Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blu-ray/DVDebut for Richard Schenkman's film of Jerome Bixby's THE MAN FROM EARTH

Can you make any kind of decent sci-fi film by using a bunch of people sitting around a single interior location and simply talking their heads off?  The answer, if you haven't already guessed, is Oh, my god, yes! If the film, that is, turns out to be something entitled Jerome Bixby's THE MAN FROM EARTH. Mr. Bixby, who died in 1998 and of whom TrustMovies had not formerly heard, evidently wrote some classic episodes from TV series such as the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone, as well as some not-so-classic endeavors such as the 69-minute It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

I suspect that it might be safe to say that the late Mr. Bixby, shown at left, had poured just about every bit of his ideas and talent and caring about the world and the people in it into his unusual screenplay for The Man From Earth.

Fortunately, instead of coming up with something far too crammed and unwieldy, the man has taken a single idea, run with it to completion and given us one of, if not the most riveting 87-minute "idea fests" in move history.

The film's director, Richard Schenkman (The Pompatus of Love and Mischief Night), shown at right, has done a more-than-serviceable job of bringing this talk to fine life and getting completely believable performances from his troupe of actors, all of whom work together like a super-pro ensemble.

The tale takes place in an out-of-the-way but nicely appointed cabin in a dry and dusty region of California, where a "good-bye party" has been organized for a popular university professor (the tall, dark and mysterious David Lee Smith, below) who is leaving his prized post for reasons that none of his friends can understand.

As we learn that reason -- a whopper indeed -- the movie unfolds and we are knee-deep in everything from physics, finance and religion to history, anthropology and philosophy.

And yes, science fiction. But this is the sort of sci-fi that rejects even one single special effect, and in which the "action sequences" are mostly comprised of one character's turning his or her head to address the adjacent person on the couch. (To be fair, a gun is pulled a couple of times during the course of things, but there's not a ounce of real fighting to be seen.)

I'm not giving away another iota of plot (even the information on the Blu-ray/DVD box offers too much of this) so that you can better appreciate the unfolding surprises. But I will compliment the movie's excellent cast, the best-known of which include a very fine Tony Todd (at right, above, (of Candyman), William Katt, (shown at left two photos below, with Alexis Thorpe), and the works-almost-constantly Richard Riehle, shown at right, below, who is a stand-out here as the psychiatrist who tries to "treat" our hero as best as he is able.

How this Bixby/Schenkman combo keep us glued to the screen via ideas and storytelling is simply a wonder, and even when, as occasionally happens, things appear to be going off the rails, they soon come right back on again. Among the many topics under discussion, religion gets much of the blowback, deservedly so, via its would-be champion (played with equal parts caring and anger by Ellen Crawford, above, left).

Given this constant flow of ideas, the movie also manages to grip us emotionally now and then, never more so than at its finale that features a prominent Mr. Riehle and the lovely romantic interest, played by Annika Peterson (below, left). We care enough about the characters here to feel for them, but it is primarily those brain-busting ideas on view that hold us to the screen.

The Man from Earth was actually filmed an entire decade previous but never seems to have been released theatrically. Had it been, it would have earned a place on my 2007 best-of-year list. (In any year, however, this one's a must-see.) The movie was also shot digitally but prior to the increasing use of hi-definition video; consequently the image quality proves only so-so at best -- even on the Blu-ray disc, which makes the upgrade from DVD seem more than a bit unnecessary. In any case, it is the content rather than the visuals that will keep you on your toes.

Released to home video via MVDvisual and with a raft of Bonus Features included, this ten-year anniversary issue of The Man From Earth hits the street today, Tuesday, November 21 -- for purchase or rental. Don't miss it.

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