Though you're supposed to always claim a book is better than its resulting movie version, that might not be the case with the 1976 cult flick The Man Who Fell to Earth. Sure, the source material, a 1963 novel of the same title by Walter Tevis, is a decent read for sci-fi fans. The zippy, thin volume follows the travails of an alien marooned on our planet as he tries (and ultimately fails) to send water back home. But where the book can come off a vague retread of Stranger in a Strange Land, the movie ventures into far more surreal territory -- courtesy of the ultimate alien-human himself, David Bowie!
The cinematic version, directed by Nicolas Roeg, stars the shape-shifting star as the humanoid in question, named Thomas Jerome Newton. Just as in the book, Thomas is looking to send water to his home planet. Also as in the book, he uses his otherworldly intelligence to create a bunch of technologically advanced inventions and becomes a rich entrepreneur. In the film, Thomas winds up in New Mexico and meets a motel worker named Mary-Lou, played by Candy Clark. Things take a weird turn when she introduces him to all kinds of bad human stuff: clothing, alcohol, sex (oh, and church -- does that count as bad stuff?). Mary-Lou and Thomas spend a lot of the movie bouncing around motel rooms while wearing platforms, flared trousers, and amazingly feathered haircuts, while the plot gets fuzzy and the movie dissolves into '70s-tastic visual fantasy. Also, Rip Torn shows up.
The whole spectacle recently received a slight 2011 makeover in honor of its 35th anniversary, and this new version will see its Florida premiere this Wednesday at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.
Wed., Sept. 21, 8:50 p.m., 2011