The Man Who Fell to Earth: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

When you think of alien invasion you might think of laser beams or mass destruction, but how many of you envision corporate takeovers and business deals? When Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) lands on this planet disguised as a human, he has some serious business to attend to and the fate of his entire home planet hangs in the balance. You see Thomas needs to locate immense amounts of water and then formulate a way in which to transport this water back to his own planet, where droughts have left them on the verge of extinction. Thomas comes from a very advanced planet in terms of technology so he knows what he has to do, but he lacks the funds he needs to make it all happen. He decides to use his knowledge of advanced technology to start his own business, which he thinks will earn him the billions he needs to construct the ship for his return home. With so much on the line for himself, Thomas works hard to make things work, though it isn’t as easy as he expected. As such, business isn’t that easy and Thomas has to deal with cutthroat businessmen around every corner. Add in a dash of romance and love and Thomas finds himself between a rock and a hard place…

This is a strange film that has found a rather large following as the years have passed and I am proud to count myself among their numbers. I don’t think this movie will appeal to most traditional science fiction fans, but those interested in a more offbeat alien tale will want to check this one out. The visuals are well known and admired for good reason, this is a visually powerful film that few can equal. I will discuss this more when I get to the director’s info later on, but I will say this one is worth watching once just to see how good it all looks. But this is not all visuals, as the story is interesting and the performances are terrific. Bowie is great in his feature film debut, while the supporting cats is also quite good. This is a very unusual film that involves some very bizarre events and characters, but I think it all comes together well in the end which is what counts. The sex scenes might drive some more conservative viewers away from the film, but if you can handle some nudity you’ll be just fine. I mean, we’ve all seen naked bodies in movies and real life, so I doubt most folks would be overly offended here. This is the third version of The Man Who Fell to Earth on DVD, as Fox Lorber and Anchor Bay have also released their own editions. This Criterion Collection release sports a brand new transfer and a host of supplements, but lacks the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks from the Anchor Bay version. Even so, this is the best edition of the lot, so fans will want this two disc collection for their very own.

This film was directed by Nicolas Roeg, whom many feel is willing to sacrifice substance for style. I will say some of his films could use some work in terms of storyline exploration and character depth, but I don’t think his movies ever suffer that much because of his visual inclinations. Roeg knows how to make a visual splash and this shows in almost all of his films, including this one. While some of Roeg’s other movies have powerful visuals also, I think this film has the most stunning visuals as the sets, costumes, and camera all forge together to create an incredible world. As I mentioned above you should view this film just to see how striking it is, if for no other reason. If you want to see more of Roeg’s cinema I recommend Walkabout, The Witches, Hotel Paradise, and Two Deaths. The lead in this film is played by David Bowie who is perhaps best known for his musical career, though he has been in several movies. Bowie (Labyrinth) looks the part and is able to pull off a more than adequate performance here. I was also very pleased with the performance of Candy Clark (American Graffiti, Cool As Ice) who had terrific chemistry with Bowie. The supporting cast includes Buck Henry (The Real Blonde, To Die For), Bernie Casey (In The Mouth Of Madness), and Rip Torn (Men In Black, Trial and Error).

Video: How does it look?

The Man Who Fell to Earth is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The video on the Anchor Bay release was superb, but Criterion has outdone that transfer in all respects. A new high definition digital transfer has been created, complete with Criterion’s usual restoration work. The end result is a gorgeous presentation that really shines and should delight fans. The print is impressive, with minimal grain and debris, so the detail level is the best it has ever been on home video. No worries in terms of color or contrast either, as Criterion has covered all the bases with this excellent new treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

As I said before, the well crafted Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks from a previous release have been dropped, which is a disappointment. Instead we have a simple stereo soundtrack and while not bad, it of course lacks the presence of those other soundtracks. This is an older soundtrack, so don’t expect a lot of depth or presence, but all in all, the movie sounds passable. The movie’s cool music comes across well, while dialogue is clean throughout also. I do wish we had the surround options here, but the basics are still covered. This release also includes optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The lone extra one the first disc is an audio commentary track, as director Nicolas Roeg is joined by stars Buck Henry and yes fans, David Bowie. If you owned Criterion’s laserdisc release, then you’ve heard this before, as this is the same session. Roeg takes the lead and offers both technical comments and more brisk thoughts, so the pace is good. Bowie and Henry also chime in at times, but Roeg controls much of the session, but that is by no means a disappointment. The second disc holds a slew of video & audio interviews, a collection of photos & sketches, and the film’s theatrical trailers.

Disc Scores