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Nicolas Roeg
David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey, Jackson D. Kane, Jackson D. Kane
Writing Credits:
Paul Mayersberg, based on the novel by Walter Tevis

You have to believe it to see it
Rated R.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English DD EX 5.1
English DTS ES 6.1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 139 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 2/11/2003

• ďWatching the AlienĒ Documentary
• Poster and Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
• TV Spots
• Talent Bios
• THX Optimizer


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The Man Who Fell to Earth: Special Edition (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 28, 2003)

Whatís with the spate of recent DVDs that feature rock stars as actors? From Madonnaís Swept Away to Jaggerís The Man From Elysian Fields to Eminemís Eight Mile, weíre getting more of these titles than normal.

Add to that list one of the older Ė and odder - entries in the series, 1976ís The Man Who Fell to Earth. Earth features Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who comes to our planet to seek water for his arid home world. He takes some sensational inventions to attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) to patent, as Newton needs lots of money. Newton indeed becomes a huge financial success due to his technology, and World Enterprises turns into a major entity.

Eventually Newton moves his companyís base to New Mexico, where he meets hotel maid Mary-Lou (Candy Clark). The pair meet under poor circumstances, as Newton gets motion-sick on an elevator, but they quickly become a couple. Mary-Lou remains part of Newtonís life through the remainder of the story.

We also encounter lecherous college professor Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn). He eventually quits academia to work for Newton, and he becomes part of the research team that deals with Newtonís attempts to build a spacecraft. Newton hides his identity and motivations, but eventually these become evident to those around him. He also turns into a recluse and an alcoholic and experiences breakdowns.

That synopsis probably makes Earth sound pretty clear-cut and linear, but it most definitely doesnít follow a standard storytelling path. That factor creates both the filmís biggest strength and greatest weakness. To be sure, director Nicolas Roeg offers a very unusual piece with Earth. Time flows in a manner that makes it difficult to follow, especially since Newton never ages. Roeg jumps around quite a bit as well, so the viewer may well become confused during a screening of the flick.

That makes Earth rather inaccessible much of the time. I know that when I first tried to watch it back in the Eighties, I gave up on it after about 15 minutes. One canít enter a viewing of Earth and expect something direct and clear-cut, as the movie requires a suspension of standard notions to a large degree.

Really, Earth strongly resembles Kubrickís 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both favor visuals over strict storytelling and they progress in an atypical manner. Earth seems more conventional the 2001 and not quite as good, but the similarities exist, as the Kubrick flick clearly acted as an influence.

Iíve now seen Earth all the way through twice, and I really donít feel sure what I ultimately think of it. To be sure, the movie offers an intriguing and unusual experience. The non-linear style doesnít create as many problems as one might expect, but the loose manner in which Roeg tells the tale can be an issue. That occurs especially during the second half of the flick, as the plot starts to collapse into moderate incoherence. The introduction of a rather mysterious character named Peters (Bernie Casey) complicates matters, and much of the filmís last hour seems jumbled and messy.

Granted, the events that precede that period donít exactly come across as crisp and taut, but they appear significantly more sensible. The movie really tends to meander during the second half. It ends on a fairly strong note, but getting to that point becomes a bit tough.

Rock stars tend to do best when they play characters close to themselves. Thatís why Madonna scored with Desperately Seeking Susan and Eminem hit with 8 Mile. While Iím pretty sure Bowie didnít actually come from another world, Newton certainly matched the artist circa 1976. Heavily involved with cocaine, at that time Bowie felt very disconnected from the world. That worked well for his art, as 1976ís chilly and robotic Station to Station remains possibly his greatest album, but it certainly didnít help the man himself.

It did seem to assist his performance as Newton. God knows Bowie didnít need to act a whole lot to act like somewhat detached from society, and he does quite well in the role. At times, Bowie emotes a little too strongly, as he encounters some problems with the broader elements of the role; when Newton expresses sides of himself beyond the introverted elements, Bowie tends to appear a bit over the top. Still, he provides some of the better aspects of the film, as he mostly inhabits the role well.

A difficult film, The Man Who Fell to Earth presents an intriguing experience and comes across as generally compelling. However, it definitely isnít for everyone. The non-linear style of storytelling can make the movie seem disjointed, and it also rambles at times. In addition, it includes copious scenes of sex and nudity, which will strongly turn off some viewers. Occasionally incoherent, periodically dated, but usually stimulating, Earth doesnít seem like a great film, but itís a fairly interesting one.

