“Nicolas Roeg’s iconic science fiction odyssey, The Man Who Fell to Earth, has been stunningly restored to mark the film’s 40th anniversary in 2016. Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back to his home planet in the midst of a catastrophic drought. Featuring a startling and era-defining lead performance from David Bowie in his debut feature role, and based on the cult novel by Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth endures, not only as a bitingly caustic indictment of the modern world, but also as a poignant commentary on the loneliness of the outsider.”
There are science fiction films and then there is The Man Who Fell to Earth. As one can imagine with a film starring David Bowie, this may not be the traditional viewing you are accustomed to. Although I am very much a Bowie fan, there is a certain style all his own that could leave the common man perplexed, and this style is very much prevalent in this unique and fascinating tale of Thomas Jerome Newton.
The film opens as Newton literally falls through Earth’s atmosphere and crashes into a lake. As he wanders a desolate part of the western desert, he comes across a small town and realizes he needs money. Equipped with a pocket-full of gold rings to sell, he quickly trades them in for cash, thus beginning his journey to acquire as much wealth as he can in order to build a space ship to bring back water to his home planet.
If you’re looking for explanations to go along with the science fiction, you’re in for some extreme disappointment. In fact, there isn’t much explanation in the plot whatsoever. You never directly learn that Newton needs to take water back to his home planet, you just kind of guess based on his affinity for H2O and the strange, almost abstract scenes depicting his home planet and the struggles of his family to stay alive in a wasteland. Another aspect that is a bit hard to follow is the time-line of the film. Told in segments in his life, we may be in the first month of Newton’s arrival on Earth, then moments later we are years down the road with no explanation, no warning, only the receding hairline of one of the characters to give us the indication that a lot of time has passed. Throughout it all, Newton stays the same, sickly and unnervingly thin.
Where this film excels is through the gradual transformation of David Bowie’s character. Not due to age, but as he spends more time among Humans, he begins to be corrupted by the evils that plague our society. His affinity for water changes to gin, and he quickly becomes powerfully addicted. As his wealth constantly grows, he finds that he can do whatever he wants with little repercussions. Money is power, and he has it. His mission becomes less and less important to him, the alcohol and greed have changed him. People begin to exploit him for their own profit, and although he objects to being imprisoned at first, given a glass of gin he willingly accepts his fate.
Although The Man Who Fell to Earth is a tough viewing for the average movie-goer given its extreme stylistic choices and hard to follow plot line, the commentary on human society and the impact it has on an outsider is shockingly poignant. “We’d have probably treated you the same if you came over to our place”, Newton admits looking back, which is a powerful realization and begs the question if that day does come, would an outreached hand of peace be offered, or the exploitation in the name of self-preservation.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen 2.35:1. The transfer is erratic at times, with either excessive grain in some scenes, or an abundance of softness. The majority of the film looks pretty good, with a few defects noticed, such as blemishes and scratches in the source print. From everything I’ve read, the already released Criterion version of the film boasts a much more consistent transfer which is a bit disappointing given the ‘limited collector’s edition’ of the set.
The audio is presented in DTS-2.0 Master Audio. Levels are good with no noticeable defects or problems of any kind. There is a pretty interesting score and soundtrack accompanying the film, but with only a 2.0 track to work with, you aren’t going to be that impressed with anything your system may churn out.
There is quite a lot featured on this limited edition collector’s set. Included is a 72 page booklet with some great photographs and information about David Bowie and the film. Also included is a reproduction of the press booklet of the film, still photo postcards, and a mini-poster of the film.
As far as the supplements on the disc go, you’re going to see:
- David Bowie interview – French TV 1977
- New interview with costume designer May Routh featuring original costume sketches
- New interview with stills photographer David James featuring behind the scenes stills
- New interview with fan Sam Taylor-Johnson
- New interview with producer Michael Deeley
- New “The Lost Soundtracks” featurette, featuring interviews with Paul Buckmaster and author Chris Campion
- Interview with Candy Clark
- Interview with writer Paul Mayersberg
- Interview with cinematographer Tony Richmond
- Interview with director Nicholas Roeg
These special features are all worth watching, especially The Lost Soundtracks in which it is revealed that David Bowie was supposed to supply the sound track for the film and the reasoning behind why it never made it to the final cut.
The 40th anniversary of The Man Who Fell to Earth coincides with the unfortunate passing of David Bowie in 2016. Due to the Criterion release of the film being out of print and very hard to come by, fans will appreciate this limited collector’s edition. This release also gives new fans who found a renewed interested in Bowie’s work a way to see the film and hopefully appreciate the art form of the medium.