This is a weird chapter in the history of the Lips and a long one too. Filmed in Wayne’s back garden and locale over the course of seven years, it has become a highly anticipated event and was finally released just before Christmas last year. A review on the back of the DVD has taken a lot of the work out of this for me. I quote “Imagine if Stanley Kubrick, Frank Capra and Jim Jarmusch got into a bar brawl and the Flaming Lips won…” (Jaan Uhelzski / Relix). Taking elements from all these filmmakers and throwing them in a blender operated by Coyne, they’ve come up with a film that is utterly Flaming Lips.
The story is vague and deals with a life threatening crisis on a decidedly odd space outpost on Mars. (At Christmas, if you’re not keeping up). This setting is really only an excuse for a bunch of set pieces that take you on a wander through the subconscious of the band with themes cropping up that will be familiar to fans. Babies, head injuries, space and the over arching theme of wondering what the hell it is we’re doing here in the Universe. These themes run hand in hand with the strange opto-pessimism that pervades the bands music, with life and its oddness being celebrated at all turns but the spectre of death always lurking in the background. The film lurches from the sublime to the ridiculous with a random cast of actors giving a random selection of performances which range from a brilliant one scene performance from drummer Kliph Scurlock (name dude…) to the rollercoaster ride that is Steven Drozd’s performance as lead character. I say rollercoaster because you watch him swing from being unable to act at all to being completely mesmerizing, sometimes within the same scene. In one particularly moving scene he is obviously smacked up to the eyeballs, which doesn’t help with the course of the film, but as part of the ongoing portrait of Drozd’s increasingly long-term heroin addiction it is quite a raw moment.
The special effects and costumes are fantastic throughout, with their years of attempting to blow fans minds with light, sound and video really paying off. Weird home built sets never really make you think they’re in space but they certainly convey a sense of other-wordliness and it features some of the best space suits I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi film. The soundtrack for all this madness is blared through their own patented Zeta Bootis surround sound system, which likes to accentuate moments of particular oddness by GETTING VERY LOUD. This sounds like it would be annoying but it actually makes it quite a visceral experience. All this audio-visual freakery is balanced out with an exceptionally cosmic soundtrack of low key synths that sound like Eno at around his “Music For Films” stage. In fact most of the music would not sound amiss on this album or on Eno’s “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” and it’s an interesting change of pace for the band who have come to specialize in quirky power-pop over the last couple of albums.
I would heartily recommend this film to anyone who likes B movies, sci-fi or just crazy ass films in general as it is by no means a “fans only” affair. Oh and keep an eye out for the scene with the alien astronaut holding a baby with a head injury. The “alien” gave me quite a shock when I realized what I was looking at.