The Flaming Lips complete an untraditional Christmas story

Wayne Coyne in his Martian costume.

Photo courtesy of Cinema Purgatorio
Wayne Coyne in his Martian costume.

Photo courtesy of Cinema Purgatorio
“Christmas on Mars”

“Christmas on Mars,” the newly released fantastical film freak-out featuring The Flaming Lips, cannot be compared to the new Vince Vaughn Christmas comedy. In fact, it cannot be compared to anything.

One thing “Christmas on Mars” had going for it before I even watched it was hype. Wayne Coyne, also known as the green Martian with antennas, wrote, directed, and starred in the film. Coyne is also The Flaming Lips lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter.

He started the production of “Christmas on Mars” in 2001, but it didn’t premiere until May 2008. Initially, Coyne’s one-man show came off as pretentious. But after watching it, I got it. This is Coyne’s raw form of expression. Everything from molding 500 pounds of ground beef to make a larger-than-life vagina to actually directing the film, Coyne had complete control. The outcome is almost completely his vision realized. There was no room for somebody else to misinterpret it.

The film took seven years to make because Coyne built all the sets himself, and filming could only be done during the Lips tour breaks. Almost all of the film is shot at Coyne’s home in Oklahoma City. Many fans have been following the progress of “Christmas on Mars” for a few years now, so the excitement and skepticism has been building.

It was shot on 16mm film, giving it a grainy and distorted look, which fits perfectly into the planet setting. The majority of the film is in black and white. It reminded me of footage of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Some color is used briefly for emphasis and definitely gives it a psychedelic mood. Aesthetically, it looks like a mix of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and an Alfred Hitchcock film.

The Flaming Lips also provided the entire score for the film. The music is undeniably signature Flaming Lips. However, none of the songs have any lyrics, which was a wise choice because they didn’t really take away from the story but were subtle enough to enhance it.

The actual story of the film is difficult to grasp the first time watching. With a little research and background understanding of who The Flaming Lips are, it might make more sense. Although you may not know exactly what is going on, it’s not impossible to get a general idea and still follow it.

The pace of the film is extremely slow and none of the characters deliver stellar performances. But what the film lacks in story and acting, it makes up for in style. Visually, it is a masterpiece. There was so much detail put into the littlest things like Coyne’s coat buttons, which are unusual but still beautiful. And much like The Flaming Lips live performances, the film is strange and random but absolutely breathtaking.

Liking their work ultimately comes down to whether or not you are a true Flaming Lips fan. It takes a fan to listen to the shrills and screams in a song like “Yoshimi Battles the Robots Part 2” and appreciate the beauty in its strangeness. If you’re new to the works of the Lips, there can be a fine line between appreciating and tolerating them.

I actually didn’t hate “Christmas on Mars.” Parts of the film, like the cheesy Christmas lines and images of sausages being replaced by a baby fetus, are engrained in my brain. It’s a relief to finally see this project finished.

Those new to The Flaming Lips just need to remember the weirdness comes with the territory. You have to know what you are getting into when watching a Christmas story set on Mars made by The Flaming Lips. And while I might not be sober the next time I watch “Christmas on Mars,” be sure there will be a next time.