Subtitled A Fantastical Film Freakout Featuring The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne’s directorial debut was seven years in the making although it’s not clear why he thought it was ready to be released as the film has a lot of problems.
Christmas on Mars opens moving the viewer through space and ventures to a manned station on Mars where a woman’s pregnancy is assisted through artificial means. The potential birth weighs heavy on the mind of Major Syrtis (The Lips’ Steven Drozd), who is trying to organize a Christmas party to help the morale of the crew. One man is seen always grumbling about their dire circumstances, while another sits silently as his realization of the meaninglessness of life has caused him to suffer a psychotic breakdown.
Unfortunately for Syrtis, the man set to play Santa goes mad and hurls himself out of an airlock where a team is working. Around the ship, the crew keeps finding damaged equipment, which frustrates the foul-mouthed station commander who keeps working out sans a shirt. Amidst all this, a mute Martian (Coyne) shows up.
Shot on 16mm film, this mostly black-and-white film shows influences of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eraserhead, and Solaris, and has a lot going for it. The sets are impressive for such a small budget and the special effects look spectacular. Unfortunately, most of the scenes are comprised of characters standing around talking without saying much of interest and some scenes repeat themselves. The remainder are odd bits and are obviously meant to be artistic, but they aren’t very memorable and don't rise to the level of “freakout.” The acting ranges from adequate (Adam Goldberg makes the most out of his conflicted station psychiatrist) to just plain terrible (the actor playing the commander is so dreadful it’s hard to believe he kept the job). The film drags along, appearing to slow down time over the course of 82 minutes.
Christmas on Mars is available in a number of formats: DVD, a DVD/CD combo that includes the score, vinyl, and mp3s. The audio soundscape created by the Lips is fantastic and well worth seeking out. I will definitely revisit the score again in another setting, possibly a laser show or the night’s sky, but I won’t give the film a second chance.