THE MAN FROM EARTH
Reviewed by: JimmyO
David Lee Smith
What's it about
When a surprise farewell party is thrown for a fellow professor by some of his colleagues, he makes a startling revelation. He tells them that he has been around for the past 140 Centuries. They talk about it, and talk some more, until finally... they discuss it.
Is it good movie?
There is a certain type of science fiction, that may not necessarily blow you away with special effects, gizmos and gadgets. I’m talking about the more subdued, less obvious world of sci-fi. Children of Men was one, that relied very heavily on character and story. Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth also avoids the flash of a typical FX extravaganza. In fact, this is simply a movie with a group of people, talking about philosophy, religion and whether it is possible for a caveman to still exist, thus becoming immortal. That’s it. Just a bunch of pretentious, self absorbed professors from some local college having a very deep conversation. But the funny thing is, I kind of enjoyed it.
It begins with Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) getting ready to move away from the world he is a part of. His boxes are packed and his truck is half-way loaded. But his professor friends refuse to let him leave without saying goodbye. So they bring his going away party to him. As they all make their way into the cabin, one of the lady friends prepares some food, and they begin to discuss… and discuss… That is when Oldman opens up that he has survived through 140 centuries without looking a day over thirty-five. Every ten years, he is forced to move on because obviously, the not aging thing might creep some out. His friends play along yet they start to get angry at his tale, feeling that he is either crazy or playing a mean joke. It is with Smith who offers up story after story and tale after tale yet still kept me involved. He gives a very grounded performance and is very believable with the far out stories he wants all to believe.
Now, as I said, I kind of enjoyed this. But for a movie that is just around an hour and a half, it is a bit slow moving and a tad pretentious. In fact, it is a lot pretentious. The friends include a few genre favorites including Tony Todd (Candyman), Richard Richle (Office Space and Hatchet), John Billingsley (Star Trek: Enterprise), and a few others (including the Greatest American Hero, William Katt). And the performances are good enough, but the writing is so bogged down with trying to impress the audience with how smart it is, that I stopped giving two shites about immortality or anything else until the end. One character in particular was very bothersome. When a twist comes along involving religion, Edith (Ellen Crawford) just gets nasty and frankly, too damn whiney. Get over it lady! If you don’t like what’s going on, get the hell out.
Film is a visual medium and often times, character pieces can be very powerful. But watching this as a stage production might have been a more fitting outlet. I do think that director, Richard Schenkman is able to offer up a few surprisingly powerful moments and I really found myself involved in the film in the last half hour or so. When religion comes into play, the film makes some interesting statements and again, David Lee Smith is on the mark here so it upped the ante for me at home stretch. But it is only then that the movie really offers up any real involvement. Although it is nice to see this genre taken in a different direction. No laser beams, no spaceships… in fact, this looked to be exactly what it is… a cabin in the woods with no blinking lights and strange buzzing going on. It’s just a meeting of the minds and revelations of what could not possibly be true… or could it?
Video / Audio
Video: This is a very clean 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, especially for a small film like this. Yet it is often a bit dark and grainy. Not bad though.
Audio: The Dolby Surround 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0 are good.
There are two Commentaries on this disc. One of which I really enjoyed. The other, not so much. The first, with Producer/Director Richard Schenkman and Actor John Billingsley is very entertaining. The two seem to riff off each other more than really get into the specifics. And I’ve very seldom heard the word “mutherf*cker” as often as I did here, courtesy of Billingsley. A fun, if not entirely informative watch.
Now as for the second commentary with Executive Producer (and son of the author of the book) Emerson Bixby and Author and Sci-Fi Scholar Gary Westfahl. The biggest problem with this was the fact that Emerson continually talks about how stupid audiences are. They both dismiss the movie Transformers and pretty much offer that if you liked the movie… well, you are dumb. Come on people! It’s not a crime to like different types of movies, and maybe even enjoy a dumb popcorn movie. But to blatantly say audiences are stupid? Both men seem arrogant and uninterested in anyone else’s opinion because it is probably wrong. They may be nice guys, but to lay a blanket insult on today’s moviegoers is not cool. And by the way, check out the films Mr. Bixby has on his IMDB page… Bikini Island??? I’m just sayin’.
There are also a handful of Featurettes including From Script To Screen (2:09) which tells the tale of how the script, written by Jerome Bixby on his death bed, was finished by his son Emerson and finally fell into the hands of Richard. Seriously, Emerson seems like he is very decent guy, but that commentary bugged me.
Next up we have Star Trek: Jerome Bixby’s Sci Fi Legacy (3:45) offers up several cast and crew memories of either experiences being on one of the many incarnations of Star Trek including Todd, Richle and Billingsley. This is awfully short, but of interest just to learn about Jerome’s work on the series.
On The Set (3:55) is another quickie with Richard talking about the problems of making a low-budget picture and somehow making it work. A big problem while shooting was the neighbors kids having dirt bike races. I really like Schenkman, he seems like a good guy.
The Story of the Story (2:08) gives the cast the opportunity to tell us what the film means to them. And there you go.
I appreciate the attempt to make a cerebral science fiction film that is character driven and filled with ultimately fascinating ideas. But The Man From Earth feels as though it might have been a really great stage play, not necessarily a great movie. The characters, just sitting around discussing the possibility of immortality seemed to be a bunch of self absorbed folk with nothing better to do. I do think the actors are able to pull it off nicely, most notably Mr. Smith as the caveman in question. And Schenkman is able to direct a surprisingly stylish film considering what he had to work with, budget and script wise.