FIND MOVIES
Movie List
Loading ...
or
Find Theaters and Movie Times
or
Search Movies

Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Nicolas Roeg's enigmatic sci-fi film
By PETER KEOUGH  |  August 10, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars



Star Wars
came out the year after Nicolas Roeg's enigmatic sci-fi film (re-released now in an uncut version), and after that no studio was likely to make anything similar again, nor would many audiences have the patience to watch it. It was tough going even then, though fans of Tarkovskiy's Solaris (1972) and Kubrick's 2001 (1968) could likely appreciated its meditative approach to a traditionally pulpy genre. Those familiar with Roeg's previous films such as Walkabout (1972), Don't Look Now (1973), and especially Performance (1970), were also prepared not only for the disjointed editing, the skewed imagery, and elliptical narrative, but also the theme of being a stranger in a strange land, of the utter alien-ness of just being alive.

Or of being David Bowie. As Thomas Jerome Newton, he is the film's most impressive special effect. Pale, epicene, and as scrawny as a figure in an Egon Schiele painting, he falls to earth and presents a valise full of inventions to Farnsworth (Buck Henry), a patent lawyer. "With these you can take on RCA, DuPont, Eastman Kodak, for starters," Farnsworth tells him incredulously. And so he does.

For what purpose? The film offers something like an explanation, but — unlike Don't Look Now — it's no gripping mystery. And the paranoid subplot pales before the diabolical madness of Performance. Instead, the film evokes the oppression of sublunary existence, the void of a mid-'70s American culture drearier than the desert of Newton's home planet. Roeg doesn't shy from caricature, but he also creates in Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), the blowsy chambermaid who falls in love with Newton, and Bryce (Rip Torn), the cynical scientist who befriends him, characters capable of pathos and tragedy.

And though Roeg's special effects looked hokey even 35 years ago, some of the technological elements of the film have proven oddly prescient. Newton's self-developing camera is as close to digital as analog can get, and his compulsion to watch a dozen TVs at once prefigures the multiple distractions of the Internet. "The strange thing about television is that it doesn't tell you everything." Newton muses. "It shows you everything about life for nothing, but the true mysteries remain." As so do those in this haunting, infuriating movie.

Related: Review: How to Live Forever, Review: The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan, Review: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, More more >
  Topics: Reviews , Technology, remastered, editing,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY PETER KEOUGH
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BUFFET DINING: THE 15TH BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL  |  March 19, 2013
    "Copraphagy" is a key word at this year's Boston Underground Film Festival at the Brattle.
  •   REVIEW: GINGER & ROSA  |  March 19, 2013
    Sally Potter likes to mess around with form and narrative.
  •   UNDERGROUND CINEMA: THE 12TH BOSTON TURKISH FILM FESTIVAL  |  March 12, 2013
    This year's Boston Turkish Film Festival includes works in which directors ponder the relationships between the secular and the religious, between men and women, and between destiny and identity.
  •   REVIEW: A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III  |  March 12, 2013
    In Roman Coppola's sophomoric second feature (his 2001 debut CQ was promising), Charlie Sheen shows restraint as the titular asshole, a dissolute ad designer and solipsistic whiner who's mooning over the loss of his latest love.
  •   REVIEW: UPSIDE DOWN  |  March 14, 2013
    Had Ed Wood Jr. directed Fritz Lang's Metropolis , he couldn't have achieved the earnest dopiness of Juan Solanas's sci-fi allegory — nor the striking images.

 See all articles by: PETER KEOUGH