Christmas on Mars, the low-budget, psychedelic, science-fiction film directed by Flaming Lips ringleader Wayne Coyne and recently released on DVD and iTunes, was dangerously close to being nothing more than an urban legend. Hatched by Coyne as a quasi-crackpot scheme to break out of the Lips' creative straitjacket of recording and touring, Christmas on Mars' production began in 2001, and the shooting went on and on and on. Steven Drozd, the band's drummer-cum-musical polymath, who also stars in the film as depressed Mars colonist Major Syrtis, says the delay in completing the film was a result of the group's unanticipated commercial success.
'Honestly, I thought it would be finished earlier," he says. 'I think Wayne did too. But when Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) came out, we thought we'd tour for six months or whatever and then we'd be done and Wayne could finish the movie. But it ended up being a lot more successful than any of us actually thought. It took us to a whole new level, and the next thing you know you're touring for three years. And that's why the movie got put on hold. And now that it is done, I'm like, "I sure am glad that f***ing thing is done.'"
Drozd says his relief is shared by both ardent fans and casual observers who have been following the film's progress for years. 'People actually got to the point that they were just totally agitated about it," he says. 'They were like, "I think it's a hoax!'"
Filmed largely in Coyne's backyard complex and using scavenged materials for sets and props, what began as a modest production of Little Rascals proportions turned into an elaborate (but still low-budget) epic, featuring cameos by real actors, including Steven Burns, the former host of Blues Clues and collaborator with Drozd on an upcoming record of kids music, and Adam Goldberg.
'For years [Wayne] had been wanting to make a movie, and I think in his mind " over time " it was like, "I love Christmas, I love these science-fiction films, I love the idea of human triumph,'" Drozd says.
The plot of Christmas on Mars plays out like one of the band's famously elaborate song titles, riffed on by a Star Chamber of enthusiastic stoner musicians and film geeks.
In the near-future, a group of Mars colonists are anxiously awaiting the birth of the first baby on the planet, who is technically being incubated in a futuristic test tube attended by the mother (Michelle Martin-Coyne, Wayne's wife). Things get hazy, however, with the arrival of a green-skinned space being in Sgt. Pepper drag (Coyne), and then it gets complicated.
It's a fitfully beautiful film, and Drozd cites longtime Lips visual collaborator George Salisbury for the quality and distinctiveness of the special effects. The acting can be rough and the film, at times, slow. What it lacks in slickness, it more than makes up for in weird, absurdist humor and visual invention. In one memorable scene, a marching band of vagina-headed musicians makes an appearance, and the film is rife with enough vaginal images to make Georgia O'Keeffe blush. (Coyne's lyrics also bear out a vaginal obsession.)
Parts of Christmas recall the cinema of Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain), and Drozd says Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and the black-and-white films of David Lynch were inspirations to Coyne. The music is amazing and combines bombastic psychedelia with bombastic orchestral music, in particular the works of Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets.
"Neptune the Mystic," Drozd says, naming one of the suite's movements. 'If you hear that, you'll go, "Ohhhhh, I see where the Lips got that one style for that one piece of music."
- The Flaming Lips released the long-awaited, low-rent sci-fi film Christmas on Mars just in time for the holidays.