optimism in the a scene that I feel virtually defines the film, and Adam Goldberg, he of Hebrew Hammer fame, plays the other side of the coin in his turn as the station's depressed counselor. Also making a very strange appearance is Steve Burns. It bothered me every time he showed up because I had no idea where I knew him from. When I found out that Steve was the guy from kiddy show "Blue's Clues", it nearly blew my mind. The rest of the cast come and go without ever really making an impact. They seem to mostly be there to drive the picaresque set pieces that Drozd's Syrtis travels through. The noteable exception is Mark DeGraggenreid as the crazy redneck captain. While his acting is pretty much horrible, he seemed like a nutzo version of a captain from a 1950's sci-fi drive in special which gave the film another dimension to draw on.  

Lastly I have to devote a bit of time to Wayne Coyne as the Alien Super Being. He speaks not a line of dialog, but carries his part off well with the air of insanity that follows the singer around all the time. When he don's the Santa costume in the end portions of the film it reads both as a nod to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and another piece in the symbology of the movie which only makes true sense in Coyne's head. He also wrote the flick as well as had his hand in direction. I wish the interview footage with him in the Bonus Features had shed some light on what Coyne felt the film's meaning was, but he was typically evasive when asked. 

This is a film that when I started watching it I didn't know what to think. By the end there were spots in it that I wanted to watch again, and I have a feeling it's a movie I will go back to many times over whether it's the holiday season or not. It's a tough nut to crack, and not everyone will get enjoyment out of it. To anyone who is a Lips fan, I say go out and get this one. To the uninitiated, well, I'm frankly not sure what you might think of it. It is a movie that has at it's center a good premise and noble intentions, but wrapped in strange visuals and oddball dialog, it's just the kind of Christmas present you would expect from The Flaming Lips. 

Bug Rating

Here's the Trailer:

And a Clip of the Flaming Lips doing the venerable Christmas Classic "White Christmas"

See you folks tomorrow with a last Christmas goodie. Now I have to get myself to sleep so that Santa will come and brings me lots of genre film goodies.

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