Great Christmas movies, let’s list ‘em: Die Hard and Die Hard 2 would be on any sane person’s list. (Let’s face it, no Christmas is complete without seeing John McClane shoot up a bunch of terrorists and bad guys.) Likewise, Gremlins, which (like Die Hard) may not strictly count as a Christmas movie, but it’s at least set in the season to be jolly. My personal favorite is Black Christmas, a ‘70s slice ‘n’ dice classic about a demented killer who brings his own brand of seasonal goodwill to a sorority house in Montreal. Black Christmas proves that asphyxiation makes for a great Christmas present.
So what chance does Christmas on Mars, the Flaming Lips’ long-delayed seasonal movie, have of joining such a list? The acting may be wooden, and the sets may be falling apart — the early scenes with Steven Drozd, who stars as Major Syrtis, certainly don’t bode well, especially when he reaches into a barely disguised dishwasher and fiddles with a hokey looking control panel. But if you can suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, or if you have a sizable bong and a couple of hits of acid to hand, then you’ll find something to enjoy in Wayne Coyne’s mini-masterpiece.
OK, “masterpiece” is pushing it, but Coyne has a clear understanding of what makes a decent midnight movie work. The plot, which is loosely strung along at the best of times, follows Syrtis as he tries to arrange a Christmas pageant on Mars, which will celebrate the first baby to be born on the colonized planet. Syrtis’ plans are severely dented when his Santa commits suicide and the space station begins to malfunction.
Coyne appears as a mute, green-skinned alien who aims to revive the ailing fortunes of the crew. Fellow Flaming Lips members Michael Ivins and Kliph Scurlock have small roles, and Adam Goldberg and Fred Armisen drop in to add to the chaos. Coyne’s wife, Michelle Martin-Coyne, also features. Meanwhile, Syrtis is having some serious hallucinations, which mostly center on people with vaginal-shaped heads.
Christmas on Mars is the perfect film to stick on in a pot-fueled haze in the wee small hours. It’s a spirited venture that makes a decent attempt at marrying the worlds of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Stanely Kubrick. At times it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and not always intentionally so. But that’s no bad thing. In an era when even the lowest of low-budget features are full of slick computer-generated imagery, Christmas on Mars is a welcome and endearing return to a type of filmmaking that is slowly, sadly disappearing. And for that, Coyne and his merry band should be commended.