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Overall Rating
4.54

Awesome75.44%
Worth A Look: 15.79%
Average: 1.75%
Pretty Bad: 1.75%
Total Crap: 5.26%

1 review, 51 user ratings


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Man from Earth, The
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by David Cornelius

"A genre legend's last great work."
4 stars

One quiet night, as his friends gather to share their goodbyes to him, John offers up a delicious conundrum: let’s say a man - a caveman, really - managed to survive for 14,000 years, never dying. What would he be like today? John’s friends, professors and academics from a nearby college, enjoy the puzzle and the countless questions it creates. What about his biology would help him live so long? How far back could his memories go before they cloud up? How much knowledge could such a man gather over thousands of lifetimes? How many relationships must he deny himself in order to keep his past a secret?

Ah, but what if John’s question wasn’t a question at all? After all, he did have something important he wanted to tell his friends before he moved along in life. Is John implying that he is the 14,000 year old man? (A play, perhaps, on his own last name, Oldman?)

Such is the glorious riddle of “The Man from Earth,” a low-key, no-frills drama, the last work from the late, great Jerome Bixby, best known to sci-fi fans as the author of such seminal genre works as “Mirror, Mirror” (one of the most popular episodes of the original “Star Trek”), “It’s a Good Life” (a key “Twilight Zone” tale), and the film “Fantastic Voyage.” Here, everything comes off like a filmed stage play, with every inch of drama unfolding almost entirely from dialogue alone - imagine “My Dinner with Andre” reworked by sci-fi geeks. This is the story of smart people debating, hypothesizing, wondering.

There have been stories like this before - the ridiculous yet occasionally interesting “K-Pax” immediately springs to mind - but most of those offerings hit a snag when it comes time to revealing the truth. Either our hero is indeed a fantastic being, or he is insane; usually the reveal is never as exciting as the build-up, and it’s best to leave the mystery unsolved. But with “The Man from Earth,” we’re so involved in the discussion that we’d gladly accept either possibility. It’s not so much a build-up to a big twist, but a grand “what if?” roundtable discussion in which we get to play a part. The journey is every bit as exciting as the destination.

Of course, John’s so determined - and so likable - that we want desperately to believe his story. His past, real or not, is completely credible, and his rule about moving on every ten years, just as his new friends begin to realize he’s not aging, sounds probable enough. His tendency to namedrop a couple historical figures teeters on implausibility (just how many big names can one person meet, even with all that time?), but it never quite pushes our disbelief over the edge.

And when John begins to reluctantly recount how an entire modern religion is actually based on myth mixed with conjecture mixed with political necessity, we’re sucked in even more. Now we’re no longer dealing with fiction and fantasy, but legitimate history; with these scenes, Bixby challenges us to rethink how religious tales are formed.

That’s how Bixby hooks you with this story. He never lets the viewer stop thinking. The questions keep flowing, sometimes at fever pitch. (I found myself screaming internally, wondering when these characters would finally ask the questions I needed answered most - and I found myself smiling once those questions finally arrived.) You wind up putting yourself in the shoes of both John (how would you handle near-eternal life?) and his friends (how could you handle a pal telling you such things?), and this heightened sense of intellectual involvement raises the drama to grand heights.

To Bixby’s credit, he does not simply compile a list of what-ifs and toss them at us dryly. His characters are richly detailed, and underneath all the fantastic speculation, there’s a solid drama, one of old friends regretfully saying goodbye to one of their own. Bixby and director Richard Schenkman give us time to meet these characters as people before dropping the big questions in our lap, and so we get to see them as colleagues and companions, trading jokes and memories, inviting us, the audience, into their private party.

Considering the rushed production time (the project was shot in just over a week), it’s interesting to note just how well the cast works together. They do indeed feel like old friends, and their rapport is soothing.

And what a curious cast it is, filled with TV veterans and genre regulars, like Tony Todd, John Billingsley, Richard Riehle, Annika Peterson, Ellen Crawford, Alexis Thorpe, and William Katt, who looks a little too worn down from years of work in the B-movie circuit. All provide exceptional performances here, most notably Todd and Billingsley, who have the fortune of portraying the most inquisitive members of the group, and therefore get to ask all the questions you want to hear.

The real lynchpin, however, is David Lee Smith, who stars as John. He brings to the screen a calm presence that’s much needed in carrying such large-scale notions through, while underlining his every action with a hint of sorrow - 14,000 years of sadness, perhaps.

Schenkman’s direction gets in the way a few times, with a few more cramped shots and awkward angles and underlit scenes than one would like, although the limited shooting space and tight schedule account for most of the film’s hiccups. But what Schenkman lacks in visual finesse, he makes up for in a keen sense of pacing that lets the characters soar and the dialogue breathe.

