THE MAN FROM EARTH (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, this is a science fiction film with plenty going for it but no special effects. It is really just people sitting and talking. Yet it is full of ideas that will with stick the viewer long after the film is over. THE MAN FROM EARTH very probably will be one of the best science fiction films of this decade. A group of college professors and friends discuss the history of mankind and find out what they have right and what they have wrong from someone who knows. This is currently a little-known film that is generally very highly rated by the small number of people who have seen it. And it *really* deserves to be seen. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
For a decade John Oldman (played by David Lee Smith) has been a popular history professor at a small unnamed university. Now he is mysteriously giving up tenure and leaving for unexplained reasons to go to an undisclosed destination. His bewildered friends are throwing a good-bye party for the charismatic teacher.
John's friends clearly want to pry the secrets from their enigmatic collegue. The secret is that he has had access to knowledge of history that they did not--far more knowledge than they could ever have. Their conversation centers on why he has this information, but also on how history is not what people might have thought it was--and what the implications are of his special knowledge.
This film also goes by the title JEROME BIXBY'S THE MAN FROM EARTH. Jerome Bixby was a good and occasionally great science fiction writer who published mostly in the magazines. His best known story was "It's a Good Life," adapted to The Twilight Zone. In that episode Billy Mumy played a child who was an omnipotent but totally selfish tyrant making life miserable for everyone else in his town, which by the way he has somehow removed from Earth. Bixby also contributed to "Star Trek" and wrote the original story for the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE. It is said that he was completing the screenplay for THE MAN FROM EARTH as he was dying. The script is intelligent and covers politics, science, and religion. It does not dally with bizarre secret histories. Nearly everything that is said is at least credible and frequently quite likely. But it is frequently history as you my have never considered it. The script is well-written and smart, and never talks down to the viewer.
The cast has no big names but it has some medium names, including William Katt and John Billingsly of "Star Trek." From the format, the script could have just as easily been a stage play and could be produced as such with very little adaptation. It is just characters getting together, mostly in one room, and talking.
It is clear that nobody knew how to market a science fiction film that is just actors sitting around and talking. The film played at film festivals to people who probably were not quite sure what it would be when they entered the theater. It got some very good ratings and comment, but only nominal theatrical release that I know of. It probably went directly to DVD. NetFlix not only stocks it for rental, they offer it free for "instant viewing" download. I do not know if it even recouped its modest investment.
This film is a nearly undiscovered gem. It is one of the most intelligent science fiction films ever made. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.