An alien arrives on Earth in search of water, to save his
own dying planet. Assuming the name Thomas Jerome Newton,
he forms a lucrative partnership with patent attorney Farnsworth.
While they build a financial empire, Thomas plans to build
a ship that will return him to his home world. However, he
begins to fall prey to earthly pleasures and failings...
fair to say that this Nicolas Roeg film from 1976 is only
a very loose adaptation of the original 1963 novel by Walter
Tevis. In fact, it's positively pushing it a bit to class
this film as an 'adaptation' of any kind. Nicolas Roeg is
notorious for his often irritating 'arthouse' style of direction
- why tell a perfectly good straightforward story when instead
you can fill out 130 minutes with non-linear ambiguous imagery
and endless graphic nudity?
perhaps a shame then this potentially fascinating project
fell into the hands of Roeg, who at this point was probably
best known for 1973's Don't Look Now - often hailed
as a cult classic but a film which I find to be desperately
cold and overrated.
original 1963 novel is no literary masterpiece, but is a fairly
engaging read which rises above it's misleading science fiction
premise and has much to deliver on humanity, politics and,
ultimately, loneliness. The strong political drive of the
book is, however, completely abandoned by Roeg in favour of
his trademark random imagery, annoying cut-up editing, pointless
splicing together of otherwise unrelated scenes in an effort
to make them more interesting, and a big unhealthy dollop
of sex, just to make it absolutely clear that this film is
arty with a capital "F".
of the continued interest in this film stems from a certain
Mr Bowie in the title role. Now, I hate being mean about David
Bowie - the man is a bona fide music pioneer and genius (especially
if you completely disregard his entire 1980's output. Oh,
and not forgetting Tin Machine. Actually, no, let's
completely forget about Tin Machine...) But it has
to be said that Bowie is not an actor. It's
often claimed that he was born to play this role, but I'm
afraid I can't agree with that. Admittedly, he certainly looks
the part and does bring an occasional degree of alien presence
to the role of 'Thomas Newton', but ultimately he comes across
as a man simply out of his depth.
needn't have worried though, the pinnacle in his 'acting career'
would come much later in 1986's Labyrinth, even if
he did end up getting slightly outclassed by a mob of second-rate
Fraggles. And if any good at all came out of this venture,
it's that Bowie's proposed soundtrack for the film eventually
sowed the seeds of his 1977 album Low, a magnificent
groundbreaking record that was possibly Bowie's finest hour.
film is not entirely without merit. Rip Torn is as engaging
as ever as Nathan Bryce, who eventually comes closer than
anyone to earning trust from the alien visitor, and Candy
Clark brings a likeable appeal to the character of Mary-Lou,
whose genuine desperate love for Newton is tragically never
is also an occasional flash of brilliance in Roeg's direction.
The alien imagery set on Newton's home world are imaginatively
and evocatively realised, and the film is bookended with a
couple of terrific, memorable scenes; an eerie opening sequence
in which Newton first lands on Earth, and a final poignant
encounter between Newton and Bryce. It's such a pity that
Roeg often seems to forget to tell a story on which to hang
his visuals - even more frustrating when you know that the
story was there to begin with, but the heart and soul of it
was ripped out to pave the way for a languid sea of pretentious
main attraction of this "Special Edition" from Optimum
is a new, digitally restored version of the print. The package
actually contains fewer special features than previous reissues
of the film, and curiously omits an audio commentary that
has previously been available, featuring Bowie himself. We
do get a 24-minute cobbled-together documentary Watching
The Alien - it's short but sweet and manages to shed new
light on the origins of the film, though sadly no contribution
from Bowie and some of the "all-new" interview material seems
to date back a few years.
also an unintentionally amusing and largely incomprehensible
interview with Roeg, in which he comes across as Paul Whitehouse's
rambling and nonsensical QC Burkin character from The Fast
Show, ("... it was a difficult shoot... too many red indians...
DAVID BOWIE!!) and a slightly more enlightening and articulate
interview with the screenplay writer Paul Mayersberg.
I just can't help imagining what this film could have been
in the right hands. Imagine if Stanley Kubrick had been at
the helm, with original candidate Peter O Toole in the lead
watch this in profound disappointment.