Man Who Fell to Earth, The (1976): Nicholas Roeg’s Sci-Fi Mystery, Starring David Bowie

Upon release, Nicoals Roeg’s feature directing debut, The Man Who Fell to Earth, immediately became a cult classic, without even being well received by critics, or finding a commercial appeal.

Up until then, Roeg was known as the distinguished cinematographer and second-unit director of movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which he shot.

The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force.

This existential mystery movie is a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life, as well as a daring exploration of science fiction as a narrative genre and an art form.  In other words, it’s a highly original and intriguing feature that cannot be compared to any other work, in and outside of its realm; nor can its text or plot be explained by using conventional yardsticks.

Paul Mayersberg’s strange but compelling screenplay is based on the famous novel by Walter Tevis.

Legendary performer David Bowie, a singer-songwriter who possesses a strong, charismatic screen presence, completely embodies the title role, an alien who takes the name of Thomas Jerome Newton, who suddenly shows up at the office of Oliver Fransworth (Buck Henry), an attorney with an incredible patience.

We learn that Newton has arrived on Earth on an important mission, searching for water for his drought-stricken planet.    He joins forces with Farnsworth and the two build a huge financial empire, only to be threatened by Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), an inquisitive and ambitious professor of chemistry–and by Newton’s own transformation (and descent) into more human and earthly manner.

A satire of contemporary Western civilization as an overly materialistic- capitalistic society, the film criticizes the dominant mass media. At One point, Bowie’s character says: “TV shows everything but does not tell much.”

Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn all turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances.

The film was always stronger visually than thematically or intellectually, and some of its haunting images will linger in your memory for a long time.

The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and other details.

Beware: There are at least three versions of the film, which was not commercially successfully and thus was cut at various times for different lengths, ranging from 117 all the way to 140 minutes; the first time I saw the picture, it had a running time of 125 minutes.

This DVD presents Roeg’s full, uncut version, in an exclusive new director-approved high-definition widescreen transfer.

The two-disc edition also includes an exclusive audio commentary by Roeg, Bowie, and Henry; Performance, a compilation of new video interviews with Clark and Torn; a new interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg; audio interviews with the costume and production designers; multiple stills galleries; a gallery of posters from Roeg’s films; trailers and TV spots; and more.