With all its restraints, “The Man from Earth” is a gloriously unusual genre entry - no effects, no action, no cheap thrills. All the conflict is internal, all the drama intellectual. It’s that rare film that rewards inquisitiveness.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16873&reviewer=392
originally posted: 11/22/07 04:04:56
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User Comments

8/26/14 Chung Amazing film. I can't believe there is still something like this out there. 5 stars
4/06/14 Utkarsh u have to watch this film one more time. cant get over it. one of the best film i saw in ye 5 stars
1/02/14 eliot Anyone who thinks this film is clever is too stupid to know the difference. 1 stars
10/05/13 vishal makes you rethink a lot about things you think you know. 5 stars
7/05/13 Alexander Amazing movie. No Special effects, just dialogue that makes you think. 5 stars
6/17/13 Darrell J. Great..I have more questions!!!!!! 5 stars
3/28/13 Andre Today a rare example of an excellent, minimalist and wonderful dialogue based SF-movie. 5 stars
1/28/13 Daniel Stern A tour-de-force: brilliant 5 stars
12/23/12 Tony Thorne MBE A brilliant, totally absorbing, film. 5 stars
1/10/12 mihir_gurjar this movie is for only true movie lovers.... 5 stars
6/16/11 David R. Knudson Sr. An ensemble versian of "My Dinner With Andre", and equally as good! 5 stars
4/08/11 Mihir Amazing stuff...watch it only if u have a broad mind to 5 stars
2/27/11 Bob A truly thought provoking film. The best! 5 stars
11/16/10 luc bogaert the characters are not convincing me, the story didnt convince me, too obvious... 2 stars
11/14/10 signalfire I'm on my 6th watch of this film, it's an intellectual's masterpiece. 5 stars
10/23/10 Johnboy Beautifully-realized for such a low-budget film. One of the best films of the last decade! 5 stars
8/18/10 Peter Absolutely captivatingly wonderful. Truly good acting. And such a satisfying ending. 5 stars
8/04/10 Steven What good sci-fi should be. 5 stars
7/29/10 Steve Mind blowing. 5 stars
6/27/10 David Only a Jesus Freak would give it one star. They are so pitiful. 5 stars
2/01/10 Dan I could have watched this film for hours. Ah, the questions I had for Prof. Oldman. 5 stars
1/30/10 William Szegedi A great movie with talented actors, it's a must see for every sci-fi fan. 5 stars
1/25/10 Charles Great film. Particularly the religious references. 5 stars
1/02/10 Reg Very deep and moving. Wonderful. 5 stars
11/19/09 Baron Compelling, relentlessly thought provoking, subtly genius. 5 stars
11/17/09 David A. Lewis A stunning blend of pragmatic ideas about history and religion--well done! 5 stars
11/02/09 Alan Plagued by numerous and laughable historical inaccuracies when it comes to Christ 1 stars
8/10/09 Donna Very thought provoking and entertaining 4 stars
4/19/09 Chuck Fantastic THINKING film. I was surprised at the level of unbelieveability. 5 stars
4/11/09 MICHAEL HOGWASH FILMED CLEAVERLY IS STILL HOGWASH 1 stars
3/08/09 Hoang just love it so much, and wanna come to it again and again 5 stars
3/01/09 Warren I expected much, and got it. Challenging and imaginative. 4 stars
2/10/09 Pravin Awesome movie.. This review one puts into words how I felt (even the part about K-Pax).. 5 stars
1/06/09 Peter I went into it expecting to be bored and I could not have been more wrong!! 5 stars
8/21/08 Jessica A fantastic film. 5 stars
8/09/08 Aaron A most engaging film, tell everyone about it! 5 stars
7/01/08 subash OPENS UP UR MIND WIT MESMERIZING SCREENPLAY- CAPTIVATED!!! 4 stars
6/09/08 Michael Deak A remarkable, thoughtful, expository film; one of the best in its genre. 5 stars
5/24/08 Jeralda Thought it would be routine...boy, was I wrong. Really liked it. 5 stars
4/22/08 Edward A film that succeeds in asking thought-provoking questions, but fails in answering them. 3 stars
4/17/08 Leander Captivating! I felt I was transported from audience to participant! 5 stars
4/06/08 Robert Murphy First rate cast, first rate screenplay, first rate direction. An excellent film 5 stars
3/02/08 kapil I first watched it to kill time but glued to it.I ll defintly watch it again and again. 5 stars
2/16/08 Bill Captured from minute 1, the unique approach pays off 5 stars
1/20/08 Erik Molbach Maybe the most thought-provoking films I've seen. Up there with Wings of Desire! 5 stars
1/16/08 Liu Qu Fantastic film, really!!!A film that makes me think, wonder and inquire as a HUMAN BEING!! 5 stars
1/16/08 Jefferson Ryan Surprisingly good, really! 5 stars
1/13/08 Daniel Lundford Refreshing, warming and beautiful 5 stars
1/12/08 marc It is incredible! Great, great movie! 5 stars
1/12/08 Randy Brilliant, the conversation all of us wish we could have. 5 stars
1/07/08 Elizabeth Garay I really like science fiction and this is one of the most amazing films I´ve ever seen. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-Nov-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2007

UK
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