The Man Who Fell to Earth (film)

The Man Who Fell to Earth (film)

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The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1976 British science fiction film
Science fiction film
Science fiction film is a film genre that uses science fiction: speculative, science-based depictions of phenomena that are not necessarily accepted by mainstream science, such as extraterrestrial life forms, alien worlds, extrasensory perception, and time travel, often along with futuristic...

 directed by Nicolas Roeg
Nicolas Roeg
Nicolas Jack Roeg, CBE, BSC is an English film director and cinematographer.-Life and career:Roeg was born in London, the son of Mabel Gertrude and Jack Nicolas Roeg...

.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis
Walter Tevis
Walter Stone Tevis was an American novelist and short story writer. Three of his six novels were adapted into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth...

, about an extraterrestrial
Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth...

 who crash lands on Earth seeking a way to ship water to his planet, which is suffering from a severe drought. The film maintains a strong cult following for its use of surreal imagery and its performances by David Bowie
David Bowie
David Bowie is an English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. A major figure for over four decades in the world of popular music, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s...

 (in his first starring film role), Candy Clark
Candy Clark
Candace June "Candy" Clark is an American film and television actress, well known for her role as Debbie Dunham in the 1973 film American Graffiti, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, a character she reprised in 1979 for the sequel More American Graffiti...

, and Hollywood veteran Rip Torn
Rip Torn
Elmore Rual "Rip" Torn, Jr. , is an American actor of stage, screen and television.Torn received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1983 film Cross Creek. His work includes the role of Artie, the producer, on The Larry Sanders Show, for which he was nominated...

. The same novel was later remade as a less-successful 1987 television adaptation
The Man Who Fell to Earth (TV)
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1987 television pilot created for a proposed television series based on Walter Tevis's 1963 novel and Nicolas Roeg's 1976 film.-Plot differences:There are some distinct changes from the novel...

.

The film was produced by Michael Deeley
Michael Deeley
Michael Deeley is a British film producer who has helped create notable films such as The Italian Job, Blade Runner and The Deer Hunter. He is also a founding member and Deputy Chairman of The British Screen Advisory Council....

 and Barry Spikings
Barry Spikings
Barry Spikings is a British film producer who worked in Hollywood. Spikings is best known as the producer of the 1978 film, The Deer Hunter, which won five Academy Awards....

, who reunited two years later for work on another epic, The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter is a 1978 drama film co-written and directed by Michael Cimino about a trio of Russian American steel worker friends and their infantry service in the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale, and George Dzundza...

.

Plot


Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie) is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to bring water back to his home planet, Anthea, which is experiencing a catastrophic drought.

Newton uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 many invention
Invention
An invention is a novel composition, device, or process. An invention may be derived from a pre-existing model or idea, or it could be independently conceived, in which case it may be a radical breakthrough. In addition, there is cultural invention, which is an innovative set of useful social...

s on Earth, and acquires incredible wealth as the head of a technology-based conglomerate, World Enterprises Corporation, aided by leading patent attorney Oliver V. Farnsworth (Buck Henry
Buck Henry
Henry Zuckerman, better known as Buck Henry , is an American actor, writer, film director, and television director.-Early life:...

). His wealth is needed to construct his own space vehicle with the intention of shipping water back to his planet. While revisiting New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, he meets Mary-Lou (Clark), a lonely, unloved, and simple girl who works as a maid, bell-hop, and elevator operator in a small hotel; he tells her he is English. Mary-Lou introduces Newton to many customs of Earth, including church-going, alcohol, and sex. Newton and she live together, eventually in a house Newton has had built near where he initially landed in New Mexico. Meanwhile Dr. Nathan Bryce (Torn), a former womanizer and college professor, has landed a job as a fuel technician with World Enterprises and slowly becomes Newton's confidante. Bryce senses Newton's alien-ness and arranges a meeting with Newton at his home where he's hidden a special X-ray
X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

 camera. When he steals a picture of Newton with the camera, it reveals Newton's alien physiology. Newton's appetite for alcohol and television (he watches multiple televisions at once) become crippling and the two fight. Realizing that Bryce has learnt his secret, Newton reveals his alien form to Mary-Lou, and her resulting reaction is one of pure shock and horror. He leaves her.

