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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Political > Existential > The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976/Criterion Blu-ray)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976/Criterion Blu-ray)

 

Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: A     Film: A

 

 

It is always great to see a classic film slowly gain traction with new generations of viewers and Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 masterwork The Man Who Fell To Earth is a film that has fortunately stayed in print for a while since the longer director’s cut finally surfaced.  The main impetus for its circulation has been the great people who make The Criterion Collection possible.  It was one of their last 12” LaserDiscs, best-looking DVDs and it is no surprise that it would be one of their first Blu-ray releases.  In between, two DVDs were issued by Fox Lorber (aka Wellspring and Koch Lorber) and Anchor Bay, who has been licensing the film to Criterion since their DVD edition and this new Blu-ray easily surpasses all previous editions and sets new standards for back-catalog releases in Blu-ray.

 

To yet again 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 (1968) which this film lived up to more than just about any other Science Fiction film since.

 

 

Going back to the 12” LaserDisc era, when it came to color motion pictures and widescreen films, Criterion had a knack for getting great colorists and transfers with an eye so good and accurate that it is only with the ultimate, superior high definition image only Blu-ray can deliver (superior to all other HD sources) that only now the color quality of their old analog Lasers have finally been matched or surpassed by Blu-ray versions (like Brian De Palma’s Carrie) but the work seen here on Man Who Fell To Earth is a revelation.  Yes, there are some soft shots and you can see the limits on fidelity in the opening credits, but the majority of the shots look like a fine film print, coming from a fine 35mm print of the film.  Our previous high standards for anamorphic Panavision scope films on Blu-ray from this period include Enter The Dragon, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Omega Man and For Your Eyes Only, but Man Who Fell To Earth sets a new high watermark for how good a film from this time period should look.

 

When I covered the older DVD edition, I commented on how great “the depth, color richness and clarity were 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!”  I can say that all over again with renewed enthusiasm and add that this is the kind of release that keeps the Criterion name at the top where it belongs for cinematic excellence.  Some of the footage is stock footage, including 16mm archive space shot footage, but when the original 35mm filming kicks in, it is amazing and offers more than its share of demo moments that can go a few rounds with even a current, excellent anamorphic Panavision (IMAX footage notwithstanding) release like The Dark Knight.  Richmond and Roeg take a complex approach to color as much as they do composition and using visuals to tell the story, it has always been one of my favorite Criterion titles and for image alone is a must-own Blu-ray for any serious, formidable collection.

 

Then there is the sound.  I have never been satisfied with the Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes on any of the DVDs, or the PCM 2.0 16bit/44.1kHz sound on Criterion’s old LaserDisc, but the PCM 2.0 Stereo mix on this Blu-ray is so rich, articulate and accurate that it actually makes the DTS 5.1 mix on the old Anchor bay DVD set obsolete and is the best 2.0 soundtrack of any kind on Blu-ray or any lesser format (including a bunch of DVDs) to date.   Like the Criterion DVD, 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.  Well this time, it sounds like it and then some, with detail and warmth that will remind classic film fans of the better magnetic stereo film prints of the past, minus the pops and clicks.  The film was originally a 4-track magnetic stereo release.  This time, John Phillips’ underrated score for the film really shines and when you add the picture, you can see what the buzz about Blu-ray is all about.

 

Extras include a feature length audio commentary by Roeg, Bowie & Henry, trailers, a 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, audio interview with production designer Brian Eatwell, another audio interview with costumer designer May Routh, video interview with screenwriter Mayersberg and a new on-camera interview with Clark and Torn slyly dubbed Performance.

 

Plans to remake The Man Who Fell To Earth, which is still yet another reason to catch the original before the remake surfaces, continues to be rumored.  Despite some kind of 2009, release, there is no director, cast or anything else much known about a project that has been lingering for years.  Once you see this original on Blu-ray, you’ll realize what a bad idea it really is.

 

With Bowie as relevant as ever, the principals involved (including a master director like Roeg) are still among the most talented in the business and its Science Fiction and philosophical concepts are still ahead of the audience while remaining more relevant than ever.  That is why they call it a classic.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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