The Man Who Fell To Earth – the ‘man’ in question is Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who does indeed pass for human, well, as much as the Thin White Duke can do. The film begins with a few disparate scenes, such as Newton going to sells his mother’s old jewellery for a mere $20 at a jewellery store and also drinking water from the river in a cup – in fact, he drinks a LOT of water.
And I’ve often wondered what would happen if aliens arrived on Earth… primarily, would they think we’re all completely mad?
His basic aim is to set up a high-technology company, World Enterprises, with a view to raising the billions of dollars he needs to build a spacehip to get back home, where there’s a drought. To do this, he needs Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) to be the brains of the operation and Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn, right with Bowie), a University professor – and somehow a sex-god amongst 18-year-old students, to take a position in the research department of the fuel division.
It all sounds a great idea, initially, as he presents Farnsworth with a number of patents required to get everything into production and checks into a rather dank hotel where he hangs out with chambermaid Mary-Lou (Candy Clark, below), getting on with her so well that he moves in with her and, to maximise his money-making he manages to watch multiple televisions at the same time, showing things such as stock markets around the world, as well as assimilating all the information. However, he understimates the greed of American capitalism and that others clearly don’t share his unique vision, and that’s where things start to go a bit off the rails for him.
Nicolas Roeg certaintly paints a unique feel to most of his films that I’ve seen, even if it’s one like Track 29, which turned out to be the most self-indulgent piece of tosh to which I’ve ever beared witness. There’s certainly a fair bit of that here as well, such as when Bryce and one of his students romp about while, separately, Newton watches a bizarre ‘theatrical’, for want of a better word, performance in a Japanese restaurant. After a while, it also embarks on showing us lots of pointless nudity and starts to drag a little. At well over two hours, Roeg knows nothing about timekeeping. It rarely gets boring, but it did occasionally tend to disappear up his own backside.
David Bowie has always had a captivating look to him and he excels with that, here, making him the perfect choice for the role. There’s also decent support from Rip Torn who works well together with Bowie, but there’s less chemistry between Bowie and Candy Clark.
The film clearly takes place over several decades, yet retains the period of the mid-70s. However, it’s amusing to see Newton’s new technology combining with the then-present day, such that rather than music being released on LPs and cassettes, it now comes in a silver ball which is placed inside a player that exhibits pink light and just plays. Very bizarre!
Presented in 2.35:1 and in 1080p high definition, the picture is quite grainy at times and rather reminiscent of some of Optimum’s early Blu-ray releases like Leon Director’s Cut. However, the full 2.35:1 frame is used to good effect, with clever touches such as zooming in on people’s faces as they speak (not that easy to describe in print)
The sound is an uncompressed Dolby Stereo PCM mix. I would’ve preferred a cool DTS 5.1 remix, but there’s something to be said for not tinkering with the original. The occasional use of Holst’s The Planets benefits most in the audio department.
When it comes to the extras, we don’t get quite as much as the Blu-ray 2008 US Criterion Edition, but we get a fair amount.
- Watching The Alien (24:27): Several crew members, led by director Nicolas Roeg, plus actress Candy Clark, discussing how the film came about and their thoughts while working on the film, including Candy discussing the aging make-up in the film and Bowie’s alien costume, which leads to discussion from the costume designer May Routh about that and the other odd designs featured, plus others discussing the soundtrack and how it fared at the box office. Odd that there’s nothing at all from Bowie, himself. Film clips are in a slightly windowboxed 2.35:1 ratio.
- Interviews: Five sizeable ones here, starting with Director Nic Roeg (33:27), who tends to ramble à la Rowley Birkin from The Fast Show, although I liked his reminiscences on working with Bowie and an incident involving Buck Henry’s character; Cinematogether Tony Richmond (21:48), who recounts on his own blood being used in a scene with Bowie and the scientists, as Roeg refused to use pig’s blood; Writer Paul Mayersberg (31:50), who explained one scene for me where Newton can see into the past at a family of prospectors who can also see him – which I just didn’t get at all; Candy Clark (27:46), who also had another specific role in the film but to go into detail about that would be a big spoiler; plus an Audio interview author Walter Tevis (4:10) from 1984.
Each interview is split up with 2 or 3 chapters, but more would’ve been nice as there’s multiple questions. However, chapters are clearly not Optimum’s strongpoint…
- Trailer (2:20): In a similarly slightly windowboxed 2.35:1 as with the extras.
The Criterion edition featured an audio commentary With the director, plus David Bowie and Buck Henry, recorded for the original US laserdisc release, so, quite some time ago. We’re also missing an extended version of the Walter Tevis audio interview, which runs for 24 minutes, an additional 24-minute interview with Rip Torn and Candy Clark together, as well as a similar length audio separate offerings for production designer Brian Eatwell and his wife, costume designer Mary Routh. It also omits the picture galleries and most of the trailers.
That said, they don’t appear to get the above individual interviews with Roeg, Richmond and Candy Clark.
The menu mixes eerie audio from the film with a neat little ‘planets’ animation that include scenes from the film. The subtitles re in English only, and the total number of chapters is a bit more than the usual 12 from Optimum, but only rise to 16, which just isn’t enough over the 139-minute running time. And, finally, like a number of Optimum discs, there are some pre-menu trailers on this disc, which is a particular bug-bear of mine as extras belong in the extras menu. As such, I’m not listing them here.
Running time: 139 minutes
Cat no: OPTBD0978
Released: April 4th 2011
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Producers: Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg (based on the novel by Walter Tevis)
Music: John Phillips and Stomu Yamashta
Thomas Jerome Newton: David Bowie
Nathan Bryce: Rip Torn
Mary-Lou: Candy Clark
Oliver Farnsworth: Buck Henry
Peters: Bernie Casey
Professor Canutti: Jackson D Kane
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.