When I think of British director Nicolas Roeg, I don’t normally think of science fiction. But, having now watched The Man Who Fell to Earth, I’m surprised how I didn’t put the two together before now. Not that the two are synonymous with each other, but Roeg’s disassociated and aloof filmmaking style lends itself well to the material presented. Then again, this is only a science fiction film in concept. There’s really two kinds of sci-fi films; hard sci-fi, which is very technical and grounded in facts and reality, and soft sci-fi, which is much more unquantifiable and deals with the psychological and interpersonal ramifications of the “science”y elements. The Man Who Fell to Earth falls pretty neatly into the latter category, which given that it’s a film about an alien coming to Earth, is a bit of a mindfreak, but then again, damn near everything about this film is a mindfreak.
Thomas Jerome Newton is a businessman who files nine basic patents that make him millions of dollars with their advanced technology. Unbeknownst to everyone around him, including his lawyer and business partner Oliver Farnsworth, Newton is an alien who has come to Earth for water to bring back to his planet, which is undergoing a massive drought. The film follows his life on Earth as he meets a girl, is introduced to the pleasures of life and humanity, and falls prey to said pleasures as they begin to consume him, all while he tries to make enough money to build a spacecraft in which to return home. The film assumes you know a modicum of the plot in advance of seeing the picture, so it doesn’t have to set up exactly who Newton is but rather starts right at the beginning of his journey and lets his backstory flesh itself out through the course of the picture. A little annoyingly, this continued all through the rest of the film. I knew going into it that it was an adaptation of a book, and it seems the film takes it for granted that its viewers must’ve already read the book, because the plot is really only half-told; everything else I had to gather from the Wikipedia article or just fill in the blanks with assumptions myself. Maybe that’s the point, though, that the film isn’t just outright told to you, and if that’s the case then I can appreciate it a little better, though it was still very unstraightforward to watch, not to mention in how it was made. The film, for instance, had very frequent use of handheld camerawork, sometimes coupled with zooms, which was unnerving simply for the lack of professionalism it seemed to display to my eyes. I know it’s a bit of personal preference that I think filmmakers young and old need to be educated or re-educated in the benefits and uses of a tripod, but to be honest, I had expected a little more from a director of Roeg’s position. I did greatly enjoy the casting of David Bowie in his first major film role, though; he’s just so naturally otherworldly that to put him in the role of a being from another world must’ve been the easiest decision ever, and he doesn’t disappoint.
I liked this, but found it too disjointed to really enjoy it. I did get a good kick out of the multiple layers the title can be taken, after having seen the film, but the film itself just presumed you knew the story too much to really tell it properly. It’s a very heady acid-trip style sci-fi, though, so there is that going for it. Like I said in the opener, this is very much a soft sci-fi film, and I tend to go for hard sci-fi, so the weird mash between soft sci-fi springing from the reservoir of hard sci-fi without keeping the spirit of it, to me, just tasted funny. I can definitely see how this made the list, however, and any fans of sci-fi (either kind) should certainly give this one a look.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10