The Man Who Fell to Earth (Blu-ray)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 139 minutes
Audio: PCM 2.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: December 18, 2008
Review Date: November 30, 2008
Nicolas Roeg’s sad, satirical sci-fi examination of the debilitating effects of our national concern with materialism and consumerism can be found in the sometimes dazzling and sometimes dreary The Man Who Fell to Earth. Another of the rather nihilistic views on American mores which found prominence in the 1970s after the disillusioning aftermath of the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s aborted presidency, The Man Who Fell to Earth seen today is wonderfully weird but altogether too bombastic and obvious in its overreaching need to shock and impress.
An alien calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) lands on Earth , here to find a haven for his wife and two children trapped on their arid planet lacking water and vegetation. In order to build a ship to carry himself back to his home planet and get his family, Newton must amass a fortune and develop companies that can manufacture the things he will need for his journey. Making money with the help of financial attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) is surprisingly no problem, but as the years pass, his financial empire becomes enormous, and as he soaks up local culture through constant viewing of television, Newton falls victim to the lure of earthly creature comforts: a mistress (Candy Clark), exotic foods, and the replacement of healthy water with wine, then mixed drinks, and eventually straight gin. What will happen to his goal of rescuing his family, especially once the secret of his actual identity becomes well known?
Paul Mayersberg’s script based on Walter Tevis’ original novel rather sledgehammers the viewer with the nature of our poisonous, hedonistic society, and while the satiric points he’s making are undoubtedly true (and which grew to even greater excess in the 1980s), the finger-wagging seems overemphatic, especially given director Nicolas Roeg’s penchant for extravagant, fast cutting montages of images at moments of orgiastic satisfaction (particularly in the near-softcore porn sexual outings for Rip Torn’s Nathan Bryce and Clark‘s attempts at alien seduction). The film is actually quite dense in its observations of the American culture, enough so that the 139-minute running time is scarcely long enough to entail it all, and yet, that said, the film still seems overlong, the important points long having been made before we get to that forlorn though not unexpected ending. Roeg films quite a few scenes of gorgeous natural beauty, but in the movie’s emphasis on the negative, those seem to get passed over in favor of scenes of gluttony and sexual overindulgence.
David Bowie is genius casting as the alien, his androgynous appearance of the time a mirror-perfect reflection of unspoiled, lithe beauty ready to meet head-on the temptations of the flesh. Candy Clark, who had scored such a hit in American Graffiti a few years before, begins the film very effectively with a genuineness and playfulness that’s rather captivating. As the twenty-five year passage of time occurs, however, her shrill neediness and braying demands for attention make her every appearance a dreaded experience, and the actress appears to be a bit at sea at playing someone in middle age. Buck Henry doesn’t have quite the viperish quality to make his lawyer ultimately convincing, but Rip Torn as a profligate scientist is in firm command of his character, underused as he is for a good portion of the movie.
The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though much of the image is suitably sharp and dimensional with excellent flesh tones and overall good color consistency, those stock NASA shots at the beginning look worse than ever now in high definition. Also, there’s a curious soft spot (when everything else is in sharp focus) in the lower middle of the frame in many places during the movie that I don’t remember from theatrical showings. Still, the image is crisp enough to make out detailed textures in carpets, fabrics, and skin making this easily the best the movie has ever looked. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The PCM 2.0 (2.3 Mbps) audio track is really quite active with solid dialogue emanating clearly and cleanly from the center channel and music and other sound effects effectively channeled to the right and left. No audio artifacts like hiss, pops, or crackle mar the listening experience.
The audio commentary has been brought over from the 1992 laserdisc release of the film. In it director Nicolas Roeg and star David Bowie sit and talk about their work on the film in an easy-going dialogue. Buck Henry’s more animated comments have been added to the track to give his insight on the project.
All of the bonus video features are presented in 480p.
Screenwriter Paul Mayersberg participates in a 26 ¼-minute interview filmed in 2005 talking about how he adapted the original book for the screen, especially the changes in setting and the elimination of the heavier sci-fi aspects of the original story.
Original novelist Walter Tevis is interviewed for CBS radio in 1984, and the audio transcript of that interview runs for 24 ½ minutes. He discusses his entire career up to that point, his most recent book being The Color of Money which he hopes will be filmed with Paul Newman.
Rip Torn and Candy Clark discuss making the movie in a 2005 interview that’s every bit as informative as the audio commentary neither participated in. Their comments last 24 ¾ minutes.
Two production team members give audio interviews using film clips and stills as reference. Production designer Brian Eatwell talks for 23 ½ minutes while costume designer May Routh’s comments last 19 ½ minutes. Wardrobe sketches for several characters are also available in a step-through gallery.
Seven theatrical and TV trailers, many very similar to one another though one does feature William Shatner as the narrator, are available for viewing.
There are four additional step-through galleries: David James’ photos, Nicolas Roeg’s continuity book, producer Si Livinoff’s snapshots behind-the-scenes, and international movie posters for many of Nicolas Roeg’s films.
The enclosed 13-page booklet contains some stills and portraits of the star, the cast and crew list, and an essay in tribute to the film by film critic Graham Fuller.
The Criterion Blu-rays are now including a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is certainly one-of-a-kind, a science fiction parable taking our country’s population to task for its overindulgences and corrupting nature on the innocent. Though that’s a debatable moral, the fact remains that the film is unique of its kind and worthy of this first class Blu-ray treatment.