The Man Who Fell To Earth Review

Gary Couzens has reviewed the Criterion edition of The Man Who Fell To Earth for DVD Times and you can read his review here. Since I am in general accord with his views on the film, I will limit myself to a review of the disc. I have, however, written a piece on the film for the BFI’s Screenonline education project and interested readers can find it here.

I think it’s a very good film indeed that falls short of greatness for two main reasons. The first is overlength, something which also afflicted Roeg’s later study of power and exhaustion, Eureka. 133 minutes of complicated, elaborate editing and narrative trickery is a little too much for my taste, especially when some of the ellipses are simply for effect and cover up a morality tale which is very familiar indeed. It’s brilliantly constructed and beautifully directed but just, somehow, a bit too much of a good thing. Secondly, I think, like Gary, that the scenes on the alien planet are misjudged and tip over into the kind of fey sentimentality which the rest of the film avoids.

But nit-picking is easy and not entirely fair in the face of a film which is so daring, moving and effective. Every shot is carefully weighed in the balance and, even when you don’t agree with Roeg’s decisions, there’s never any doubt who is at the reins. He has a directorial authority of such strength that it comes through in every frame, as it does in all of the films between Performance and Eureka.

The Disc

Optimum’s 2-disc edition of The Man Who Fell To Earth looks like a good proposition on paper and the second disc of extras certainly lives up to the initial promise. But, sadly, the transfer has some major problems.

The first disc contains the movie, presented in anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. Although I’m only going on memory, it looks to me like the same transfer that Studio Canal gave us back in 2002. The image has an excessive amount of grain and a fair amount of blocky artifacting is visible in the darker sequences. Most disappointing, however, is the poor quality of the colours; washed out and tending towards the brown. There’s a definite lack of sharpness throughout as well. This is one area in which the Criterion edition is definitely superior.

There are two soundtracks on the disc. The first is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround which is sourced from the four-track magnetic soundtrack which was used for some showings of the film. This is absolutely fine but generally monophonic. Some music uses the surrounds but it’s not particularly noticeable. The second track is Dolby Digital 5.1 and I don’t know why they bothered because, once again, the surround channels are hardly used and the sub-woofer barely registers. Still, both tracks have clear dialogue and pick up on the intelligent use of music so there’s nothing to complain about.

The extras are all found on the second disc. First up, we get the documentary Viewing The Alien, which was found on the earlier Warners R2 release. This contains interviews with Nicolas Roeg, producer Si Livitnoff, Candy Clark, production designer Brian Eatwell, DP Anthony Richmond, costume designer May Routh and editor Graeme Clifford. Although it only lasts about 25 minutes, it covers a lot of ground and is essential viewing for fans of the film.

Secondly, there’s an excellent interview with Nicolas Roeg which lasts 30 minutes. He touches on all manner of subjects – his early career in the industry, the origins of the story, the use of the future setting, the question of David Bowie’s acting and the reception of the film. He’s a very engaging speaker, as his commentary on Don’t Look Now made clear and this extended interview makes up for the lack of the commentary track which is found on the Criterion. Frustratingly, however, the interview is broken up into sections by question and answer but is not indexed.

Next is an interview with Paul Mayersberg, shot for Studio Canal in 2005. This is very interesting and runs approximately 16 minutes. Mayersberg is particularly good on the use of recurring images to exemplify the main themes of the film and he has a lot to say about the music as well. Apparently, there was initially an idea of approaching Peter O’Toole but, probably luckily, this never materialised.

There are also two fullscreen American TV spots included and three anamorphic 2.35:1 trailers for this film, along with trailers for The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Finally, for those viewers with DVD-ROM facilities, the original press book is included in Adobe Acrobat format.

Sadly there are no subtitles at all for either the film or the extras. This is one area in which Optimum’s discs fall down badly and they really need to rethink their policy.

The Man Who Fell To Earth is a quite unique film and, like it or hate it, it’s something to be experienced by anyone who cares about movies. This Optimum DVD has some splendid extra features but is let down by a mediocre transfer.

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