Newton completes the spaceship and attempts to take it on its maiden voyage amid intense press exposure. However, just before his scheduled take-off, he is seized and detained, apparently by the government and a rival company; his business partner, Farnsworth, is murdered. The government, which has apparently been told by Bryce that Newton is an alien, holds him captive in a locked luxury apartment, constructed deep within a hotel. During his stay, they keep him sedated with alcohol (to which he has become addicted) and continuously subject him to rigorous medical tests — notably one involving X-rays which causes the contact lenses he wears as part of his human disguise to permanently affix themselves to his eyes.

Toward the end of his years of captivity, he is visited again by Mary-Lou, who is now much older and whose looks have been ravaged by alcohol and time. They have violent sex and occupy their time drinking and playing table tennis, but finally each declares they no longer love the other. She leaves him. Eventually Newton discovers that his "prison," now derelict, is unlocked, and he escapes.

Throughout the film are brief sequences of his wife and children back on his home planet, slowly dying, and by the end of the film they are dead and Newton is stuck on Earth, broken, alcoholic, and alone. He creates a recording with alien messages, which he hopes will be broadcast via radio to his home planet. Bryce, who has since married Mary-Lou, buys a copy of the album and meets Newton at an outside restaurant in town. Newton is still rich and young looking despite the passage of many years. However, Newton has also fallen into depression and alcoholism and the film ends with an inebriated Newton passing out in his cafe chair.

Cast

  • David Bowie
    David Bowie
    David Bowie is an English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. A major figure for over four decades in the world of popular music, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s...

     as Thomas Jerome Newton
  • Buck Henry
    Buck Henry
    Henry Zuckerman, better known as Buck Henry , is an American actor, writer, film director, and television director.-Early life:...

     as Oliver Farnsworth
  • Rip Torn
    Rip Torn
    Elmore Rual "Rip" Torn, Jr. , is an American actor of stage, screen and television.Torn received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1983 film Cross Creek. His work includes the role of Artie, the producer, on The Larry Sanders Show, for which he was nominated...

     as Nathan Bryce
  • Candy Clark
    Candy Clark
    Candace June "Candy" Clark is an American film and television actress, well known for her role as Debbie Dunham in the 1973 film American Graffiti, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, a character she reprised in 1979 for the sequel More American Graffiti...

     as Mary-Lou
  • Tony Mascia as Arthur
  • Rick Riccardo as Trevor
  • Bernie Casey
    Bernie Casey
    Bernard Terry "Bernie" Casey is a professional actor who initially had a career as an interscholastic, intercollegiate and professional football player. Casey was also a record-breaking track and field athlete for Bowling Green State University...

     as Mr. Peters


Cast notes:
  • In the scene in which Newton attempts to board his spacecraft, he is greeted by a crowd that includes real-life astronaut Jim Lovell
    Jim Lovell
    James "Jim" Arthur Lovell, Jr., is a former NASA astronaut and a retired captain in the United States Navy, most famous as the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely to Earth by the efforts of the crew and mission...

     (commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13
    Apollo 13
    Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST. The landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the service module upon which the Command...

     mission), playing himself, and by author Terry Southern
    Terry Southern
    Terry Southern was an American author, essayist, screenwriter and university lecturer, noted for his distinctive satirical style...

    , as a reporter. In the scene set in the record store, an advertising banner for Bowie's album Young Americans
    Young Americans (album)
    Young Americans, released in 1975, shows off David Bowie’s 1970’s shift to his “obsession” with soul music . For this album, Bowie let go of the influences he had drawn from in the past, replacing them with sounds from “local dance halls”, which, at the time, were blaring with “…lush strings,...

    can be seen hanging from the ceiling as the shot follows Bryce's walk behind the record bins.

