Director: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, John Billingsley, Tony Todd, Ellen Crawford, Annika Peterson, William Katt, Alexis Thorpe, Richard Riehle. USA, 2007. Budget: $200,000. IMDB: 8.0. My rating 4/4. Intellectual imaginative dialogue-based science fiction.
– There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it.
(one of the film main characters)
– I am going home and watch Star Trek for a dose of sanity.
(one of the film main characters)
It’s often said that a good science fiction should in first place activate our imagination and not rely merely on being a visual stimulator. “The Man from Earth” is a minimal dialogue-based intellectual science fiction at its best. But it will provide you with more fantasy, drama, thoughtful remarks about biology, religion and psychology than you could expect from a film shot almost entirely in one house with zero action or special effects for $200,000.
The plot. Professor John Oldman is organizing a goodbye party with his university colleagues. He has a strange habit of moving to a new place every 10 years for a reason he doesn’t want to reveal. But for the first time ever he decides to open himself and tell the truth about his unusual origin, whether it will be accepted by his friends or not. John claims to be 14000 years old. But as their discussion moves on, the things get more and more serious.
Few curious facts about the film.
A) It’s based on the story written by Jerome Bixby, who developed the main idea from the original 1969 Star Trek episode he wrote. You can find a lot of info here. Bixby, among tons of things he wrote, created one of the best Twilight Zone episodes “It’s a Good Life” and co-wrote ”The Fantastic Voyage”.
B) The producer has publicly thanked torrent users of who have distributed the film without express permission, saying that it has lifted the profile of the film far beyond the financier’s expectations (even if it actually means asking for buying more DVDs, at least somebody admits the truth).
C) Released directly to DVD (after some festival screening and barely few theatres), the movie with years gained an impressive 8.0 on IMDb with 140,000 votes. It’s one of the most high-rated independent movies with a decent amount of votes. I find it surprising, as normally not everybody appreciates a dialogue based intellectual sci-fi.
What I liked. “The Man from Earth” is genuine and heartfelt story thanks to an incredible cast and especially charismatic main role by David Lee Smith. It feel sjust like sitting in front of the fire late in the evening with a bunch of old friends, discussing things to which you dedicated your life.
‘Tell a lie enough times and people will start to believe it”.
Nobody is trying to convince anyone. It’s surely one of the strong points of the film. John, after his 14000 years and hundreds of people he cared about and lost, is calm. It’s actually the reaction of the others that is not always peaceful – somebody feels hurt with his beliefs and feelings, some claim John is crazy and is making a bad joke, while the others feel sympathy.
You can guess the parallel – yes, the movie openly discusses the religion as well (and it seems some part of viewers blamed it as a movie against Christianity, which I find ridiculous). It’s an interesting take on the topic done an open-minded way, given the complexity. John’s story, of course, is compared to the religion itself (”There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it”, as admits one of his colleagues).
What I didn’t like. While some complained that the movie feels monotone due to its minimal setting, I’m pretty sure this can only be said if you can’t stand these kind of stories and need more action. I actually found the movie pretty dynamic and well-crafted. The picture quality wasn’t very good (and in one of the interviews Schenkman admitted himself that it wasn’t filmed in the best way), but that won’t diminish the pleasure anyway. The colours were strange at times (especially skin colour).
Worth watching? Yes! It’s smart, minimal and intellectual but not snobbish or artsy film that will invite you to reflect on many things. The film doesn’t have any kind of action or special effects – it’s a classic imaginative sci-fi at its best.