Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Early Christmas

"Don't you see that this is a fucking symbol?"

This line is spoken early in the film Christmas On Mars, the latest creation by the Flaming Lips (written, directed, and edited by frontman Wayne Coyne). At first, I thought the line was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, since the viewer is exposed to a barrage of imagery just begging to be analyzed symbolically: light, outer space, birth/creation/female genitalia, death, and isolation, to name a few. In addition, these themes are presented in merely an hour and a half, although this running time feels much shorter. However, as I think about it after my first viewing, I realize that the line should be taken at face value...these are just symbols. Combined with the story, we're treated to a wonderfully structured science fiction yarn. I cannot tell yet if I merely enjoyed it a lot, or if it could be a work of artistic genius. Perhaps time will tell after future viewings.

The Flaming Lips have been working on this film for well over ten years, and its release on DVD has come quite suddenly. The story involves an American space station on Mars during Christmas Eve, awaiting the birth of the first human child in outer space. We meet alternatingly stern and hilarious characters through the eyes of Major Syrtis (Steven Drozd), who witnesses the death of one of his fellow crew members, and is moody and introspective even before more trying events happen. During various mishaps and hallucinations, a silent Alien Super-Being (Coyne) casually walks into the space station:

At first glance, it's comical, but that's the whole point. The alien costume design and the black and white photography/cinematography are made to invoke 1950s space movies and television shows. By the end, astute viewers will catch references to The Day the Earth Stood Still, Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and probably a few others that I missed. I think I've covered the basic film details without giving too much away; this is truly a film that must be seen to be fully understood and appreciated. However, I think Coyne puts it best in the liner notes: "[This] just an elaborate, arty, home movie starring the band with our friends and family."

Another excellent part of the film is the soundtrack, which branches out into new territory for the Flaming Lips. One would think that a science-fiction movie would be perfect for their usual brand of psychedelia, but here they opt for an almost classical sound, mixed with drawn out atmospheres that evoke outer space just as well as the soundtrack for 2001 did many years back. Film scores can be very hit or miss when placed on their own, but the soundtrack for Christmas On Mars stands up very well. I'll leave you with some screencaps, ones that best represent the cinematography of the film. The photography for the film was done by Coyne's wife, J. Michelle-Martin Coyne, and she did an impressive job.

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