The Man Who Fell to Earth Movie Review

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Sorry folks, Labyrinth was not David Bowie's best movie. It's arguably this, The Man Who Fell to Earth, a rambling and haunting science fiction movie unlike any you've ever seen. (Except perhaps 2001.)

Director Nicolas Roeg doesn't exactly clue us in to what's going on through the entire running of the film -- and even the ending has some ambiguity to it -- so the following synopsis is more of a rough guideline based on the acclaimed novel and personal conjecture. Bowie plays Thomas Newton, the assumed name of an alien who has landed on earth in the hopes of finding a way either to save his home planet, which has become a desert wasteland, or to figure out a way to get the rest of the homeland's survivors to earth. His plan is simple: Use his advanced technology to start a company that will instantly dominate most industries, and use the proceeds to further these ends.

Unfortunately, while Newton has amazing success in business, he's less apt at the chore of living on earth. Society and climate are one thing; the temptations of women and liquor are something else. But most of all, Newton finds himself unprepared to deal with the realities of American business, full of backstabbing competitors and domineering government agents. The film was made in 1976, but its message about the cutthroat realities of industry is even more relevant today.

As Newton, Bowie couldn't be more perfect. He looks alien enough as it is. With shocking red hair and paste-white skin, the effect is complete. (Never mind when he plucks out his eyes to reveal yellow slits beneath the lids.) Candy Clark plays Newton's girlfriend/wife, a simple country girl and heavy drinker who ends up first comforting then ultimately corrupting Newton. It's some of her best work, as well. Supporting players Rip Torn, Buck Henry, and others elevate rote supporting characters to memorable parts.

Roeg develops an almost careless, whimsical style here that recalls Peter Weir more than Roeg's other work (Walkabout, Castaway). The effect is disorienting -- extremely so -- but it effectively puts you in the shoes of Newton, right where you ought to be for a film like this. We don't know exactly what's going on, but neither does the alien. He's a stranger in a strange land, at first hopeful he has all the answers, eventually realizing he lost everything before he ever arrived.

The new Criterion disc includes a commentary track plus a second disc of extras (interviews and the like), plus the original, paperback book from which the film was adapted.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1976

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