The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976 UK)

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The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976 UK)

Post  BoG on Sat Mar 13, 2010 8:26 pm

This is one of those sf films which invites controversy, disagreement (about whether it's brilliant or foolish) and - more than anything - puzzlement. Many film fans have trouble figuring out what director Nicolas Roeg was intending. The story sounds simple - an alien (singer David Bowie) comes to Earth in order to acquire water for his dying planet. Roeg's execution of this simple plot is often mystifying and convoluted. As written elsewhere, the film
Craig W. Anderson wrote:is pretentious, earthy, amusing, sad, meaningful and wonderfully oddball in its approach to the "alien among us" theme, first brought to the screen with panache by director Robert Wise and scenarist Edmund H. North in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). While watching The Man Who Fell To Earth time seems to stand still. - from SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF THE SEVENTIES 1985 McFarland and Co., Inc.

Craig W. Anderson wrote:The Man Who Fell to Earth is the science fiction equivalent of Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1962) with jump cuts, unsettling changes in time and place, scenes inserted here and there with no apparent reason or function within the structure of the film, philosophical polemic scattered into every nook and cranny of the film... a contentious parable of mankind's perverse ability to destroy himself and his surroundings. It is also a searing indictment of a heartless society poisoning people and environment alike in the quest for the almighty dollar...I think.
- from SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF THE SEVENTIES 1985 McFarland and Co., Inc.
As this last suggests, the alien in this film is simply a stand-in for ourselves - as the film unreels, the alien is steadily poisoned and destroyed by the pernicious aspects of our society - that's the gist of it (he gets addicted to TV, for one thing).  As a result, he utterly fails in his mission to help his world and, more to the point, his own family back on his home world. Myself, I don't really see how, even with his advanced knowledge, he would be able to launch so huge an undertaking all the way back to his planet - in other words, enough water to aid an entire planet; maybe he was only intending to help his immediate family, but it's probably not too important a question, even in its pragmatism. The title actually says it all - the man who FELL to Earth - he didn't land on his feet, so to say.

The issues that viewers have with this film, whether positive or negative, ultimately revolve around the visuals. As has been stated elsewhere, Roeg probably wanted to tell the story strictly with the visuals for much of the film, hence there are long sequences without any dialog and the viewer needs to interpret what is happening only by the moving pictures on the screen, whether these make much sense or not. This is apparent right from the very beginning, as one of the first scenes show the alien carefully scrambling down a sharp incline in some rural or wilderness area. We are never shown the alien's arrival in his spaceship (indeed - is there a spaceship?). The viewer has to fill in all the blanks at this very early stage of the story.
The film also has an interesting cast - the humans that the alien encounters and deals with in his own unattached manner. Rip Torn plays a dissatisfied college professor who joins the alien's new corporation and ends up becoming his chief aide until things fall apart. He seems disloyal from the start. Candy Clark, a small town hotel employee, becomes the alien's girlfriend. Buck Henry plays another cog in the system, an attorney, which eventually gets discarded. And Bernie Casey has a mysterious role, starting as what seems to be a simple enforcer and ending up as the new guy in charge. Bowie was ideal at the time to portray the alien, someone who looks like us, but not exactly like us, with a hint of alien - though it's made apparent when his real eyes are revealed. Though a singer, he had a pretty good film career in the next few years, usually playing characters which were not routine or even human. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10

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