DVD
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Special Edition

Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn and Candy Clark
Optimum Classic
RRP: 17.99
OPTD0732
Certificate: 18
Available 29 January 2007


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...

It's 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?

It's 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.

The 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".

Much 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.

Bowie 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.

The 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 fully reciprocated.

There 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 imagery.

The 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.

There's 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 role...

Then watch this in profound disappointment.

Daniel Lee Salter

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