It’s been 40 years since the release of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and in that time a lot has changed. If I’m being honest, this isn’t a film that really holds up too well. Last year the star of the film, David Bowie, passed away, and it would seem prosperous and logical to crank out an anniversary edition of the film. As it stands this film isn’t considered so much a classic, but a cult film that fans of Bowie and certain sci-fi fans hold in high regard. For me, this was simply a title I had heard of in passing during talks about Bowie or sci-fi films, but it was never a film that really called to me. To the disappointment of several friends, I’m not much of a fan of David Bowie’s music, and science fiction just isn’t a genre I’m in love with. But when the call came in from Upcomingdiscs headquarters about reviewing this film, well, I decided to finally check this film out, and the result…well it certainly left me pondering the film afterwards.
I’m going to start off by saying this is a strange film, not just in subject matter but how the story is told. Today we’re used to seeing films in a traditional linear manner, where basically the story unfolds from start to finish in an ABCD manner. Well, this film goes that direction but chooses to skip over C to get to D. What I mean is there are gaps in story and time that are not explained, and there is no reason for this, and don’t dwell on it much despite how often this occurs.
The film opens with what I suspect is supposed to be a visual interpretation of Newton (Bowie) falling to Earth and into a lake. This is followed by watching him travel what is believed to be many miles till he stumbles into a town where he pawns off his wedding band to make a few bucks. We then jump ahead to Newton selling patents to some unique inventions that will help him amass a fortune that will later help him own and run a company where he plans to make billions. It’s a lot to have thrown at the viewer. We still haven’t had a chance to get to know who this Newton character even is, and the story really is only just getting started.
Things finally start to slow down as Newton takes a trip to New Mexico (I still am not sure why this is) where he checks into a hotel and he meets Mary Lou (Candy Clark). Mary Lou comes off a sweet but simple girl, but she’s the human who seems to teach Newton many of his human lessons while he spends his time on Earth. Up until his first encounter with Mary Lou, everything Newton has learned about society has been through television. Even in the 70’s there is enough violence and sex on the airwaves to assault the senses and overwhelm an alien being.
It’s not till later in the film that we discover the point of Newton’s trip to Earth is to learn from us and save his own planet, since it is dying from lack of water. Back on his planet he has a family of his own, and, well, they do appear a bit curious-looking, but the alien family is practically the most normal thing about this film oddity.
The editing of this film is definitely what gives the film its unique voice, whether it’s the odd cuts in the story or how conflicting images are thrown in during sequences of the film to evoke certain emotions. One of the oddest moments comes when Newton finally reveals his true self to Mary Lou and the odd sexual images that are cut into the sequence. Sure, this will fit in nicely as an art house feature and rightly fits in with its cult film status, but for the casual filmgoers, I can see them walking away from this and feeling as though they sat through a surreal acid trip.
By the time the film ends, yes, there is a story and a plot that makes sense, and you can discuss it in a logical manner, but I can’t help but feel so much is missing and unexplained. As performances go, this may be the closest to the real David Bowie we ever got to see; he and Newton seem to both be figures from another place and time that just never quite fit in. Bowie just happened to make millions off it.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is presented in the aspect ratio 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 22 mbps. One of the first things that somewhat surprised me about this release is the low bit rate. Normally for a title like this that has gone through the remastering stage, I’d expect something closer to the 30 range, and as I was watching the film there were a few areas that bothered me. At times the film appears to be a bit faded where the image appears to not have a proper color grading. Yet at other points the image appears to be sharp. There is plenty of grain throughout; some of this can’t be helped due to what would be on the master prints of material they sourced, but then there are some night shots where it just feels as though it was overlooked. Could this be that from the print they had to work with, this is the best they can do? I don’t have an answer for that, but thankfully the image is largely clean throughout and does look nice.
The DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 track is pretty good when you consider that Surround Sound was something that would come in the not-so-distant future. The dialog comes through clear from start to finish, and the film’s music sounds clean as well. The audio track is the kind of soundtrack that defines its time, between the quirky sounds during flashbacks and its weird musical track.
The Limited Collector’s Edition comes on three discs, one Blu-Ray and two DVDs that contain the same features as described on the Blu-Ray disc.
Interviews: (2 hours 46 min) You have the option to go ahead and play all or listen to the interviews one at a time. Candy Clark (Mary Lou), (writer) Paul Mayersberg, Tony Richmond (cinematographer), Nicolas Roag (director), May Routh (costume design), David James (stills photographer), Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fan), Michael Deeley (producer) are all together with so many details on the project to share. Even though all these together clocked in at close to three hours, I managed to sit through this without the urge to skip to the next. I’m just fascinated by all these stories and how a film that’s lived on for 40 years emerged. I wish so badly there was a true behind-the-scenes feature here.
The Lost Soundtracks Featurette: (16:44) Interviews discussing the rumored contributions Bowie was going to make to the soundtrack.
David Bowie interview on French TV 1977: (8:20) This is one of the promotional TV spots Bowie ended up doing to promote the film. It’s awkward and charming all at the same time.
The Limited Collector’s Edition also comes with a 72-page booklet, a mini-poster, and a collection of photos.
The long and short of it, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a fish-out-of-water story with an alien who just wants to go home and be with his family. I wish the film just kept it simple, but that’s not the case. For some they’ll find the film frustrating; others will appreciate seeing a film that doesn’t feel the need to spell it all out for you. I’m somewhere in between. While I like the film and can appreciate it especially from a visual standpoint, I’m not so sure how quick I’ll be to revisit this title.