Production


Filming began on 6 July, 1975. The film was primarily shot in New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, with additional filming locations in Albuquerque
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state of New Mexico, United States. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County and is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 545,852 as of the 2010 Census and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. As...

, White Sands
White Sands, New Mexico
White Sands is a census-designated place in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 1,323 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Las Cruces Metropolitan Statistical Area...

, Artesia
Artesia, New Mexico
Artesia is a city in Eddy County, New Mexico, United States, centered at the intersection of U.S. Route 82 and 285; the two highways serve as the city's Main Street and First Street, respectively...

 and Fenton Lake. The film's production had been scheduled to last eleven weeks, and throughout that time, the film crew ran into a variety of obstacles: Bowie was sidelined for a few days after drinking bad milk; film cameras jammed up; and for one scene shot in the desert, the movie crew had to contend with a group of Hells Angels
Hells Angels
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a worldwide one-percenter motorcycle gang and organized crime syndicate whose members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In the United States and Canada, the Hells Angels are incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Their primary motto...

 who were camping nearby.

Bowie, who was heavily into cocaine at the time of the movie's production, admitted later that he was in a fragile state of mind when filming was underway, going so far as to state in 1983 that "I'm so pleased I made that [film], but I didn't really know what was being made at all". He said of his performance:
Bowie and director Roeg had a good relationship with each other on set. Bowie recalled in 1992 that "we got on rather well. I think I was fulfilling what he needed from me for that role. I wasn't disrupting ... I wasn't disrupted. In fact, I was very eager to please. And amazingly enough, I was able to carry out everything I was asked to do. I was quite willing to stay up as long as anybody."

Music


Due to a creative and contractual dispute with Roeg and the studio, no official soundtrack was ever released for the film, even though the 1976 Pan Books
Pan Books
Pan Books is an imprint which first became active in the 1940s and is now part of the British-based Macmillan Publishers owned by German publishers, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group....

 paperback edition of the novel (released to tie in with the film) states on the back cover that the soundtrack is available on RCA
RCA
RCA Corporation, founded as the Radio Corporation of America, was an American electronics company in existence from 1919 to 1986. The RCA trademark is currently owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Technicolor...

. According to Bowie in several interviews over the years, there are no plans ever to release a soundtrack album, and he has absolutely no desire to undertake the effort due to the legal entanglements. Although Bowie was originally approached to provide the music, contractual wrangles during production caused him to withdraw from this aspect of the project, and the music used in the film was coordinated by John Phillips
John Phillips (musician)
John Edmund Andrew Phillips , was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter and promoter . Known as Papa John, Phillips was a member and leader of the singing group The Mamas & the Papas...

, former leader of the pop group The Mamas & the Papas
The Mamas & the Papas
The Mamas & the Papas were a Canadian/American vocal group of the 1960s . The group recorded and performed from 1965 to 1968 with a short reunion in 1971, releasing five albums and 11 Top 40 hit singles...

, with contributions from Phillips himself and Japanese percussionist-composer Stomu Yamashta
Stomu Yamashta
Stomu Yamashta Stomu Yamashta Stomu Yamashta (born is a Japanese percussionist, keyboardist and composer. He is sometimes credited as Stomu Yamash'ta. His father was the band director Kiyoharu Yamashita (1907–1991)....

, as well as some stock music. The music was recorded at CTS Lansdowne Recording Studios in London, England.
Music crew
  • Musical Director: John Phillips
  • Piano/Keyboards: Pete Kelly
  • Guitars: Mick Taylor
    Mick Taylor
    Michael Kevin "Mick" Taylor is an English musician, best known as a former member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and The Rolling Stones...

    , Ricky Hitchcock
  • Pedal Steel Guitar: B. J. Cole
    B. J. Cole
    Brian John Cole is an English pedal steel guitarist. Coming to prominence in the early 1970s with the band Cochise, Cole has played in many styles of music, ranging from mainstream pop and rock, to jazz and eclectic experimental music.He played and is heavily featured with Deke Leonard's Help...

