THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
General Release 1976
139 minutes approx
Thomas Jerome Newton -
Nathan Bryce -
Buck Henry -
Directed by -
Written by -
Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien. He has come to earth from an alien planet in response to TV pictures showing a world blessed with water, of which there is very little on his home world. Pawning a number of gold rings, he amasses enough money to hire a patent lawyer who can parlay his advanced knowledge into huge amounts of money. With this money, he intends to build a spaceship and return to his own planet, but the combines forces of corporate greed, political need, alcoholism and sex lead to his ultimate downfall.
Nicolas Roeg is a talented cameraman and composer of images. There are many images in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH that are lush and gorgeous to the eye and even the most minor of interiors is given touches of interest by the painterly director. There is also an interesting use of the soundtrack to create atmosphere and colours are heightened and painted garishly to give a sense of the harshness and noisiness of our times.
Unfortunately, what Nicolas Roeg seems to have a hard time doing is telling a simple story and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is probably the worst example of that. The story is pretty simple, but it meanders all over the place with longeurs, pointless scenes (what's with those civil war era people he can see?) , brutally frank and totally unnecessary sexual encounters, characters who are barely explained and a whole barrage of visual tics and quivers that seem to be more about showing off than telling the tale. Much of it remains unexplained and inexplicable. Why does Newton come to Earth and why does he not bring his family? Is his mission to get water for them? Is it to size up the planet for invasion? How does he come here and if it's by spaceship then why does he not try to salvage that? How can he be so smart and not realise what's being done to him? Who is the shadowy group working against him and why do they release him at the end? How can he romp endlessly with Candy Clark when his alien form has no obvious male reproductive organs, or hair or anything that his human form has?
Plot, though, isn't what THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is all about. The film is about the agony of being an alien, an outsider even when you have access to everything that money can buy. It's about corporate greed. It's about being unable to trust anyone around you. It's about being different and not being accepted. It's about how money and power erode freedom.
The characters in Roeg's films always ran the risk of being emotionally remote from the viewer and that's the same here, but for once it works in terms of the film's themes. David Bowie's etheral frame and odd eyes help enormously in keeping his character alien from start to finish even without the sudden unmasking of his alien visage to his female companion. Candy Clark is the most accessible character, basically rerunning the airheaded chatty girl from AMERICAN GRAFFITI, but that doesn't mean that she's always likeable. Rip Torn, as a professor who has no ethical qualms about athletic sex with his students is almost irrelevant to proceedings as a whole despite racking up quite a bit of screen time.
There isn't a lot in the way of special effects in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. This is science fiction for the mind rather than the eye. A few images of Newton's alien family either waiting for him impatiently or dying of thirst alongside a strange and unlikely looking monorail train are about as much as you get.
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH would be open to accusations of the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome in being all about the visual, but there is too much substance beneath the directorial tricks and overlong running time to support them. Many people will find the fractured and wilfully obscure storytelling, dislikeable characters, glacial pace and frank sex not to their liking, but just as many others will revel in the intelligent themes, crosscutting madness and glorious camerawork. The fact remains, however, that THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is a seminal science fiction film and one that no true fan of the genre can be without seeing.
The film is released on Blu Ray on April 4th 2011 and the visuality of the piece is enhanced by the high definition experience that really brings the vibrancy of the colours to life and gives full rein to the director's flights of fancy.
There's a single documentary about the film, but interviews with Nic Roeg, Candy Clark, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg and cinematographer Tony Richmond pile on plenty of behind the scenes insight.Top
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