Cameron's Review of The Man From Earth
The Man From Earth(2007)
Definately not to be mistaken for "The Man Who Fell to Earth", largely because I'm not entirely sure David Bowie is actually "from" Earth, nor is it to be mistaken for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", largely because the features in that series had more creative titles (Come on, don't tell me you're not at least a little curious when you hear the title "How to Steal the World"). Jerome Bixby sure knew his science fiction, but he must have just come up with this script's title at the last minute... while on his deathbed, a few days before he went, or at least that's my pathetic attempt at an excuse, which isn't even all that buyable, because with the over twenty years that it, for some reason, took Bixby to write this, you'd think that he would have come up with a better title. Okay, all joking aside, this film's title really isn't that bad, or at least it isn't when you don't look at who's directing this long overdue adaptation of Bixby's final vision, not just because Robert Schenkman named his kid Tiger (That is both the coolest and most unfortunate name for a child that I've heard since Nick Cage welcomed little baby Kal-El; speaking of science-fiction), but because the theatrical feature that Schenkman did before this film was titled "Went to Coney Island on a Mission from Good... Be Back by Five", which is awesome, and reportedly more so than the film itself. Is anyone else feeling uncomfortable with my actually saying that Jon Cryer tops Jon Bixby in a writing department? Hey, this mediocre misfire may be about as relatively good as a Richard Schenkman has gotten, but that film's title is still pretty much the best thing that Richard Schenkman has been attached to, but then again, all Schenkman's done outside of this film is a bunch of straigh-to-video and TV junk, some movies that no one has seen and probably shouldn't see and two "Playboy" videos, so it's not like his standard of filmmaking quality is as high as his taste for film titles. I don't know who in their right mind had the idea of having this dude take on the final passion project of a legendary sci-fi writer, but that person, whether he or she lives to be over 14,000 years old or not, will be due for a slap in the face, as this film just doesn't work. That being said, while this film stands to hit Bixby's ambition harder, it also stands to hit disaster harder, going saved by a few factors.
Jerome Bixby's recovered story structure is considerably flawed, and Richard Schenkman's execution of the late Bixby's story concept is certainly shoddy, yet there is no denying that Bixby's concept of a minimalistically-staged yet extensive analysis on the evolution of society through discussion with an immutable being is daringly original, thus a certain degree of immediate intrigue arises. What intrigue there is goes further supplemented by many an aspect within the execution of the premise in Bixby's script, which is faulty as far as story structure is concerned, but heavily inspired thematically, with just about every topic being analyzed and deconstructed with considerably well-researched intelligence. Now, come on, we're talking about a deconstruction of the history of social structure and human sensibilities told through a being with the ability to regenerate cells with such advancement that he is essentially immortal, so the number of potential topical holes is infinite, yet this film covers a near-countless amount of bases, and while that quickly gets to be exhausting and ultimately doesn't necessarily make for all that enjoyable of a story, it is still rather interesting, and will leave you to walk away with a fair bit to ponder upon, even if the film built around the provocatively intelligent topical and thematic aspects is such a mess. Of course, with all of my complaints about the abundant amount of structural missteps, it's not like the story - such as it is - is untouched, for although this film is, well, pretty much devoid of narrative structure, things are driven by a mystery, and one that all but saves the film as truly decent. As I'll touch more upon later, director Richard Schenkman approaches Bixby with hardly even the minimum of subtlety, thus predictability will creep its head in and out, time and again, yet nearly half of the time, you'd be hard pressed to not be at least a little bit engaged by the mystery dealing with whether or not this "immortal" is what he claims to be, until by the end, you're faced with an actually pretty nifty twist that gives the messily-handled mystery the payoff it oh so very much deserves. The film isn't quite as rich with potential as I make it sound, though there are high spots, some of which give you a taste of what this film could have very well been, and yet, when you step back, you'll notice that most every strength that I just listed off pertains to the film's structural concept. When it comes to execution of Bixby's worthy visions, the final product comes out a borderline disaster, riddled with amateur filmmaking mistakes to undercut the value of the expertly-crafted topical aspects, as well as some technical mistakes to most definately not make things any better.
Now, to my understanding, this film made for one hideous-looking blu-ray, and quite frankly, I'm not the least bit surprised, because although we're not looking at an "Open Water" level of bad photography here, Afshin Shahidi's cinematography, whether it be because of budgetary restraints or whatever, is cold and colorless with bland lighting and unevenly pronounced yet consistently glaring grain that is just not attractive and, at times, knocks you out of the film, and the occasional awkward editing moment doesn't help. Now, I'd imagine the casting, production and, of course, uncovering and adapting the lost, nearly ten-year-old complete script of a dead man cost something of a pretty penny, but if "Paranormal Activity", another cheap 2007 production, can look good on a budget of, like, $20, this $200 million project should look better than it does, especially when you consider just how blasted minimalist it is, and yet, when it's all said and done, technical faults are the least of this film's problem, with the biggest flaw being, of course, directorial faultiness, as director Richard Schenkman can't even do a terribly decent job at handling the weak score work by Mark Hinton Stewart that is not only rarely fitting, but exceedingly manipulative, forcing atmosphere at you ever so overbearingly and ever so consistently, thus creating a near-profound atmospheric awkwardness that most certainly doesn't end with the end of the music cues. There's not really all that much of a story to tell with this film, yet Schenkman hardly produces a resemblance of the confidence that Bixby put into this film's concept, tainting the film with thorough awkwardness that both all but dispels emotional investment and creates a kind of considerable lack of subtlety that sometimes, as I said, undercuts the effectiveness of the story - such as it is - and dilutes the effectiveness of the film's topical depth. Certainly, you can't destroy a good education, so expect to still walk out of the film with quite a bit to think about, though not with too much of a passion to ponder, as Schenkman lacks the confidence and, for that matter, competence to tacklet a project like that, thus the film stands as all too often awkward, and when it's not that, it's quite slow, and enough so to bring more to attention the areas in which Jerome Bixby, in fact, messes up. Ever so occasionally, the film will jarringly change focus on other matters to put in some depth, yet on the whole, there is nothing going on in this exceedingly repetitious and unrewarding limper of an aimless - nay - plotless string of nothing but nothing. Not a single thing more than an hour-and-a-half of people sitting around, questioning and discussing the history of a man who has seen social history unravel since the inception of progression, this film truly has no immediate development, no conflict, no dynamicity and altogether no narrative structure, which is hardly a joke, and as interesting as the basic premise is, after a while, the film becomes more embarassing in its structural faultiness than technical faultiness, which is saying quite a bit, thus blandness ensues, then just as quickly engulfs, leaving the film to stand as exceedingly more conceptually intriguing than atmospherically intriguing. True, the conceptual intrigue carries this film a long way, almost to point of decency, while what secures the film as saved from contempt is simply the final product's being too bland to be bad, yet the fact of the matter is that this film is just so bland, with a monotonus non-plot and awkward storytelling to undercut much of what is of value in Bixby's worthy vision, thus the final product ultimately comes out falling very much short of potential and as nothing short of mediocre.
Overall, the film is not without conceptual intrigue, boasting a highly original premise, backed up by highly well-researched and actually quite intelligent topical depth that supplements the mystery that helps in saving this film, though not exactly from utter mediocrity, as the film is made unattractive by some technical faults, and just plain disengaging by Richard Schenkman's awkward direction that's short on subtlety and heavy on the limpness that brings to attention just how problematically monotonous Jerome Bixby's structureless and biteless non-plot is, thus creating that overwhelming blandness that leaves "The Man from Earth" to fall flat as a mediocre misfire of squandered potential.
2/5 - Medicore