  • Bass: Dave Marquee
  • Drums: Henry Spinetti
    Henry Spinetti
    Henry Spinetti is a Welsh-born session drummer whose playing has featured on a large number of prominent rock and pop albums. He is the younger brother of the actor, Victor Spinetti.-Career:...

  • Percussion: Frank Ricotti
    Frank Ricotti
    Frank Ricotti is an English jazz vibraphonist and percussionist.Ricotti played in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra while a teenager, then attended Trinity College of Music...



Music as listed on end credits

Composed & recorded by Stomu Yamashta:
  • "Poker Dice"
  • "33⅓"
  • "Mandala"
  • "Wind Words"
  • "One Way"
  • "Memory of Hiroshima"


Performed by John Phillips:
  • "Boys From The South"
  • "Rhumba Boogie"
  • "Bluegrass Breakdown"
  • "Hello Mary-Lou" (featuring Mick Taylor)


Other music:
  • "Blueberry Hill
    Blueberry Hill (song)
    "Blueberry Hill" is a popular song published in 1940 best remembered for its 1950s rock n' roll version by Fats Domino. The music was written by Vincent Rose, the lyrics by Al Lewis. It was recorded six times in 1940...

    " - Louis Armstrong
    Louis Armstrong
    Louis Armstrong , nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana....

  • "Enfantillages Pittoresques" - Frank Glazer
    Frank Glazer
    Frank Glazer is an American pianist, composer, and professor of music.Glazer was born in Chester, Wisconsin on February 19, 1915, the sixth child of Benjamin and Clara Glazer, Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. The family moved to Milwaukee in 1919...

  • "A Fool Such As I" - Jim Reeves
    Jim Reeves
    James Travis Reeves , better known as Jim Reeves, was an American country and popular music singer-songwriter. With records charting from the 1950s to the 1980s, he became well-known for being a practitioner of the Nashville sound...

  • "Make The World go Away" - Jim Reeves
  • "Try To Remember" - The Kingston Trio
    The Kingston Trio
    The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that helped launch the folk revival of the late 1950s to late 1960s. The group started as a San Francisco Bay Area nightclub act with an original lineup of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds...

  • "Blue Bayou
    Blue Bayou
    "Blue Bayou" is the title of a song written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and sung by Orbison.-Roy Orbison version:A plaintive ballad, it was originally released by Orbison as a 45rpm single on the Monument Records label in August 1963 ."Blue Bayou" also appears on Orbison's 1963 album, In Dreams...

    " - Roy Orbison
    Roy Orbison
    Roy Kelton Orbison was an American singer-songwriter, well known for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional ballads. Orbison grew up in Texas and began singing in a rockabilly/country & western band in high school until he was signed by Sun Records in Memphis...

  • "Silent Night
    Silent Night
    "Silent Night" is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" were written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber...

    " - Robert Farnon
    Robert Farnon
    Robert Joseph Farnon was a Canadian-born composer, conductor, musical arranger and trumpet player. As well as being a famous composer of original works , he was recognised as one of the finest arrangers of his generation...

  • "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" - Steely Dan
    Steely Dan
    Steely Dan is an American rock band; its core members are Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The band's popularity peaked in the late 1970s, with the release of seven albums blending elements of jazz, rock, funk, R&B, and pop...

  • "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" - Joni Mitchell
    Joni Mitchell
    Joni Mitchell, CC is a Canadian musician, singer songwriter, and painter. Mitchell began singing in small nightclubs in her native Saskatchewan and Western Canada and then busking in the streets and dives of Toronto...

  • "True Love
    True Love (song)
    "True Love" is a popular song written by Cole Porter and was published in 1956.The song was introduced by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the musical film High Society. The Crosby–Kelly version, accompanied by Johnny Green's MGM studio orchestra using a romantic arrangement by Conrad Salinger, was...

