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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.

Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. He starts a high technology company to get the billions of dollars he needs to build a return spacecraft, and meets Mary-Lou, a girl who falls in love with him. He does not count on the greed and ruthlessness of business here on Earth, however.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English LPCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 139 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/16/2008

• Audio Commentary with Director Nicolas Roeg and Actors David Bowie and Buck Henry
• Paul Mayersberg Interview
• Walter Tevis Audio Interview
Performance - Candy Clark and Rip Torn
• Production and Costume Design
• Trailers
• Galleries
• 32-Page Booklet
• Reprint of Novel


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Man Who Fell to Earth: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 23, 2006)

On the short list of successful performances from rock stars turned actors, we find David Bowie in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. It features Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who comes to our planet to seek water for his arid home world.

Newton 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 company’s base to New Mexico, where he encounters 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 Newton’s 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 Newton’s attempts to build a spacecraft. Newton hides his identity and motivations, but eventually these become evident to those around him. Newton also turns into a reclusive alcoholic who experiences breakdowns.

That synopsis probably makes Earth sound pretty clear-cut and linear, but it most definitely doesn’t follow a standard storytelling path. That creates both the film’s 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 from year to year quite a bit as well, so the viewer may well become confused during a screening of the flick.

That makes Earth difficult to access 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 can’t 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.

In many ways, Earth strongly resembles Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both favor visuals over “normal” storytelling and they progress in an atypical manner. Earth seems more conventional then 2001 and not quite as good, but the similarities exist, as the Kubrick flick clearly acted as an influence.

I’ve now seen Earth all the way through five times, and I really don’t feel sure what I ultimately think of it. I do know that the movie offers an intriguing and unusual experience. The non-linear style doesn’t 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 film’s last hour seems a bit jumbled and messy.

Granted, the events that precede that period don’t 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 tough.

Rock stars tend to do best when they play characters close to themselves. That’s why Madonna scored with Desperately Seeking Susan and Eminem hit with 8 Mile.

While I’m pretty sure Bowie didn’t 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 1976’s chilly and robotic Station to Station remains possibly his greatest album, but it certainly didn’t help the man himself.

It also seemed to assist his performance as Newton. God knows Bowie didn’t need to act a whole lot to come across as 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 movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth presents an intriguing experience and comes across as generally compelling. However, it definitely isn’t 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 doesn’t impress me as a great film, but it’s a consistently 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 1977’s Low. (Much of Low came from sessions intended to form the movie’s soundtrack.) In a record store scene, we also get a sly glimpse of Young Americans, Bowie’s most current album during the filming of Earth.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B / Bonus A-

The Man Who Fell to Earth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Earth provided a consistently strong visual experience.

Sharpness looked solid. Various photographic techniques occasionally gave us a slightly soft presentation, but those issues seemed related to the cinematography. Overall, the movie was concise and accurate.

Jagged edges and moiré 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. Any specks remained so minor as to essentially not exist.

Colors excelled. Within the production design, the hues came across as reasonably rich and distinct. I noticed no issues related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns, as the tones were lively and dynamic. Black levels were deep and rich, while shadow detail looked clean and clear. The image looked exceedingly good.

The LPCM Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Earth worked quite well for a movie from the mid-Seventies, as the audio showed good spread and imaging. For the most part, the sound 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.

Audio quality appeared erratic but generally solid. Speech sometimes 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 soundtrack of Earth did nothing terribly spectacular, but I thought it sounded above average for a film from this time period.

How does the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the Criterion DVD release? The lossless audio was a bit more robust, and the visuals demonstrated superior accuracy and vivacity. I felt pleased with the DVD but the Blu-ray improved on it.

The Blu-ray repeats the DVD’s extras. To start, we get an audio commentary with director Nicolas Roeg and actors David Bowie and Buck Henry. Roeg did one session on his own and another with Bowie, while Henry sat solo.

