Adapted from the 1963 novel of the same name by American novelist and short story writer Walter Tevis (who also wrote the novels “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money”) Roeg’s film follows Newton as he arrives on Earth seeking a way to bring water back home to his dying planet, Anthea, and is slowly corrupted by the unholy trinity of sex, alcohol and television.
Whilst some would no doubt argue that Bowie is far from a great actor with “The Man Who Fell To Earth” he’s never been more perfectly cast, with his striking androgynous features and British accent perfectly encapsulating both Newton’s otherworldly spirit and strange extraterrestrial allure. The supporting cast is equally as impressive with the wonderful Candy Clark (“American Graffiti”) awarding the film its true heart as Mary-Lou, the hotel maid who falls in love with Newton and Rip Torn (“Men In Black”) as Nathan Bryce, the promiscuous high school teacher whose life is given a new direction by Newton’s arrival.
Perhaps most refreshingly of all, in an age when alien invasion flicks are ten a penny, here we’re introduced to the very antithesis of the planet destroying xenomorph so prevalent in modern cinema. For in Newton we have a true alien; an outsider, a stranger and an alienated soul cast adrift from the familiar solitude and peaceful existence of his home planet and plunged headlong into the giddy, debauched and corrupted world we live in. Thus the title itself takes on a definite sense of ambiguity with Newton’s fall to Earth becoming less a cosmic one and more a spiritual one.
Yet it’s not just space that’s the issue here but time itself and Roeg displays great skill and confidence with narrative structure, playing about with the audiences perceptions and leaping ahead several years in a single cut. Such flagrant skewing of narrative is certain to leave some people a little baffled in the film’s early stages but it also lends the films a wonderful dreamlike ambience as the world moves ever onwards and Newton remains forever unchanged. The precise timespan the film encompasses is, like many other questions, one that Roeg drapes with a definite sense of ambiguity though the aging of Mary Lou alone leaves us in no doubt that a great many years have passed by the film’s conclusion.
With its bold use of surreal imagery, unconventional structure and suprisingly explicit sex “The Man Who Fell To Earth” was truly light years away from the science fiction of Death Stars, lightsabers, effeminate robots and walking carpets that audiences would be introduced to the following year yet Roeg’s film more than stands the test of time thanks, in no small part, to the superb casting and the decision not to spoon feed the audience with explanations and exposition. And whilst this may leave some floundering those who are prepared to give it time with be justly rewarded with an intelligent and thought-provoking slice of Seventies sci-fi.
On Bluray the film looks suitably beguiling with the lush panoramas of Earth standing in stark contrast to the muted simplicity of the scenes on Jerome’s home planet. And whilst the HD makeover does occasionally make some of the aging effects used in the latter half of the film look a little shonky it’s certainly never to the detriment of the film itself and more often than not the high calibre of acting eclipses such shortcomings.
Extras wise we’re once again treated to the “Watching The Alien” making of from the previous DVD release (keep ’em peeled for a glimpse of a very young Duncan Jones) alongside a batch of new interviews with the likes of Nic Roeg, Candy Clark, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg and cinematographer Tony Richmond and the obligatory theatrical trailer. Unfortunately the Roeg-Bowie commentary that featured on the US Criterion disc is sadly absent leaving us with an above average yet slightly underwhelming set of extras that would have greatly benefited from some input by the great David Bowie himself.