    " - Bing Crosby
    Bing Crosby
    Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was an American singer and actor. Crosby's trademark bass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation....

  • "Love Is Coming Back" - Genevieve Waite
    Geneviève Waïte
    Genevieve Waite is a South African actress, singer and former model. She married John Phillips on January 31, 1972, and they had two children, Tamerlane Phillips and Bijou Phillips. They divorced in 1985. She later married Norman Buntaine, now separated.-Filmography:* Just a Kiss ......

  • "Stardust
    Stardust (song)
    "Stardust" is an American popular song composed in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics added in 1929 by Mitchell Parish. Originally titled "Star Dust", Carmichael first recorded the song at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana...

    " - Artie Shaw
    Artie Shaw
    Arthur Jacob Arshawsky , better known as Artie Shaw, was an American jazz clarinetist, composer, and bandleader. He was also the author of both fiction and non-fiction writings....

  • "Planets Suite, Op. 32
    The Planets
    The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

    : Mars, Bringer Of War & Venus, Bringer Of Peace"
    composed by Gustav Holst
    Gustav Holst
    Gustav Theodore Holst was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets....

     and performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is an English orchestra. Originally based in Bournemouth, the BSO moved its offices to the adjacent town of Poole in 1979....


Special electronic and oceanic effects were done by Desmond Briscoe
Desmond Briscoe
Harry Desmond Briscoe was an English composer, sound engineer and studio manager. He was the co-founder and original manager of the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop....

 and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, nonprofit research and higher education facility dedicated to the study of all aspects of marine science and engineering and to the education of marine researchers. Established in 1930, it is the largest independent oceanographic research...


Relationship with the novel


The screenplay by Paul Mayersberg differs from the novel in some details. Several physical changes occur to the characters, most notably the appearance of Bowie's signature orange hair — in the book, Newton is described as having curly white-blonde hair. Newton is also a much more stoic character in the film, who sheds no tears despite his aggravation, frustration and torment. Newton is written as being 6'5" (198cm) tall, whereas Bowie's height is a relatively average 5'10". One of Roeg's first choices for Newton was the 6'9" (206 cm) novelist Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton
John Michael Crichton , best known as Michael Crichton, was an American best-selling author, producer, director, and screenwriter, best known for his work in the science fiction, medical fiction, and thriller genres. His books have sold over 200 million copies worldwide, and many have been adapted...

.

The film also features changes to other characters. In the novel, the Mary-Lou character is called Betty Jo, and she acts merely as a sort of housekeeper, with no suggestion that there is any intimate relationship between her and Newton, although the film's resolution, which sees Bryce and Mary Lou become lovers, follows the plot of the novel.

Another minor change is the character of Newton's mysterious French valet, Brinnarde, who is in fact an FBI agent. In the film this becomes the incidental character of Arthur, Newton's driver.

The film screenplay develops the character of Dr. Bryce in considerably more depth than in the novel. In the book Tevis portrays Bryce as a lonely widower, but an early scene in the film suggests that Bryce may be separated or divorced. The film depicts Bryce having sexual encounters with his young female students, and his meeting with Prof. Canutti in the film develops this "mid-life-crisis" aspect even further. Roeg also uses these trysts to introduce the plot point of Bryce's fascination with World Enterprises' new technology — in the book, Bryce's curiosity is aroused after seeing a movie filmed in the new "Worldcolor" process, whereas in the film Bryce becomes aware of the new technology after his lover uses one of Newton's self-developing cameras to photograph their love-making.

In the film, Bryce's discovery of Newton's alien identity — by secretly photographing him with an X-ray camera — is closely modelled on the novel. However, by showing a shadowy figure who observes Newton just after his ship arrives on Earth, Roeg signals from the outset that the government has known of Newton's presence and kept him under surveillance since the day he arrived, a revelation that is made near the end of the novel.

