HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Man Who Fell To Earth: Limited Collector's Edition
HTS Overall Score:80
There are few popular films on earth that are as polarizing as Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. It’s one of those movies that you will either adore, or you will end up hating unapologetically. An arthouse film to the core it employs oddly surreal camera shoots with jagged cuts and pans to different time frames, while incorporating harsh electronic 70s music to create a hypnotic tale of tragedy and betrayal. I remember being a young boy watching the VHS of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and being barely old enough to comprehend what was going on, let alone capture the intricacies of the movie, but the odd visuals and blatant nudity captivated my young eyes enough for it to leave a lasting impression on this reviewer. It’s literally been YEARS since I saw the film in its entirety, only able to view it once 6 years ago, when the Criterion collection came out. Now that the Criterion edition has been out of print for some time and fetches a ridiculous price on the third market, most people were out of luck at picking up this classic Bowie film, but thanks to Lionsgate we have a nice three-disc edition of the film at a MUCH more reasonable price point.
Taken from the novel by Walter Tevis, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is a strange science fiction drama that is almost the antithesis of modern sci-fi. Most films of the genre have alien invaders bringing warnings of doom and destructions, death and destruction itself, or benevolent tidings. “TMWFTE” (shortening that title for the remainder of this review) instead is more a tale of being alienated as an alien in an alien world. David Bowie is Thomas Jerome Newton, an androgynous looking man who appears out of nowhere and brings with him a patent for an incredible new form of photography. A patent that starts him on the path to success with a 300-million-dollar contract that soon nets him a worldwide corporation of epic proportions. It’s not known till about the halfway point (but sadly spoilt on the back cover and description of the movie so it’s no spoiler at this point) that we find out that Thomas is actually an alien from another planet. Sent here to collect water for his home planet (explaining his obsession with the substance throughout), Thomas has become trapped. With his giant corporation, he plans on acquiring the funds necessary to create a new spacecraft and use it to get back to his home world someday.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89209[/img]“TMWFTE” is a strange tale, that is for certain. But it is one that is highly nuanced and intelligent, no matter if you like the subject material or not. It’s a tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun in a science fiction setting. Thomas Newton is a remarkably chaste and controlled person when he arrives on earth. The only thing he will imbibe is water, and he seems to show no signs of interest in the opposite sex. It’s not till a young hotel maid by the name of Mary Lou (Candy Clark) who falls in love with his human form, and soon his walls start to crumble. The chasteness that he once clung to falls away with more and physical encounters, the television that annoyed him now consumes his life (you can see him watching 9 or 10 different sets at once in many shots), and his imbibement of gin now out paces his taste for water. As his life careens out of control with the differing lusts of the flesh Thomas becomes more and more disassociated with the reality that is besetting him. Even when his corporation is taken over violently by government agents and stooges who are fearful that he is making TOO great of a progress too fast for the economy to handle, he can’t see what is happening. Living in his palace of money and pleasures the reality of what is happening just coasts on by until it is too late, and he is trapped on earth forever as a result.
While I completely agree with many critics that “TMWFTE” is a wonderful film, it is also an acquired taste. The very first time that I sat down and watched the movie in its entirety (outside of my 9 year old viewing decades ago) I absolutely LOATHED the film. Roeg uses harsh editing and a sort of surreal, meandering storytelling method. A method that feels disjointed and almost pointless at times. If you’re just looking for a simple movie with a three-act plot, then you will be VERY disappointed. Much of what Roeg does is almost like painting a tapestry. It’s visual poetry and the second and third viewings make for a much more fulfilling experience. Now, as much as I like the film I fully understand why some people can’t keep their eyes open. It’s filled with random nudity and what seems like drug induced photography that makes for a very jarring experience. Especially with the harsh and shrill 70s electronic score that accompanies the strange visualizations. Even back in the 70s the special effects were considered hokey and low budget. So, in today’s world of CGI trickery the film looks archaic and strange.
