Ten years ago, The Man From Earth was released to the world. Not in theatres; the low-budget, indie film went straight to DVD. But with an excellent cast and cred for the writer, the movie went on to critical acclaim. It scored nominations, awards, and topped the list of Best Films in its genre. It was also, unfortunately, heavily pirated. Now, with an impending sequel, the original gets a remastered Special Edition release.
The story is a great thought experiment. Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith, CSI: Miami) is packing up to leave town unexpectedly. A group of his colleagues insist on having a going-away party. When he slips out, they follow him and demand an explanation for his attempted disappearance. John tells them he’s actually a 14,000-year-old caveman who moves along every ten years before people notice that he doesn’t age. Of course, no one believes him. But the more they try to poke holes in his story, while he can’t prove what he’s saying is true, they fail to disprove it, either.
The Man From Earth plays very much like a play. Almost all the action is on one set, taking place in a single day. The ensemble by and large all stay on camera for the duration, making it a dialogue-heavy conversation piece. There isn’t any action, per se, just an intense examination of the claim and the ramifications of such a thing, exploring both the practical and the historical. Given that the characters are college professors, the conversation is high-brow and intelligent, covering a wide variety of angles.
This is about what one might expect from writer Jerome Bixby, who literally finished this story on his death bed. Jerome is best known for “It’s a Good Life,” a short story that was turned into a seminal episode of The Twilight Zone, and for writing multiple episodes of the original 1960s Star Trek series, most notably “Mirror, Mirror.” (Another Star Trek episode he wrote, “Requiem for Methuselah,” has parallels to this tale.)
The ensemble cast also has plenty of Star Trek cred in it. Among them are John Billingsley (a lead in Star Trek: Enterprise), Tony Todd (guest star in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and Star Trek: Voyager), and Richard Riehle (guest star in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise). Rounding out the cast are Ellen Crawford (ER), Annika Peterson (Tanner Hall), Alexis Thorpe (Days of Our Lives), and William Katt (Carrie). While not a highly recognizable troupe, these are all working actors who do a good job.
Ten Years Later
The Man From Earth holds up very well as a story. The plot is engrossing, the actors are natural, and there are enough surprises to make it worth it to pay attention. While it doesn’t answer every question that could be posed, it covers a lot of ground, and Bixby did a great job trying to anticipate what viewers would ask. I’m glad it’s getting a re-release to bring more attention to it.
But despite the expense spent on upgrading the film to HD (which it was not filmed in), I’m not sure the job was good enough to justify it. Sure, the original quality is soft and a bit blurry, but the new version is harsh and grainy. Watching the side-by-side comparison in the Blu-ray special features, I personally appreciated the original better. I’m not saying The Man From Earth couldn’t be made to look higher-quality, but I don’t think this release does it.
There are a wealth of bonus features on the Blu-ray. We get trailers for both the original movie and the upcoming sequel. There are two audio commentaries to choose from. There’s a very entertaining, very short film called “Contagion.” A few featurettes are interesting.
I am loathe to complain about a behind-the-scenes feature, as most are too short for my taste, but the one here is actually too long. Perhaps it would be better split into chunks, as it runs roughly the same length as the film. But I’m not sure that would help much, as there are a lot of unnecessary conversation in it. It’s cool to hear most of the cast, Bixby’s son, a producer, and director Richard Schenkman talk about the unique filming process and the piracy issues. However, there’s repetition and tangents that make it drag on. So for once, I have to say this one could use some editing down.
This is a great film, and I’m very glad to get to see it. It feels indie and low-budget, but that might be a plus for this particular story. The extras, despite my minor complaint that the main one could use some editing down, are plenty and mostly enjoyable. I recommend Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth, available now.