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The Man Who Fell To Earth (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Man Who Fell To Earth (DVD)
Advantages: Surprisingly watchable, David Bowie is beautiful to watch
Disadvantages: Just that sci fi isn't my usual cup of tea
Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien from another planet, who comes to Earth in the hope that he can save his rapidly deteriorating planet and his family. Having arrived with nothing, he quickly builds up his finances and soon becomes a wealthy businessman, able to do anything he wants. He becomes accustomed to earthly pleasures, especially drink and sex with his lover, Mary-Lou, but his plan is still to go back home at some point. There are those that have other ideas though. It soon becomes clear to the authorities that, with his reclusive lifestyle and interest in outer space, Newton is not 'normal' and he is eventually captured so that they can do some tests on him. Will he ever manage to escape Earth and return to his home? Or is he destined to remain trapped forever?
Science fiction is my least favourite genre of film and one that I avoid if I possibly can. However, the combination of director Nicholas Roeg, responsible for Walkabout, one of my favourite films, and David Bowie, my all time favourite musician, was a little too tempting to turn down. David Bowie isn't exactly known for his acting skills - he has received very mixed opinions about his acting career - but I thought he was great in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and, if nothing else, I at least had the opportunity to look at him for a couple of hours. The film was made in 1976 when Bowie was arguably at the peak of his musical career and is based on a book by Walter Tevis.
I really liked David Bowie in the role of Newton. He really was a brilliant casting choice simply because he looks the part - it is very easy to imagine that he is an alien in a human body. It's probably partly to do with his different coloured eyes, but is also because of his face, which, with its high cheekbones, does look otherworldly. People often use the terms androgynous and ethereal to describe Bowie at this point in his career, and that is exactly right. The character isn't, however, asexual, as he proves with Mary-Lou. I'm not sure exactly how much Bowie was acting throughout the film though - I suspect he was being largely himself. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter, because he was more than convincing in the role, and the fact that he is so beautiful only served to make the film more watchable.
Rip Torn (that really is his surname!) is usually second on the billing as one of the top men in Newton's organisation, Nathan Bryce. However, his role is fairly secondary and his on-screen time probably amounts to about 20 minutes of the whole film. He was fine in the role, he just didn't have to do anything outstanding. He does age incredibly well during the course of the film, although that is more down to good hair and make-up than acting skills. More noticeable is Candy Clark as Mary-Lou. Mary-Lou is a simple girl who falls in love with Thomas, only to face devastation when she finds out who he really is. Clark gives a really charming performance - she is incredibly naive, but this only make her more likeable. Buck Henry plays Farnsworth, another of Newton's men - like Rip Torn he is good in the role, it's just that the role is a little dull.
As with all films I've seen by Nicholas Roeg, this film is all about the visuals, and in many ways the story is secondary. There is always so much going on, from the panning of the magnificient scenery (filmed in New Mexico), to the scenes in space, Newton's falling to earth and the many sex scenes. The story is told in a non-linear way - Newton's time on earth is chronological, but his flash-backs are not, which can be confusing at times, but somehow suits the film. And there are a series of scenes that are intercut with other scenes from other times and places, usually with something in common, which again can be a little confusing, but certainly make the film much more interesting to watch.
Considering the film was made in 1976, the special effects are very well done. Newton's transformation from a human to an alien isn't exactly high-tech, but it looks natural. And the aging processes on the other characters (Newton doesn't age at all) is excellent. Poor Mary-Lou, who turns into an alcoholic, changes from a fresh-faced beauty into a puffy-faced hag and the others all age very naturally too. The scenes in space feel a bit clumsy - basically, it is all desert, strange-shaped buildings and people in silver suits - but it was kept simple and so just about works. No doubt it could be really well done with today's technology, but for the time, they must have been impressive and are still adequate today.
There is a lot of sex (obviously simulated) and nudity in the film, which makes it inappropriate for children. We see full frontal nudity of both men and women - I was slightly disappointed to see that David Bowie's dangly bits are just as ugly as any other man's... Oh well, life is full of disappointments. The film was originally X-rated (for over 18s) and the current rating is still 18 in the UK.
Despite Bowie's skills as a musician, the decision was made to use others to write the score - John Phillips and Stomu Yamashta. I was slightly disappointed not to hear any of his music, but obviously respect his decision not to mix acting and music, or try to turn the film into the David Bowie show.
This is a special edition two disc film - the second disc is full of extras. The first is a documentary about the film, with interviews with Nicholas Roeg, the producer and other members of the production crew, as well as Candy Clark. Secondly, there's an interview with Paul Mayersberg, who wrote the screenplay. This is rather heavy, but he does discuss the lack of chronological order in the film and why they decided to tell the story that way. There's a long interview with Nicholas Roeg, focusing on his career as well as the film - it's a bit too long and dry for an extra, and is probably only interesting to those who are true film buffs. Unfortunately none of these features include an interview with David Bowie, although he is very much the topic of conversation. The rest of the features include a couple of trailers and TV adverts for the film, a DVD Rom feature and trailers for other releases - The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. Although it is science fiction, it isn't overly so; in fact I found the science fiction aspect secondary to the 'outsider' angle - Newton is basically a visitor to Earth and will never fit in because he is too different. It feels like a social discussion of the world's inability to accept those who don't conform to a particular pattern, and once the film finished, I felt that I had watched something worthwhile. I think fans of science fiction and/or David Bowie will enjoy it, but it is worth considering even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea. Recommended.
The DVD is available on play.com for £6.99.
Running time: 139 minutes
Summary: A surprisingly good sci-fi film