Glam rocker David Bowie, fresh off his Diamond Dogs tour, plays the title character as the ultimate illegal alien -- he's not here to eat us like popcorn or share galactic wisdom, he's just here to make some money to help his family back home.
His planet is becoming an arid wasteland and Bowie, known as Thomas Jerome Newton on Earth, uses his extraterrestrial intelligence to take out several patents on inventions that make him the reclusive billionaire owner of World Enterprises. The global powerhouse is creating a space program, drawing the frowning attention of the government.
Bowie is one of the delights of the film. He's an ethereal presence, his nearly translucent skin topped with a shock of hennaed hair. He falls directly to Earth, plunging into a lake. No spacecraft is ever seen.
And much of the film explores his loneliness and confusion. Newton, who seems content to watch multiple televisions and drink more and more gin, is manipulated by the motel maid who sees him as a ticket out of her two-grain-elevator town and by the randy, over-inquisitive researcher (Rip Torn) he hired to create rocket fuel.
Performances by Buck Henry as the patent attorney who launches Newton's business empire, Candy Clark as the desperate Mary Lou and Torn as the college prof who bangs his coeds are spectacular. The color on the Criterion Collection DVD is restored to its original brilliance and the cut is director Nicholas Roeg's original 140 minutes. The DVD extras include fond reminiscences by Torn and Clark and a frank behind-the-scenes appraisal by screenwriter Paul Mayersburg.
Directed by Roeg (Walkabout) from the novel by William Tevis (The Hustler), The Man Who Fell To Earth is full of the wretched excess of the 1970s -- the full frontal nudity is a hoot -- and it moves at a lugubrious pace but still is beautifully filmed and acted.
And it ends with a bit of quiet dialogue that is far more potent than the usual bombast that concludes most sci-fi films.