The unique styling’s of Nic
Roeg in this sci-fi character drama.
Danny Boyle, in the build up to 127 Hours, commented that he finds the
films of David Lean too polished but
that Nic Roeg was one of his
cinematic heroes. The first part is ironic given that Roeg shot second unit
footage for Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia
(1962) but the second is imperative to appreciating Roeg’s brand of cinema. It
is utterly distinctive in the way that depicts the world. Trying to compare a
Roeg film to any other is an exercise in futility. While The Man Who Fell To Earth does not match up to his masterpiece Don’t Look Now (1973) it is a clever
spin on the sci-fi genre.
Jerome Newton (Bowie) has travelled
light-years to get to Earth. Once here he uses his advance technology to set up
the world’s largest cooperation in the aim of raising enough money to return to
his home planet with a supply of our water. However, once here he begins to
realise the pitfalls of humanity are all too tempting.
Roeg’s background as a cinematographer, he shot Fahrenheit 451 (1966) for Francois
Truffaut, his visual flair is only to be expected. Much of the images on display here are less narrative and more
impregnated with hidden agenda and meaning. Indeed the story is a fairly
straightforward one yet Roeg manages to find ways to inject enough subtext and
themes to draw it out to over the two-hour mark. Despite its overly long
running time the film never feels stale. Roeg’s use of montage to juxtapose
telling imagery is always fascinating. In one instance a sex scene is intercut
with a Japanese play, informing, or at least implying, something about the
strange traditions of humanity.
Indeed much of the film feels
alien. Everything is shot with a sense of otherworldly implication. We see the world as Newton
does, as a mystery to be slowly understood. However, the one thing Newton is
never able to come to terms with is the cut-throat world of business that he
chooses to inhabit. While those around him back-stab and bicker there is a
sense that the film has never been more relevant than in the current global
the lead role of Newton, David Bowie is a revelation. To Roeg’s credit who better to cast as an Alien than Ziggy Stardust
himself. With his androgynous appearance he looks every bit like a Man Who
Fell To Earth. His performance is
deliberately sterile and stilted until he discovers alcohol and sex which
causes an all too familiar euphoric disinterest in the more important things in
life. It is, without doubt, a career best turn for the glam rock-star.
While some of the film’s
costumes and production design may have dated since its 1976 release The Man
Who Fell To Earth is a visual treat. The plot may pass you by but the images are plucked
from the cinematic heavens.