The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg's visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film's hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg's full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-definition widescreen transfer.
The Criterion Collection presents the director's cut of The Man Who Fell to Earth in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on the first dual-layered DVD of this two disc set. It has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The image presented here is quite good. I've never seen the Anchor Bay (or Fox Lorber) release of this film, but I can't imagine them topping the image presented here. It looks fantastic. The image is incredibly sharp with excellent detail. Colours look spot on, flesh tones looking natural, and Bowie's orange hair stands out. Black levels are very good, though there are a few sequences where it will look more grayish.
The print is also quite clean. Other than a few sequences there are no flaws to speak of. It's been wonderfully cleaned up.
It’s a solid transfer, very sharp, excellent colours, and I didn’t notice any artifacts.
Criterion has decided not to go the route Anchor Bay did (who released the film with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a DTS track,) sticking with a Dolby Surround track, but it more than handles the job for the film. It sticks mostly to the fronts, dialogue sounding crisp and clear, and music manages to make its way to the back speakers. There are some real loud moments, as well, like the end bit with the gun in bed and the sequence involving Bowie's character yelling at the televisions he's watching. It didn’t blow me away, but it was crisp and clear, had some decent moments and serves the nature of the film rather well.
This hefty set, which includes the original novel on which the film is based, comes with a decent selection of supplements spread across the two discs.
Criterion has included an audio commentary by director Nicolas Roeg, performer David Bowie, and actor Buck Henry, which has been ported over from the original Criterion laserdisc release. Overall, I liked the commentary, but I think it's Bowie and Henry that save it. Bowie is recorded with Roeg, and Henry is recorded on his own but unfortunately Roeg has most of the track. I can't really say I find Roeg a terribly interesting commentator for his films, this really only based on his track here and then one included on Criterion’s DVD for Walkabout. His portion comes off really more technical than I probably would have liked. He only touches a little on the themes and never gets too deep into them. Henry was probably the most interesting as he talks a lot about acting in the film and acting in general and he does have quite a bit to say. Bowie is also good, as he adds some much needed levity to a few sequences. Plus the guy does an amazing Rip Torn impersonation. It is overall a good track, but I guess I was hoping for more insight into the film. The film welcomes a lot of analysis and I don’t feel we really got that. But I should probably be thankful that Bowie was even willing to participate in a track, and he, along with Henry, do at least make the track worthwhile.
The rest of the supplements are on the second dual-layered disc.
The first is a 26-minute interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, presented in anamorphic widescreen. He covers the novel, working on the adaptation of the book, working with Roeg, and then goes into great detail about the themes of the film, even touching on Tevis’ other works like The Hustler. It's a pretty good discussion and a great analysis of the movie.
Next you will find a 1984 audio interview with author Walter Tevis, which covers his early years (including his drinking), his science fiction writing and the themes he enjoys writing about. It lasts about 25-minutes and is quite interesting. He's a good interview subject and those who are fans of his work and/or the novel of The Man Who Fell to Earth will want to listen to it. The interview plays over a chapter list with four stops.
Performance: Candy Clark and Rip Torn is a 25-minute interview with Candy Clark and Rip Torn, who both talk about working with Roeg and Bowie, and then offer insight into their characters. They both have some rather interesting things to say (Clark had one or two surprises). Decent look back to the production and some slight insights into the film. This has also been presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Production and Costume Design presents a few sub-sections. First you get a 24-minute interview with production designer Brian Eatwell. The interview is an audio one playing over images and sequences. He discusses Roeg and the intended look of the film. It concentrates a lot on the opening sequence and the sequences on Newton's home planet, as well as the end in the labs. Next is a 19-minute audio interview (playing again over stills and clips) with Mary Routh discussing the costumes, showing sketches, and even getting into the sex sequences. There's even time for Buck Henry's rather humourous glasses. You then get an actual sketch gallery with images. Both interview segments are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Then closing off the disc you get a collection of theatrical trailers (one with a voice over by William Shatner,) all presented in anamorphic widescreen, and a TV spot (not in widescreen.) There’s also a gallery of photos that include production shots, continuity shots, and a poster gallery for Roeg's Performance, Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now, and Bad Timing.
And, as a nice little bonus, Criterion has included the 160-page source novel by Walter Tevis, like with their Short Cuts release. It's an excellent book that also makes the film a little less frustrating.
A booklet is also included. Inside are two essays, one on the film by Graham Fuller, and another essay on Walter Tevis by Jack Matthews. The Fuller essay offers insights into the film as well as some productions notes (including its butchering by its distributor) and the Matthews essay offers a decent portrait of Tevis and discusses his novels and the common themes found within them.
The alternate cut is missing (included on the Anchor Bay release) but that's fine as I don't plan on watching that cut again. What I did miss, though, was an analysis of the two versions, which I would have enjoyed viewing (I believe the Criterion laserdisc included a feature like this, so why they didn't include it on here is beyond me.) The supplements we do get are all pretty much worth going through. They're informative and entertaining.
In the end it’s an easy recommendation for those that love the film. The transfer is absolutely stunning, the supplements are informative, and the inclusion of the novel is a nice touch. A solid release.