by Mike Corrigan
I used to catch fleeting bits of The Man Who Fell to Earth on free Showtime weekends or hacked-up fragments on late-night network TV. Intrigued by these random sightings, I've longed for an opportunity to experience it in its full, unmolested glory. With Anchor Bay's thoughtful new DVD version of this odd and captivating sci-fi tale (based on a novel by Walter Tevis), the goods are hereby delivered.
British director Nicolas Roeg's 1976 cult classic relates the story of a visitor from a dying planet (David Bowie as the na & iuml;ve and enigmatic Thomas Jerome Newton) who comes to Earth in search of water but winds up becoming a wealthy tycoon, a celebrity and, ultimately, a prisoner -- manipulated and rendered ineffectual by both internal and external forces.
Though outwardly human in appearance, Newton -- with guarded feelings and motives -- is the ultimate outsider, closed off from everyone around him, untouchable and unknowable in any meaningful way. Yet he has a profound effect on those who manage to peer beneath his exterior sheen (Candy Clark as lover Mary-Lou and Rip Torn as confidant-of-sorts Nathan Bryce) and in his frailty and helplessness seems every bit as human as the rest of us. Bowie is perfectly cast as a stranger in a strange land and does a terrific job conveying Newton's loneliness, acute isolation and eventual inner desolation. It's a tragedy in the classic sense, but with subtle humor amid all the pathos (I especially like the scene where Bowie as Newton struggles to hit the right note in a church hymn).
The film's non-linear storytelling is enhanced through the skillful use of cross-cutting and juxtaposition as well as flashbacks and other temporal manipulations, lending it a surreal, dream-like quality. Time is greatly compressed, and while the characters around Newton age noticeably, Newton himself does not -- at least in the physical sense. Like Newton, the film is stylish yet challenging and ambiguous.
This 139-minute, enhanced widescreen, THX-sound version should help establish this oft-overlooked film as one of the most original and visually stunning entries in sci-fi cinema. Disc two of the double set includes the standard goodies (theatrical trailers, etc.), but the real gem here is a revealing new 24-minute featurette containing interviews with Roeg, Clark and executive producer Si Litvinoff.
Publication date: 03/13/03