Newton's mission is kept vague in the film. In the book, however, it is explained that Newton's space vehicle is intended to return to Anthea automatically and ferry the surviving Antheans back to Earth, after which they plan to infiltrate key government posts and take over the direction of Earth's affairs. In a key chapter, Newton reveals to Bryce that Anthea has been virtually destroyed by a nuclear war which has exterminated several other intelligent species, and that only about three hundred of Newton's own species now survive. He also reveals that the key motivation for his mission is the Antheans' fear that a global nuclear war will devastate the Earth within the next decade unless they intervene.

The character of Newton's lawyer and amanuensis
Amanuensis
Amanuensis is a Latin word adopted in various languages, including English, for certain persons performing a function by hand, either writing down the words of another or performing manual labour...

 Oliver Farnsworth (played by writer-actor Buck Henry
Buck Henry
Henry Zuckerman, better known as Buck Henry , is an American actor, writer, film director, and television director.-Early life:...

) is also considerably more developed than in the novel; Roeg's depiction of Farnsworth's home life clearly suggests that Farnsworth is gay and in a long-term relationship with a younger man, and Farnsworth's brutal death at the hands of federal agents is another plot point that appears only in the film adaptation.

Depictions of the span and passage of time also differ markedly between the novel and film. The novel uses definite dates to specify time-period, revolving around events such as the elections of presidents and the beginnings of wars — the revised version of the book is divided into three main sections, set in the years 1985, 1988 and 1990 respectively, with the entire action in novel taking place over a period of just five years. In the 1963 edition, the dates began in 1972 and ended at 1976. There is a small time line inconsistency in the revised version of the novel (all editions published after 1978).

In the film, there are no calendars or clocks and there is no overt reference to the passing of the years, although there is one brief indication of the historical setting for the first section of the film — when Newton first visits Farnsworth in New York, an establishing street shot shows a banner for the 1976 United States Bicentennial
United States Bicentennial
The United States Bicentennial was a series of celebrations and observances during the mid-1970s that paid tribute to the historical events leading up to the creation of the United States as an independent republic...

 celebrations. This is most likely also a reference to the original plot of the novel, with Newton eventually discovering that he has been detained by the CIA because the incumbent US Democratic administration is desperate that the alien's identity not be revealed because it is an election year (as it was in 1976).

The most obvious time indicator in the film is that Newton's appearance never changes, while the human characters age markedly, with Rip Torn and Candy Clark's characters passing from youth to late middle-age through the film, suggesting that the action in the film has been expanded to cover a period of perhaps fifteen to twenty-five years.

In fact, the film uses few transitions aside from straight cuts, which, in tandem with surreal montages which could freely be dream sequences, simultaneous events, or parallel realities, intentionally distorting the viewer's sense of the passage of time. Other details are also omitted, such as the name of Newton's home world (Anthea, in the novel) and the fate of Newton's original vehicle to reach Earth.

Many other changes, such as the setting being transformed from Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

 to New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, hinged for the most part on the film's budget and available resources; according to the bonus "making-of" documentary included in the DVD edition of the film, New Mexico was chosen primarily because it had recently passed new labor laws which allowed the producers to import an all-British crew. But ultimately these changes were used by Nicolas Roeg for more interpretive and artistic purposes; the use of local sand dunes to depict Newton's home world was very useful.

The final, secret medical examination (in the novel, but omitted almost entirely from this movie's interpretation), is ultimately an X-ray of Newton's skull, through his eyes. Newton, whose eyes are sensitive to X-rays, tries to stop them to no avail and is blinded.

Reception


Since its release in 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth has grown to a cult status
Cult film
A cult film, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific group of fans. Often, cult movies have failed to achieve fame outside the small fanbases; however, there have been exceptions that have managed to gain fame among mainstream audiences...

