The Man From Earth (2007)

Film Reviews — By on November 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

Okay, bear with me while I try to review The Man From Earth without giving away the core idea of the thing which, itself, is quite an enjoyable reveal as the slight plot unfolds.

As John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is packing his possessions into the back of his truck, a number of his friends and colleagues arrive to make sure that they give him a proper farewell, whether he likes it or not. John appreciates the gesture and is sad to be leaving but he has to go and those around him are suitably stunned and disbelieving when he explains to them his reason for leaving.

The Man From Earth takes an interesting central concept (one that you could peg as either a science fiction idea or, indeed, a supernatural one) and looks at it with a keen eye. The problem is that it does nothing all that interesting with the bigger ideas. In fact, more than one or two moments feel a bit too gimmicky and the fact that the film constitutes nothing more than eight people having a discussion for most of the runtime it should really deliver something a bit more profound by the time the end credits roll. In my view.

The cast aren’t too bad. David Lee Smith is very good in the central role, Tony Todd is an excellent and open-minded colleague, John Billingsley makes a number of lame jokes, William Katt plays someone who dismisses the tale that his friend is telling (perhaps due to his own mid-life crisis signified by the leather jacket and the company of the student girl he enjoys), Richard Riehle is a fascinated doctor, Annika Peterson is someone who clearly has feelings for John, Ellen Crawford starts off as quite likeable but her character quickly turns sharp and Alexis Thorpe does well as the aforementioned young student who takes in the tale with a pleasing naivete but certainly isn’t a dumb young woman.

The script, written by Jerome Bixby, is also pretty good. The dialogue is fine and a lot of the conversational diversions are entertaining enough. Sadly, the weakest aspect of the movie comes from those listening to the tale. It’s hard to believe that people would sit there for such a long time listening to a tale they believe to be so far-fetched. And the few who actually believe the story are just as unconvincing because, let’s face it, who WOULD actually believe the life that John has led?

Richard Schenkman obviously has great faith in the material because his direction does very little to enhance the dialogue and exchange of ideas. There’s a nice ambiguity throughout until a finale that, once again, feels a bit too gimmicky and is actually harder to believe than anything that has come beforehand.

Ultimately, The Man From Earth is a decent little movie that gives some serious analysis to a scientific anomaly (perhaps) and also looks at the impact of that anomaly on other areas of “common knowledge” but it fails to really convince as a movie and would perhaps have been better suited to a theatrical piece or even a radio play. And I managed to write all that without revealing any major plot points. Phew!

DIRECTOR: RICHARD SCHENKMAN
WRITER: JEROME BIXBY
STARS: DAVID LEE SMITH, TONY TODD, JOHN BILLINGSLEY, ELLEN CRAWFORD, RICHARD RIEHLE, ANNIKA PETERSON, ALEXIS THORPE
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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    7 Comments

  • avatar Tue Sorensen says:

    You should see the movie Alexis Thorpe did after this… I bet you would like it better… and that’s not even as snide a remark as it sounds like! :-)

  • I just looked it up and it also stars Maxwell Caulfield which makes it all kinds of awesome in my book, haha.

    I did like The Man From Earth (I’m sure it was yourself who recommended it at some point) but there was no getting away from the fact that as a movie it didn’t quite do enough to merit the form.

  • avatar Tue Sorensen says:

    Jerome Bixby is a playwright. Are you saying that small-scale, localized drama about people talking is no fit subject for the motion picture medium? This movie became popular because it is intelligent and absorbing – not because of action or special effects. If it had only played on a stage, far fewer people would have been able to enjoy it. I think it had the best setting possible for giving the best narrative effect possible. As such, it is actually quite unique.

    Nightmare City 2035 – the one with Alexis Thorpe and Maxwell Caulfield – is a low-budget but comparatively SFX-filled sci-fi/action movie. I liked it so much that I went to the trouble of getting the Asian DVD release before there was a Western one. It’s worthwhile because the passion of the producers overshadow the slightly strained acting and production values. I gave it 8 stars out of 10: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0910868/reviews-3 (Its current IMDb rating is 3.3!)

  • avatar Tue Sorensen says:

    Hm, I see on Amazon that the Western release is also called Dreamcity and(/or?) The Mind Jumper: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nightmare-City-2035-Dreamcity-Jumper/dp/B003VQAU5K/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1321129828&sr=1-1

    Silly titles!

  • Motion pictures can, and of course do, encompass many different forms and I’m a big fan of many small, localized dramas (the works of David Mamet and early stuff from Neil La Bute spring to mind) but their dialogue literally fizzles enough to make up for any other areas that may be lacking (e.g. visuals, pace) and so you don’t notice when that’s the case.

    Personally, I really think that those types of films have to have that great dialogue or ideas even more interesting and profound than this one to work as a wholly satisfying movie. Perhaps I would have rated it higher if the ending hadn’t felt so contrived and gimmicky, too. But, y’know, I still enjoyed it and really found some of the discussion interesting.

    For Christmas I may just send you The Jetsons Movie to make sure you keep your angry pants off ;-)

  • avatar Tue Sorensen says:

    That might be a good idea…! LOL!

  • Did anyone ever actually enjoy The Jetsons? I always thought they were a pale imitation of any sitcom family with added jetpacks. Now the old Lost In Space – THERE was a sci-fi show. I never saw Time Tunnel when it was on so have no idea if it was any good or not.

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