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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Political > Existential > The Man Who Fell To Earth (Anchor Bay vs. Criterion sets)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976/Anchor Bay vs. Criterion Sets)


Picture: C+/B     Sound: B/B-/C+/C     Extras: C+/A     Film: A



In its third release on DVD, Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 masterwork The Man Who Fell To Earth keeps gaining and gaining in popularity and recognition.  Available only in a shorter, inferior cut for decade, the director’s cut finally arrived a decade ago and Criterion did a 12” LaserDisc special edition of the film.  When the DVD era arrived, Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video was no longer doing business with Criterion (and sadly have not since), then the rights to the film switched over to Fox Lorber (now Wellspring).  Then they switched to Anchor Bay and now Criterion licensed from Anchor Bay and Studio Canal +.  That makes for two sets available, but which should you buy, or should you just get both?


It is a couple of years since we looked at the Anchor bay edition (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the picture has aged a bit more than this critic expected, but the film and the film is even a bit better that even my raves were giving it credit for.  To do a brief recap, the film is about the title character (David Bowie) arriving to the title planet to get water for his severely drought-stricken world.  He has decided to bring advanced knowledge with him to build the wealth and means necessary to transport the water to his planet to save it.  At this point, if he is so brilliant, some have asked why he could not find water anywhere else in the universe since it is all over the place.  That is irrelevant and a MacGuffin (the thing the characters care about that keeps the story going, but the audience is not as concerned with, as defined by Alfred Hitchcock), plus our planet has as much of it as anyone.  Maybe the question could be about how clean it needs to be, but we can imagine he could purify it.


He becomes a sort of cosmic Howard Hughes and this includes a love affair with Mary Lou (Candy Clark) and opposition by a friendly rival (Rip Torn) plus the trusting of a mild mannered man (Buck Henry) who he puts at the head of his instant multi-national corporation as President.  The parallels only just begin and instantly, he is being watched by the U.S. Government, who have picked up his arrival and unbeknownst to him are watching.  What follows are some of the most amazing moments of filmmaking in the 1970s, thanks in part to Paul Mayersberg’s stunning screenplay adaptation of the Walter Tevis book (actually included in Criterion’s set!) and amazing directing by Nicolas Roeg, with Graeme Clifford’s stunning editing result in a classic Science Fiction film that exceeds its genre and just gets better and better with age.  Through its trailers and use of the song in a clever way in the film, Gustav Holst’s Mars – The Bringer of War from his masterwork The Planets is used here as a sort of counterpart to Stanley Kubrick’s use of Strauss’ Also Sprach/Thus Spake Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey which this film lived up to more than just about any other Science Fiction film since.


Unlike the letterboxed-only Fox Lorber basic DVD, which was not anamorphic, both versions here are at the original 2.35 X 1 Panavision scope aspect ratio.  The first time the uncut version of the film appeared widescreen was on Criterion’s two-disc 12” LaserDisc edition, the first Image Entertainment ever pressed for Criterion as part of their new association that continues to this day.  The picture had its moments in that format, especially at the half-hour-per-side CAV speed (versus the hour-long CLV speed), not5 all of which translated well in its recycling in the Fox Lorber edition.  The Anchor Bay edition looked the best at the time by being anamorphic, but the new Criterion transfer is a digital High Definition transfer (supervised by Roeg himself) from an internegative that comes directly from the full-length director’s cut camera negative.  The depth, color richness and clarity are absolutely superior to the previous versions, doing serious justice to the amazing cinematography by Anthony Richmond, B.S.C., which looks better than most scope films being shot today!  Sound, however, is another matter.


The old 12” Criterion LaserDisc was credited as stereo, but has some of the worst PCM 2.0 16bit/44.1kHz sound they ever issued, with many monophonic soundtracks in the same format sounding much better.  The Fox Lorber Dolby Digital 2.0 was barely stereo, but at least a bit clearer.  Anchor Bay offers three soundtracks, while Criterion only has Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which is not credited as having any surrounds.  It does have some vague Pro Logic surrounds, but nothing extraordinary, though an improvement over their old LaserDisc.  It is credited as coming from the 35mm magnetic print master, though it does not identify how many tracks (though it would be at least three) and that their usual sound tools were used to fix the sound.  As we have seen with many a terrific soundtrack from Film Score Monthly, they have come up with true (and sometimes stunning) stereo from even three tracks that were not intended for stereo films and/or TV shows.  Anchor Bay managed 6.1 tracks with the same materials.


Their special edition set had DTS ES and Dolby Digital EX mixes, which had some moments of harshness in both cases and might not appeal to some purists, but Anchor Bay did a very nice job, especially in the DTS case.  However, those same purists might want to consider the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks on the Anchor bay set, because they have true Pro Logic surrounds and when played in strict 2-channel Stereo have much more detail than the Criterion version.  All three versions also bring more out of the music, including John Phillips’ underrated score for the film.  Though they have fared well enough more often than not, Criterion usually uses Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, which just about all the critics at this site are not big on.  However, we have Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo here and it has an unfortunate flatness in sound as if the person who did the sound transfer disliked Rock music or something similar.


The result is a true split decision on these sets, each of which have great extras, but Criterion went beyond anything they did before for a two DVD set by including a high quality softcover reprint of the great book itself.  The Anchor bay edition has extras the Criterion version does not, while Criterion retrieves the extras from their 12” LaserDisc edition that fans thought we would never see again, then adds a great set of new extras.  If you get Anchor Bay’s set, you get stills section, screenplay in DVD-ROM form, biography text, trailer and 24-minutes-long Watching The Alien featurette.  A 28-page booklet with Jack Matthews and Graham Fuller essays joining the illustrations and book reprint, while DVD 1 finally offers the awesome Bowie/Roeg/Henry audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.


DVD 2 repeats deleted scenes, screenplay analyses, photos with continuity book excerpts and stills sections dealing with costumes, behind-the-scenes, publicity and production.  Then Criterion adds more trailers than even their previous edition, radio show interviewer Don Swain’s 1984 audio interview with Tevis before Scorsese landed up making his Hustler sequel The Color Of Money and discusses this film, a poster gallery of some of Roeg’s films, new audio interview with production designer Brian Eatwell, another with costumer designer May Routh, new video interview with screenwriter Mayersberg and a new on-camera interview with Clark and Torn slyly dubbed Performance.  In a rare instance, all the extras on both sets are terrific, but like the more dynamic sound, Criterion and Anchor Bay decided not to make the Bay set obsolete.


This is a film that is smart, mature, intelligent, adult and one most people are still catching up with.  Either set is worth getting, though big fans will want to own both until Blu-Ray and HD-DVD arrives.  By then, we would get a true HD picture with the new high definition sound formats they will offer, combining to out do both versions here we would hope.  However, don’t wait for HD of any kind, especially if you have never seen this classic before, especially if you saw it with 20 less minutes when it was butchered in its original Cinema 5 U.S. release.  There are now plans to even remake The Man Who Fell To Earth, which is yet another reason to catch the original before any new remake surfaces.  It did become a TV movie in 1987 that no one remembers.  Needless to say, all of this confirms just what a classic the film was all along.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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