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The Man Who Fell to Earth

It’s fair to say that both Michael Bay’s 2011 film Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 effort The Man Who Fell to Earth are epic-length science-fiction pictures that show signs of directorial self-indulgence. But while Bay’s indulgence is in the service of spectacle, Roeg’s seeks to uncover character. The special effects, such as they are, are almost entirely beside the point, except insofar as they illustrate alien-visitor Thomas Jerome Newton’s otherness. (David Bowie, who made a career out of seeming a bit askew, is expertly cast here as the lead.) And the battle is not for a world, even though Newton’s home planet is plagued with drought. Instead, it’s for a soul, a struggle hinted at when good-natured gal Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) gets our hero to swap his drinking water for a different sort of aqua vitae. Finally, however indulgent, Roeg’s direction shows respect for his audience’s ability to jump in and keep up. There are no handy placards telling you how much time has gone by between scenes, but pay attention — you’ll figure it out.

Note: this is very much an uncut version of the film; fans of Rip Torn’s penis, Candy Clark’s fright-induced urine, and horrifying gunplay during intercourse will get what they came for.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is at the Ken Cinema Friday, July 29.

★★

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