Cameo alert: keep an eye out for Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell during one crowd scene. In addition, Bowie fans will recognize the interior of the spacecraft from the cover of Station to Station as well as imagery that reminds us of 1977ís Low. (Much of Low came from sessions intended to form the movieís soundtrack.) In a record store scene, we also get a sly glimpse of Young Americans, Bowieís most current album during the filming of Earth.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B+ / Bonus C+

The Man Who Fell to Earth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though erratic, Earth generally presented a fairly positive picture.

Sharpness demonstrated the most significant issues. Most of the movie came across as acceptably crisp and detailed, but many exceptions occurred. At times the image looked somewhat soft and dull. Those instances mostly happened during the movieís first half, as it tightened up quite a bit during the second hour, but the flick still seemed oddly soft too much of the time. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Despite the age of the movie, it seemed surprisingly free of defects. Varying levels of grain cropped up at times, but otherwise, very few flaws appeared. I noticed the occasional speckle and mark but nothing else; overall, the image was quite clean.

Colors varied but generally seemed satisfactory. At times the hues appeared somewhat flat and bland, but they usually came across as reasonably rich and distinct. I noticed no issues related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns; the modest dullness was the only problem I saw. Black levels were decently deep and rich but not anything special, while shadow detail was a bit thick but generally appropriate; low-light situations mostly came across as adequately clean and clear. Ultimately, The Man Who Fell to Earth offered a reasonably good presentation that suffered mostly from some moderate softness.

In a more positive vein, the soundtracks of Earth worked quite well for a movie from the mid-Seventies. The DVD offered both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 mixes. I felt the pair sounded virtually identical, as I noticed no significant differences between the two.

The soundfield mostly offered a forward orientation. Within that domain, the audio showed good spread and imaging. For the most part, the sounded tended toward a general sense of ambience, but some more distinct examples occurred, and those were nicely delineated. Localization and placement seemed natural and accurate, and the elements combined well. As for surround usage, they tended to mostly just reinforce the forward audio, but they added some unique elements at times. The whole package combined to create a nice soundfield that seemed better than expected for a film of this vintage.

Audio quality appeared erratic but generally solid. Speech seemed a little thin and hollow, and I also noticed some minor vocal bleeding to the sides at times. However, dialogue generally remained acceptably natural, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded fairly clear and distinctive, as the various musical elements appeared reasonably smooth. Effects occasionally sounded a little shrill, but they usually seemed acceptably natural and accurate. Bass response was a bit boomy at times but it remained fairly tight and offered a good presence as a whole. The soundtracks of Earth did nothing terribly spectacular, but I thought they sounded well above average for a film from this time period.

Although one might expect a surfeit of extras from a two-DVD set, The Man Who Fell to Earth only includes a few. The sole piece found on disc one offers the THX Optimizer. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which itís included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, Iíve been very happy with my already-established calibration and Iím afraid to muck with it, so Iíve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if youíre just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

As we move to DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a new documentary called Watching the Alien. This 24-minute and 30-second program mixes movie clips, stills, and contemporary interviews from director Nicolas Roeg, actor Candy Clark, editor Graeme Clifford, production designer Brian Eatwell, executive producer Si Litvinoff, cinematographer Anthony Richmond, and costume designer May Routh. The show covers the origins of the project, casting, editing, its non-linear style, Bowieís rejected soundtrack, the filmís legacy, and other elements. Though the absence of Bowie comes as a disappointment, the show nonetheless goes over a lot of interesting topics and it offers a good general look at the movie.

Next we get some promotional materials. The trailers section includes five ads. We find two US theatrical clips along with the US teaser, an international teaser, and the international trailer. In addition, the DVD offers two TV spots.

Within the Poster and Still Gallery, we locate 40 screens of photos and other images. The Talent Bios area includes listings for just director Roeg and actor David Bowie. Though itís too bad we find only two entries, at least they demonstrate very good quality, as they seem much more detailed than the average DVD bio.

For DVD-ROM equipped viewers, the package also includes the filmís original screenplay. Presented in the PDF format, this offers a useful extra. The package ends with a nice little booklet. It features some production notes and additional comments about the flick.

Anyone who wants an evening with a light and easy DVD should skip The Man Who Fell to Earth. A complicated film, Earth presents an intriguing experience that falters at times but generally seems compelling and interesting. The DVD offers decent but inconsistent picture quality along with surprisingly strong audio and a small roster of extras highlighted by a useful documentary. Definitely not a film for a general audience, Earth provides a difficult movie that doesnít totally succeed, but it offers enough vivid material to merit a viewing by those who feel an interest in the project.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2857 Stars Number of Votes: 21
4 3:
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