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THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH Collector’s Blu-ray Looks Out of This World (Review)

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH Collector’s Blu-ray Looks Out of This World (Review)

One of the many, many reasons we’re still unbelievably heartbroken about the passing of David Bowie—on top of all the music he’ll never get to make—is that he was also a solid, interesting, totally one-of-a-kind actor, and the world is deprived of more of those performances. It’s nice, then, that it’s the 40th anniversary of his very first starring role, and that Lionsgate and Studio Canal have seen fit to release a new Blu-ray edition to give fans a chance to see it. The Man Who Fell to Earth is a strange movie, totally befitting Bowie’s unearthly aesthetic.

Directed by Nicolas Roeg—the famously heady director of such things like Don’t Look Now and, of all things, Roald Dahl’s The Witches—and shot with a sparse documentary flavor by Anthony Richmond, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a strange, unsettling, and unknowable movie made right on the cusp of when science fiction became synonymous with blockbuster. The genre was still about ideas, and about reflecting the sense of loneliness and isolation felt by a lot of regular ol’ Earthlings. Right at the center of that is a pained and distant performance from Bowie—who was deep into his cocaine addiction at the time—and that distance truly aids the film. He seems like he’s from somewhere else entirely.


Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, a traveler from another planet that has been ravaged by a severe drought. In an effort to save his people, he needs to bring huge amounts of water back, but in order to build a ship that can do that, he’ll need a lot of money. Possessing enough simple patents to net him hundreds of millions, Newton starts several companies to further fund his build, relocating to New Mexico to be away from people. However, as he waits for his return ship to be built, he begins to fall victim to the weaknesses of humanity: sex, alcohol, boredom, over-stimulation. He sits in his house all day drinking gin and watching a dozen TV screens at once.

Along the way, he meets several people to whom he becomes inexorably linked: Buck Henry plays a patent lawyer who becomes the public face of Newton’s companies; Rip Torn plays the womanizing physics professor who eventually becomes integral to Newton’s research team, and to him getting found out by the government; and most significantly, Candy Clark plays the simple hotel maid who rather inexplicably falls hopelessly in love with Newton, even though he tells her he has a wife “at home.” She gets angry with him, screams at his indolence, but won’t ever leave him, creating the movie’s most tragic figure.


Roeg is not a straightforward director in anyone’s estimation, so following along with this movie means having story parsed out slowly in between scenes that seem superfluous. They do, however, add to the overall mood and fabric of the story. Newton’s mission starts as a noble one, but it’s a slow one, and he gets more and more distracted by the seemingly normal vices of the human race. The movie plods a bit, but so does his life. And he doesn’t have what we’d see as a normal realization, because he can’t really have those.

There are, of course, some truly haunting images along the way, many involving context-free flashbacks to Newton’s homeworld, the barren desert of the land, and his wife and children slowly dying without water. It takes quite a while into the movie, but when Newton eventually reveals his true alien features to his paramour, she reacts with total horror, justifiably so. There’s a reason some of the promotional photos from the film became album covers for Bowie’s classic 1976 record Station to Station and 1977 record Low.


The Blu-ray special edition (which is three discs, the second two being the film and features in DVD form) has a gorgeous presentation, complete with a 72 page book of essays and behind-the-scenes information and several collectible art cards. The extras on the Blu-ray are sadly a bit lacking for me, consisting mainly of an admittedly hefty group of talking head interviews. They’re done in the text-on-screen question, person-answering-live answer format that I find intensely boring, and none of them are even in Hi-Def. Was fairly disappointed. There’s also a rarely-seen appearance by Bowie on a 1977 French talk show to promote the movie. It’s interesting to see him there, but it’s super weird.

While it’s wonderful the movie is back in rotation, and the 4K 40th anniversary restoration looks and sounds marvelous, I’m always a proponent for copious extras, value-added material that makes purchasing physical media worth your money. I wish I could say this release was as stellar as it should be, but for fans of Bowie, and of the movie, there’s enough to appease if not wholly dazzle.

3.5 out of 5 Good Movie/Bad Extras Burritos:

Images: Studio Canal/Lionsgate

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and the host of the horror documentary series One Good Scare. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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