Just in time for its 25th anniversary as a band, The Flaming Lips has released its seven-years-gestating movie Christmas On Mars, seemingly to remind everyone why it was unlikely the Lips would make it this far in the first place. Ostensibly the story of Mars' first colonizers confronting psychosis and existential dread on Christmas Eve, Christmas On Mars hews closer to avant-garde deconstructions of narrative than the real thing. Frontman Wayne Coyne (sharing directorial duties with longtime Lips accomplices Bradley Beesley and George Salisbury) piles on grainy black-and-white film, sudden lurid shots of color, and amateur actors whose overextended reaction shots and halting delivery would make the Kuchar brothers proud.
Christmas On Mars mostly plays out on a dirty, disintegrating space station that takes its cues from Alien's bleak vision of space travel, but the symbols grafted all over the film are unique to the band. Anyone who's seen the Lips live (or listened to "Psychiatric Explorations Of The Fetus With Needles") will be prepared for the onslaught of bloody fetuses and babies all over the place. Nor is Coyne's emphasis on the universe as a series of vaginal orifices a shock; the Lips have always cheerfully shown naked chicks and disturbing surgery with equal abandon. The band's members stick to their accustomed personas: Coyne is the enigmatic, miraculous alien who arrives in a glowing ball, Steven Drozd is the deceptively soft-spoken crewmember whose efforts hold the base together (much as Drozd's musical gifts power Coyne's lyrics), and bassist Michael Ivins sticks to his customary stoicism.
The main theme, as always, is confronting death and godlessness in a meaningless universe. "Cosmic reality, it's a real motherfucker," Fred Armisen announces. Crippled by low oxygen and their proximity to space's emptiness, the crew waits for a savior (or Santa Claus) that may never arrive. The screenplay plays like Coyne's lyrics, announcing its vast themes in plainspoken, disarming ways. Comic relief mostly comes from the incredibly intense crew commander, a man prone to lines like "Take a fuckin' shit on my dick." He represents the Lips' Oklahoma-based background: profane, racist, and suspicious of costume frippery, but ultimately good at heart. As a movie, Christmas On Mars is mildly but sneakily engaging; as a synthesis of the band's disparate parts, though, it's gold.
Key features: Band-member interviews and a making-of. The deluxe edition also comes with the trippy instrumental soundtrack.