The Flaming Lips at All Tomorrow’s Parties 2004 / photo by David Greenwald
Say what you will about the Flaming Lips, there’s no denying that the greying Oklahoma City act is one of rock’s most colorful bands. They’ve written songs about pink robots, giraffes and Superman; they released an album, Zaireeka, as a set of four discs meant to be played simultaneously; and live, frontman/madman Wayne Coyne routinely walks over and onto the heads of their audiences, Jesus-like, in a giant plastic bubble. On the way into the L.A. premiere of the band’s long-awaited film debut, Christmas On Mars, I couldn’t help noticing the lengthy line of earnest fans dressed in Santa costumes and Halloween leftovers and feel my Grinchy critic’s heart grow two sizes. It grew larger yet after I downed a Belvedere cocktail and chewed through half a bag of complimentary popcorn as the Lips’ underrated At War With The Mystics reverberated through the Montalban Theater. But then the film started.
Christmas On Mars is, in many ways, an outright rejection of everything that makes the Flaming Lips great. A drudging, laconic narrative of on-edge astronauts celebrating a Martian Christmas Eve with an alien visiter (Coyne, of course, complete with antennae) filmed almost entirely in grainy black-and-white, the film eschews the band’s psychadelic sci-fi bent for, well, close-ups of dudes talking. About being on the space station. And worse, walking around the space station. Then talking some more. With its faux-vintage cinematography, it hints at bad b-movie homage, but there’s so little to Christmas that even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew would have trouble adding a laugh track. It’s boring, an adjective that the critical lexicon has likely never before applied to Wayne’s weird worlds.
The film does have some scattered moments of inspiration. Coyne the Alien — a sort of interstellar Joe the Plumber — opens the film by popping a glowing bubble out his mouth, which promptly expands to human height, sucks him in and zooms off into a vagina nebula. You read that right. The film — so really, writer/director Wayne — is fascinated by female genitalia; at one point, an astronaut envisions a vagina-headed marching band. It’s horrifying, which is at least better than boring.
To call the film a fans-only project even feels like a stretch; though the premiere’s Santa-hat-clad attendees shouted out “Acid!” and “Vagina!” with the energy of a Rocky Horror crowd, it’s hard to imagine them weeks from now, sans Belvedere, turning to each other and saying, “Bro, you know what I wanna watch right now? Christmas On Mars!” On the bright side, we got to drink and shout “vagina” with the Flaming Lips. If only you could buy that on DVD.
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