Originally recorded for a 1993 laserdisc, the edited track meshes the three recordings well. Bowie and Roeg look at how Bowie came onto the project and why he did it, thematic and character issues, Bowie’s state of mind at the time, locations and sets, Roeg’s style and his cinematic history, camerawork and visual design, scientific topics and how the film fits in the sci-fi genre, the movie’s non-linear style, and other production topics. Henry gets into his own casting and performance as well as why he wanted to work with Roeg, his impressions of the director, and additional story-related material.

Given how much I adore Bowie’s work, it probably comes as no surprise that I think he shines the brightest here. Bowie’s a truly interesting conversationalist, and he peppers the commentary with plenty of interesting and funny memories. Roeg gives us solid thoughts about his work, while Henry contributes his own useful concepts. More introspective than most commentaries and with a fair amount of interpretation, this one complements Earth well.

One minor complaint: this commentary has become somewhat dated because the participants refer to a fair number of then-current events. This doesn’t make it tough to understand their intentions, but it can cause some confusion as the listener tries to get into a 1992 mindset to comprehend the references.

Next we find an Interview with Screenwriter Paul Mayersberg. In this 26-minute, 17-second piece, Mayersberg discusses the work of author Walter Tevis and various issues connected to its film adaptation. The writer gets into the complications related to bringing Tevis’s complex tale to the screen and what he attempted to do with the story. Mayersberg also goes over various references and influences , connections to Tevis’s The Hustler, cast and characters, and specifics about the script. He tells us quite a lot of useful information about the script in this rich and involving chat.

We hear from the novel’s author himself in a Walter Tevis Audio Interview. Recorded in 1984, he chats with writer/broadcaster Don Swaim for about 24 minutes. They discuss Tevis’s history and its influences on his work, how he got into writing and eventually made it into his career, reflections on his novels, his interest in “speculative fiction”, and his plans for the then-future.

The interview largely discusses Tevis’s then-current novel. That makes sense since the author obviously wanted to promote his product, but it means the interview isn’t tremendously interesting for those who want to learn more about Earth. Tevis is always lively and frank, and he ensures that the chat remains enjoyable. It just doesn’t satisfy for those who want to know what led Tevis into Earth. He does toss out a few notions such as how his alcoholism affected the story but nothing else about Earth pops up here.

Performance: Candy Clark and Rip Torn goes for 24 minutes, 52 seconds. We find interviews with those two actors. Recorded separately, they talk about their impressions of the film, why they took their parts and their performances, the script and the characters, working with Roeg and Bowie, shooting the sex scenes, and general anecdotes about their experiences. Both provide fine notes, though I think Clark offers the most interesting tidbits such as the revelation that she fills in for Bowie in one scene. Neatly edited and engaging, “Performance” works well.

A few different segments appear under the banner Production and Costume Design. We find audio clips with production designer Brian Eatwell (23:37) and costume designer May Routh (19:37). Both participants discuss issues we expect. Eatwell gets into sets and the movie’s visual look, while Routh chats about the film’s costumes and related challenges.

Eatwell proves especially edifying as he digs into topics like working in New Mexico, collaborating with Roeg and his thoughts on the actors, and many shot specifics. Both are useful, but Eatwell is very chatty and engaging. This section also includes “Sketches” of eight costume concepts.

Six trailers and one TV spot show up along with a collection of Galleries. That domain gives us “David James’ Photographs” (181 shots), “Nicolas Roeg’s Continuity Book” (39 frames), “Si Litvinoff’s Snapshots” (35) and “Nicolas Roeg Poster Gallery” (52). All offer good material, but James’ pictures are definitely the best of the bunch. In addition to the stills, James provides a surprisingly long and informative audio introduction about how he came onto Earth and his work on the flick.

The package includes a 32-page booklet. It presents a 1938 poem from WH Auden, essays by Graham Fuller and Jack Matthews, and photos. It’s a good little piece. It also throws in a reproduction of the original novel, which is a very nice touch.

Anyone who wants an evening with a light and easy film should skip The Man Who Fell to Earth. A complicated work, Earth presents an intriguing experience that falters at times but generally seems compelling and interesting. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture as well as positive audio and a useful selection of supplements. This becomes a strong release for an absorbing movie.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main