Wayne Coyne had an idea for a movie. A fantastical freak-out of a movie to take place in space. On Mars. On Christmas Eve.
So he got the band (he’s the lead singer of The Flaming Lips if you don’t know) together, got their road crew together, got producer extraordinaire and friend David Fridmann in, and even got friends, family and a couple of ‘actual’ actors involved.
I had read about this for years, how the band had this pet project going on a shoestring budget in their hometown. I always wondered if they’d finish it and get it out. It’s something that’s fun to talk about — “Hey, WE can do that! Let’s make a movie! We can all write it, you star in it, i’ll direct it, and we’ll all write the music! Come on!” — but would they be able to follow through with it?
Well, they did, and it was released late last year. But I didn’t notice much fanfare about it. I’m a big Lips fan, but I don’t tend to watch and wait for new releases. Unless Kate Bush has a record coming out. But that’s for another time.
So I stumbled over it in Newbury Comics while talking to David last week. He probably would’ve stumbled over it, too, had I not alerted him to it by crashing to the floor. But there it was, and I had to bring it home and check it out.
The story follows Major Syrtis, played by Flaming Lip Stephen Drozd, on Christmas Eve on a Mars outpost, just about a year after the outpost was founded. Things are coming apart, and people are seeing strange and unspeakable things. Despite his troubling feelings, Major Syrtis thinks that with just some hope, people will be okay and pull through this. And what better time than Christmas to inspire hope in everyone?
He plans a Christmas celebration for the whole crew, featuring fake snow and Christmas carols. But when his Santa Claus loses his mind and goes missing and a mysterious, mute alien (Wayne Coyne) shows up, things quickly take a turn for the unexpected.
It is a wonderfully strange, homespun low-budget sci-fi film that never stops believing in its story. And if any seams are showing (and some charmingly do), the acting and the film’s heart draw your attention away from them. True actors Adam Goldberg and Fred Armison show up for brief turns as well. Goldberg is hilarious in his scene as a very morose and increasingly infuriated therapist, the end of which scene required from me a few re-watches, it was just so funny.
But as capable as the whole cast is, it’s Stephen Drozd that has to carry the film, and if he were not able to do so none of the rest of the film’s charm, character or can-do attitude would matter. Fortunately, he proves very capable in a role that has to be a difficult one to hang a movie on. He’s depressed and pessimistic, but he’s willing himself to hold on, insisting on optimism. He’s quiet and wanders around the ship in what appears to be a little bit of a daze. He’s not a strong, leader character, but he’s not about to give up either.
Very much notable although not very surprising is that the film’s soundtrack and sound effects design was all done by The Flaming Lips and David Fridmann, who’s been working with and producing the band since 1990 and has also been involved with a host of other musical projects. The music is lovely, very ethereal at times and retro electronic at times, and does a great job at establishing the odd ambience necessary right from the get-go. And the sound effects mesh perfectly with the low-budget sci-fi film vibe, with synthesizers providing many of the sound effects. I love when this is done well. The sound becomes its own character, individual to the film, and they do it very well here to my ears.
But ultimately Drozd’s fragility and resiliency as Major Syrtis, along with Coyne’s unique vision and direction, are what makes the movie special and worth watching in your next Weirdo Movie night with your buddies. I know I’ll be bringing it out for my buddies to check out.