The real saving grace of “TMWFTE” is the casting of David Bowie as Thomas Newton. I’m not a Bowie fanatic who loves every bit of music and every bit of film acting that he’s ever done, but he fits the role of the androgynous lead character to a T. The overly wide lips, the emaciated frame, and the angular cut of his face make for a human who really does LOOK alien. His intensity and almost panache acting style that spins back and forth from overly dramatic to almost icily cold allows for the viewer to really feel as if Thomas is TRULY an alien living in an alien land. The loneliness and separation from the rest of humanity comes across loud and clear, giving the movie its real power.
Rated R by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89217[/img]The Criterion Collection version of “TMWFTE” was supposedly approved by Nicolas Roeg, but in 2015 Studio Canal commissioned a 4K restoration of the movie for release in U.K. Cinemas. By all sources that I can find it seems that this Lionsgate release is struck from that same 4K remastering and ALSO approved by Nicolas Roeg. Comparing the two side by side you can see a definite push towards yellow in the Lionsgate release, while the Criterion has distinctive red push. Changes in scanning and the remastering process can account for some of the changes, but I’m highly suspicious that Roeg did some more tweaking on the side during this process. I would have to say that NOTHING in the film looks realistic, but the colors are vibrant and give us a wide array of tones and shades, from the bright red and oranges of Newton’s hair to the yellows of the craft that he uses to leave his family. The pale white of his skin shows up dramatically well against the bright primaries, and the soft shades of blue and purple that make up the more psychedelic moments make for a wild and crazy ride. Contrasts appear to be well balanced, and black levels are solid, but there is an issue of softness that comes and goes throughout the presentation. Especially with the use of fish eye lenses and some odd optical effects used during the 70s. Grain is solid, but sometimes inconsistent, but overall clarity is fantastic outside of those soft optical shots.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89225[/img]Comparing the LPCM 2.0 and the DTS-HD MA track of the Criterion and Lionsgate releases seem to show no real differences. My guess is that the same recording was used for both releases but differing encoding wrappers were used (uncompressed raw for the Criterion and DTS-HD MA for the Lionsgate). As such I won’t go into any more detail about differences as there really aren’t any. The strange sound design and shrill 70s score is the real appeal of the track, and it’s replicated quite well with the 2.0 experience. There’s a little LFE umph with certain shots, but mostly it’s a strongly intoxicating use of imaging in the front soundstage with the odd score. The vocals are crisp and mostly clear, but there are some volume discrepancies that come and go at random. Certain shots will be perfectly clear with the dialog only to have the next voice sound a bit muffled. Overall a very solid track and a good representation of the media that has come before it.
• David Bowie Interview – French TV 1977
• New Interview with Costume Designer May Routh Featuring Original Costume Sketches
• New Interview with Stills Photographer David James Featuring Behind-the-Scenes Stills
• New Interview with fan Sam Taylor-Johnson
• New Interview with Producer Michael Deeley
• New "The Lost Soundtracks" Featurette, Featuring Interviews with Paul Buckmaster and Author Chris Campion
• Interview with Candy Clark
• Interview with Writer Paul Mayersberg
• Interview with Cinematographer Tony Richmond
• Interview with Director Nicolas Roeg
Fans of the cult classic will be more than happy to finally see it hit Blu-ray outside of the overly expensive (and out of print) Criterion release. Now, I certainly love my Criterion Collection Blu-ray form 2011, but it being out of print kept it from fans who really would love for a great hi-def version of the movie. Studio Canal had done a full remastering some years ago, and this new edition uses that same transfer (one which the Criterion Edition didn't share). I won’t go into the nitty gritty comparing the differences between the two encodes, but needless to say they both look fairly similar. The real differences come in the form of the new extras on board the new Lionsgate release. Unfortunately, a good many of those are actually on the extra DVD in the set and are not in high definition. However, the packaging for this collector’s edition adds in a nice batch of swag for the heavy fans. Post cards, a nice booklet with history of the film, and a full-size poster await along with the three-disc film (a Blu-ray, a DVD with the feature film and a third disc of special features on DVD) in an attractive slip box. Whether you prefer the different color timing of the Criterion release, or the updated Lionsgate encode, it certainly is a seminal film in Bowie’s career and a fantastic watch for those who have acquired the taste. Definitely a great set and highly recommended.
Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Walter Tevis, Paul Mayersberg
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Runtime: 139 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 24th, 2017
Buy The Man Who Fell To Earth: Limited Collector's Edition On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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