THE MAN FROM EARTH
(director: Richard Schenkman; screenwriter: Jerome Bixby; cinematographer: Afshin Shahidi; editor: Neil Grieve; music: Mark Hinton Stewart; cast: David Lee Smith (Professor John Oldman), Tony Todd (Dan), John Billingsley (Harry), Ellen Crawford (Edith), Annika Peterson (Sandy), William Katt (Art), Alexis Thorpe (Linda Murphy), Richard Riehle (Dr. Will Gruber); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Richard Schenkman/Eric D. Wilkinson; STARZ Media (Falling Sky Entertainment); 2007)
“An intriguing cerebral psychological sci-fi yarn.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An intriguing cerebral psychological sci-fi yarn intensely written by acclaimed sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby. He wrote novels, short stories and screenplays. Bixby also penned several episodes of Star Trek (1966-9) and the famous It’s a Good Life episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-63), which was later remade as a segment of Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983). Though lacking exciting visual cinema qualities, it plays nice mind games with its shocking premise of a modern-day man of science being an ageless man from the Stone Age. Helmer Richard Schenkman (“Mischief Night”/”Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies“) had little choice but to flatly film it as if a TV show. It lacked the requisite sci-fi special effects one expects in a sci-fi flick. Also annoying was the intrusive musical score, that often overwhelmed the dialogue. Nevertheless the amazing narrative easily overcomes these shortcomings to become the talky My Dinner with Andre of the sci-fi world.Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is a respected science professor who summons a group of close school associates on a chilly day to his country cabin to say goodbye and tell them that he is just moving on after being with them for the past 10 years. Naturally they are curious about his reasons why he’s suddenly leaving. John decides to tell them the truth, something he’s never done before. But he knows his story is so outrageous it will surely startle and frighten them. John asks them to believe he lived in the Cro-Magnon era and has stayed alive without dying or aging for some 14,000 years. He states that he moves on every ten years because he doesn’t want people to get suspicious when they notice he doesn’t seem to age. The men of science begin to doubt his sanity or think he’s pulling their leg with this hoax story. They talk about such things as historical events, famous artists he ran into from other centuries and how he survived the black plague. When the talk turns to religion, he reluctantly reveals he was Jesus, a more worldly one from the Bible, who never died on the cross because he learned from Buddha how to quiet the pain through meditation. This tale is more than the group can take. The college shrink (Richard Riehle) threatens to have him committed unless he relents. The hipster motorcyclist book writer archaeologist (William Katt) is steamed. The mild-mannered anthropologist (Tony Todd) is baffled and just wants the truth. The biologist (John Billingsley) feels offended he’s being taking for a fool. The devoted Christian (Ellen Crawford) feels hurt that John has debunked the King James version of the New Testament and demands an apology. The only ones not angry are the college student girlfriend (Alexis Thorpe) of her archaeologist teacher and John’s sweet college office girl girlfriend (Annika Peterson). The understated film, a believe it or not tale, is sincere, provocative, always engaging, blessed with a great script and has the right person playing the mystical lead. Bixby wrote another treatment of the idea in the Star Trek episode Requiem for Methuselah (1969), and shines here with an even more curious version of that theme.
REVIEWED ON 7/11/2016 GRADE: A-