'The Man Who Fell to Earth': A strange visitor from space

Like a wan noodle, David Bowie limps around parched desertscapes at the start of Nicolas Roeg's enjoyably curious 1976 sci-fi allegory, The Man Who Fell to Earth. He looks entirely out of place.

Seen about 35 years after its release - a director's cut, adding 21 minutes to the original theatrical version - the film looks out of place, too. It's not just the grainy stock and bad sound - technically, we've come a long way. It's the cheesy sex, the awkward edits, the hammy symbolism, the mix of art-house aesthetics and exploitation cliché. Strange creature, this is.

And Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton, an E.T. who has set down on terra firma for reasons that take awhile to become clear, is a strange creature. (Look out for those intergalactic flashbacks!) Asexual, aloof, and armed with a slew of patentable inventions that turn him from penniless nomad to corporate billionaire seemingly overnight, this mystery figure is like Howard Hughes crossed with Steve Jobs - as played by an androgynous '70s British rock star. (Young Americans, Bowie's made-in-Philadelphia classic, was released the year before this movie.)

Helping Mr. Newton find his footing in this alien environment are Buck Henry, as the executive hired to run Newton's new global conglomerate; Rip Torn, as a randy college prof with an apparently brilliant mind for rocket-fuel algorithms; and Candy Clark, as the hotel maid who becomes Newton's lover - well, kind of, because Newton's not really equipped for such matters. The actress' over-the-top response to the revelation that Newton isn't of this world must be seen to be believed. The old-age makeup she wears in the final act is not to be believed, either.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.


The Man Who Fell to Earth

Directed by Nicolas Roeg. With Candy Clark, Bernie Casey, Rip Torn, David Bowie, Buck Henry. Distributed by Rialto Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().