MOVIE REVIEW: The Man from Earth, Directed by Richard Schenkman

REVIEW SUMMARY: It feels like you’re reading a story instead of watching a film

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A man reveals to his educated colleagues that he is an immortal born 14,000 years ago.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A thorough deconstruction of immortality; a few welcome plot twists.

CONS: Some non-stationary camera work would have been welcome, as would a few extra lights; somewhat slow-moving at times.

BOTTOM LINE: A SciFi film worth watching.


The Man from Earth is based on a screenplay from science fiction writer Jerome Bixby. Bixby is perhaps best known for his classic 1953 story “It’s a GOOD life” which was adapted for the television series The Twilight Zone and featured a young Billy Mumy wishing people into the cornfield. (The story resurfaced years later in the 1983 Twilight Zone film and also spawned a sequel, “It’s Still a Good Life,” in the 2002-2003 incarnation of The Twilight Zone and again starred Mumy.) The screenplay for The Man from Earth was Bixby’s last work.

At its most basic level, the story is about a man (John, played by David Lee Smith) who, upon preparing to travel, confesses to his college professor friends that he is an immortal who was born 14,000 years ago in the Paleolithic era of Earth’s history. They disbelieve him, of course, assuming he is researching a science fiction story idea. But they continue to question him, with attempts to disprove his story slowly giving way to seeking information about how this could possibly be.

What results is a dialogue-/idea-driven story that explores what it would mean to be immortal. Would you keep any possessions? Would you be incredibly intelligent? Would you have made a difference? What would your personal beliefs be regarding death and religion? These issues are explored at length by John’s friends who are fellow college professors: there’s Dan (Tony Todd) the anthropologist; socially-inept Harry the biologist; Edith, a devout Christian; Sandy, John’s colleague and love interest; and archaeologist Art (William Katt) who, fearing for John’s sanity, calls in friend psychologist Dr. Gruber. Using their diverse backgrounds to cover a wide range of knowledge and perspectives, John’s friends extract details about his long-lived past, probing the veracity of his story. The problem, though, is that none of it is provable (or dis-provable), especially since John never stays in one place long enough for people to see for themselves that he doesn’t age. Talk eventually turns to religion and culminates with a couple of plot twists and various emotional exchanges.

The leading strength of The Man from Earth is easily Bixby’s story, which provides fodder for some thought-provoking discussion. And discussion (and all the good that comes from it) is really all that the movie offers. There’s not much action, so those looking for eye candy SciFi should look elsewhere. However, the acting is good and the script provides an engrossing, if slow-moving, story. Watching The Man from Earth really feels like you’re reading a story instead of watching a film – which is to say that the pleasure is derived from thinking about the premise, not the visuals. In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether John is telling the truth, lying or crazy – the exploration of the experience of immortality is what this film is about – and ultimately that makes The Man from Earth is a film worth watching.

6 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: The Man from Earth, Directed by Richard Schenkman”

  1. I saw this movie on my laptop when I flew to England last March and it’s one of those movies that really sticks with you, I think.  I still think of that line about Jesus, which I won’t utter here to preserve the twist that it reveals…

  2. I watched my DVD 2 1/8 times (watched it again for the wonderful Schenkman/Billingsley commentary, but could only take a few minutes of the second commentary with Bixby’s son), and ended up buying another copy to donate to the LASFS lending library!

  3. One of the many reasons I love my visits over here is discovering things like this that I had not heard of.  I do recall the Twilight Zone episode.  I’ll be looking for this one on DVD.  I am a fan of conversational films of any genre and to have one that fits within the borders of science ficiton is very exciting.  Thanks for the review.

  4. I’d like to mimic what Carl said.  Thank you for this review.  I just watched it and loved it.  I’m also a big fan of conversational films, films that take place in one room, are in real time, etc. and this did not disappoint.  I’d give it the full 4 (if not 5) stars.  It was perfectly acted by David Lee Smith and the script was tight, exploring all the best angles of the possibility.  Thanks again!

  5. First… let me say thanks for the kind words. Even after 19 months on DVD it’s amazing how this film still has “legs”. Please support independent film and buy a copy from Amazon (it’s only $8.99 right now).

    To Divers & Sundry,

    How will we ever afford to make a sequel is you tell people where to watch the film for free!? How about posting a link to where they can buy the film? We have a form letter that I post EVERYWHERE for people who like to watch films, but don’t feel the need to pay for the “art” that many many people worked on for very little money. I’ll leave you with it:

    IF YOU DOWNLOADING THIS MOVIE ILLEGALLY – PLEASE READ!!!

     

    We, the filmmakers behind “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth” understand that this is a film many sci-fi fans want to see. And we especially understand that if you live outside the United States, you’ve had absolutely no way of knowing when this film might be coming to your local cinema, video store, or TV… if ever! Indeed, all international rights to the movie are still available.

     

    And as a result you may have downloaded the film from one of the many torrent (or other) sites available. Chances are, you paid nothing to do so. But please understand that we are just some independent filmmakers who put everything we had into our little movie, and you really hurt us directly when you downloaded the movie illegally.

     

    Judging from the postings at IMDB.com, we see that the vast majority of you quite like the film; many of you even love the film and have watched it repeatedly.

     

    We made this movie with a great deal of love, sacrifice and effort on a low budget. But as low as the budget was, it was still a LOT of money to us, as well as to the people who trusted us with their investment to go ahead and make such an unusual, even controversial film.

     

    So we are making an unusual request… asking you to return the love, if you will:

     

    Please visit http://www.manfromearth.com, and make some sort of donation in exchange for the enjoyment our movie brought you. It could be fifty cents, it could be fifty dollars. Perhaps you feel the average weekly video store rental is a fair amount. Whatever it is, it might be small to you, but if every single person who downloaded the movie — heck, if only the people who LIKED the movie — donated a few dollars, would certainly help get us to breakeven. Just go to http://www.manfromearth.com and click on “donate”.

     

    The money you donate will go DIRECTLY towards everone who worked on and invested in our dream. And who knows… if we ever do break even on “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth”, maybe we can go make another intelligent, thought-provoking film.

     

    Thank you very, very much for your consideration.

     

    Sincerely,

     

    Eric D. Wilkinson

     

    Producer

    Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth

     

     

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