. On the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes is a website devoted to reviews, information, and news of films—widely known as a film review aggregator. Its name derives from the cliché of audiences throwing tomatoes and other vegetables at a poor stage performance...

 the film has earned an 86% "Fresh" rating with a consensus of: "Filled with stunning imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a calm, meditative film that profoundly explores our culture's values and desires." It was entered into the 26th Berlin International Film Festival
26th Berlin International Film Festival
The 26th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from June 25 to July 6, 1976.-Jury:* Jerzy Kawalerowicz * Hannes Schmidt* Marjorie Bilbow* Michel Ciment* Guido Cinotti* Georgi Daneliya* Wolf Hart* Bernard R...

. Bowie won the Saturn Award for Best Actor
Saturn Award for Best Actor
The Saturn Award is an award presented annually by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films to honor the top works in science fiction, fantasy, and horror in film, television, and home video. The Saturn Awards were devised by Dr. Donald A. Reed, who felt that films within those genres...

 for his work in the film.

The film has received mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

 of the Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
The Chicago Sun-Times is an American daily newspaper published in Chicago, Illinois. It is the flagship paper of the Sun-Times Media Group.-History:The Chicago Sun-Times is the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the city...

awarded the film 2½ stars of four, writing in his review that the film is "so preposterous and posturing, so filled with gaps of logic and continuity, that if it weren't so solemn there'd be the temptation to laugh aloud." When the film was re-released in 2011, Ebert gave the film three stars, stating that readers should "consider this just a quiet protest vote against the way projects this ambitious are no longer possible in the mainstream movie industry." Richard Eder
Richard Eder
Richard Eder was for 20 years variously a foreign correspondent, a film reviewer and the drama critic for the New York Times. Subsequently he was book critic for the Los Angeles Times, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and the National Book Critics Circle annual citation...

 of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

praised the film, writing, "There are quite a few science-fiction movies scheduled to come out in the next year or so. We shall be lucky if even one or two are as absorbing and as beautiful as The Man Who Fell to Earth."

Home media


The Man Who Fell to Earth was originally released onto DVD
DVD
A DVD is an optical disc storage media format, invented and developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995. DVDs offer higher storage capacity than Compact Discs while having the same dimensions....

 on August 25, 1998 through Fox Lorber with no special features. On February 11, 2003 Anchor Bay
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment is a U.S. based home entertainment and production company and is a division of Starz Media, which is a unit of Starz, LLC. It was previously owned by IDT Entertainment until 2006 when IDT was purchased by Starz Media. Anchor Bay markets and sells feature films, series,...

 released a special edition two-disc set of the film. This version contains many special features such as commentaries, interviews, and a trailer. Finally, on September 27, 2005 the film was released in a high-definition widescreen transfer as a part of the Criterion Collection. This director-approved edition of the film contained all of the special features of the Anchor Bay version plus newer interviews. The Criterion Collection then re-released the film on December 16, 2008 in the Blu-ray format. It has since gone out of print.

In popular culture

  • The film was used as one of the key elements of the novel VALIS
    VALIS
    VALIS is a 1981 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick's gnostic vision of one aspect of God....

    by Philip K. Dick
    Philip K. Dick
    Philip Kindred Dick was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered...

    , with David Bowie appearing in the novel as "Mother Goose" and the film represented by the titular film "VALIS", although plot elements were changed dramatically, so that the film became something very different in Dick's novel. The novel also incorporates a - fictional - incident in which Dick visits David Bowie and Brian Eno, who turn out to be harbouring a small child who may be the messiah.
  • The music video to Guns N' Roses
    Guns N' Roses
    Guns N' Roses is an American hard rock band, formed in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, in 1985. The band has released six studio albums, three EPs, and one live album...

    's 1987
    1987 in music
    This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1987.See also:Record labels established in 1987-January-February:*January 3 – Aretha Franklin becomes the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

     "Welcome to the Jungle
    Welcome to the Jungle
    "Welcome to the Jungle" is a song by American rock band Guns N' Roses, featured on its 1987 debut studio album, Appetite for Destruction. It was released as the band's second single on October 3, 1987, and reached number #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number #24 on the UK Singles Chart...

    " was partially based on The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • The music video to Scott Weiland
    Scott Weiland
    Scott Weiland is an American musician, lyricist, and vocalist, most notable for his work with Grammy Award-winning rock band Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland is also known for his five-year career with supergroup Velvet Revolver as well as his own solo career...

    's 1998
    1998 in music
    This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1998.-Events:*January 28 – "Weird Al" Yankovic gets LASIK surgery to cure his myopia...

     song "Barbarella
    Barbarella (song)
    "Barbarella" is the only official single released from Scott Weiland's debut album 12 Bar Blues. The song is titled after the sci-fi film Barbarella, while the lyrics of the song pay homage to several science fiction television shows and movies....

    " uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • The music video to Marilyn Manson
    Marilyn Manson
    Marilyn Manson may refer to:* Marilyn Manson , an American rock musician* Marilyn Manson , the American rock band led by the singer of the same name...

    's 1998 song "The Dope Show
    The Dope Show
    "The Dope Show" is a song from Marilyn Manson's 1998 album Mechanical Animals, released in September of that year as the album's lead single...

    " uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • The film is referenced both lyrically and visually in the video for the song E=MC2 by the British band Big Audio Dynamite
    Big Audio Dynamite
    Big Audio Dynamite are a British musical group formed in 1984 by the ex-guitarist and singer of the Clash, Mick Jones. The group are noted for their effective mixture of varied musical styles, incorporating elements of punk rock, dance music, hip hop, reggae, and funk...

    .
  • In 2001, David Bowie starred in an XM Radio commercial where he fell through the roof of a motel. Upon standing, he looks up and states "I'll never get used to that."
  • Dr. Manhattan’s apartment and Ozymandias
    Ozymandias (comics)
    Ozymandias , is a fictional character and the main antagonist appearing in the comic book limited series Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published by DC Comics. Named Ozymandias in the manner of Ramesses II, he is a modified version of the comic book character Thunderbolt from Charlton...

    ' Antarctic retreat in the 2009 film Watchmen
    Watchmen (film)
    Watchmen is a 2009 superhero film directed by Zack Snyder and starring Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson. It is an adaptation of the comic book of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons...

     were mainly based on the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • The 2009 song "ATX" by Alberta Cross
    Alberta Cross
    Alberta Cross is a New York-based band, formed by Petter Ericson Stakee & Terry Wolfers . Despite their different upbringings - Stakee travelled from an early age between Sweden and England with his singer-songwriter father, whilst Wolfers was brought up in London's East End - they formed what...

     is based on David Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • The episode "Grey Matters" of the television series Fringe
    Fringe (TV series)
    Fringe is an American science fiction television series created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The series follows a Federal Bureau of Investigation "Fringe Division" team based in Boston, Massachusetts under the supervision of Homeland Security...

    features a character who uses the alias Thomas Jerome Newton. The series had previously used a character named David Robert Jones, which is David Bowie's real name.
  • In Bret Easton Ellis
    Bret Easton Ellis
    Bret Easton Ellis is an American novelist and short story writer. His works have been translated into 27 different languages. He was regarded as one of the so-called literary Brat Pack, which also included Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney...

    's 2010 novel Imperial Bedrooms
    Imperial Bedrooms
    Imperial Bedrooms is a novel by American author Bret Easton Ellis. Released on June 15, 2010, it is the sequel to Less Than Zero, Ellis' 1985 bestselling literary debut, which was shortly followed by a film adaptation in 1987. Imperial Bedrooms revisits Less Than Zeros self-destructive and...

    , the main character mentions that he is involved with writing the script for a remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
  • A movie poster for The Man Who Fell to Earth can be seen in the 2011 film Green Lantern
    Green Lantern (film)
    Green Lantern is a 2011 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins, with Martin Campbell directing a script by Greg Berlanti and comic book writers Michael Green and Marc...

    .

External links