The Man Who Fell to Earth (TV Movie 1987) Poster

(1987 TV Movie)

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lost in adaptation
stephenhow18 May 2009
This movie is only interesting as a curiosity piece, if you've ever wondered what an 80's labotomized version of the sad and meaningful Walter Tevis novel would look like. Start by replacing Bowie's Thin White Duke with a Tom Hanks Busom Buddy knock-off, and throw in Beverly D'Angelo and Wesley Crusher as her troubled, but deep-down loving son. Don't bother coming up with any believable visual style for the movie, just re-use some of the old Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century sets off the studio backlot Finally, but most importantly, replace the actual theme of the book (how the Visitor falls to human faults and shortcomings) with positive pap about restoring the Beverly D'Angelo and Wil Wheaton relationship. I'm almost certain this movie was shot as a pilot for a TV series, where the Visitor brings his son back to Earth, and every week, they learn how troubled and illogical, yet ultimately redeeming mankind is. Kind of like My Favorite Martian, but a little more serious, like The Great American Hero. This would have been classic shlock had it been picked up.
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The man who fell from adaptation to adaptation
CountVladDracula13 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There were some distinct changes from the novel. The company the protagonist creates is still World Enterprises but Thomas Jerome Newton's name has been changed to John Dory, Oliver Farnsworth's name is Felix Hawthorne, and Nathan Bryce's name has been changed to Vernon Gage. But in spite of these changes quite a lot of it is surprisingly faithful to the book. When John Dory meets Hawthorne the dialogue is almost identical to the original dialogue between Newton and Farnsworth. When John Dory takes off his human disguise he looks identical to David Bowie's Anthean form in The man who fell to Earth movie. However, I have to say the 1987 effects for this were better than what was in the original film. In this pilot you can see him remove the human contact lenses, the earlobes, etc... I also found myself gasping when I heard the word Anthea actually said. It was the first time I had heard it spoken in an adaptation of The Man who fell to Earth outside of the actual novel.

There are some big differences from the novel as well The alien protagonist carries with him a pouch of diamonds that he claims are from a ring. Yet again he claims his car broke down but there's an extended scene of him meeting a truck driver and then a waitress. He has a fondness for oatmeal (like in the novel) but alcohol has no effect on him. Instead he gets drunk on tomato juice which I found incredibly funny because I happen to like tomato juice. He talks about Anthea on the brink of destruction because of meteor showers that have already destroyed a lot of their world. This disappointed me because it causes the story to lose some purpose.

The Betty Jo / Mary Lou character has a new name. It's Eva Milton and she has a kleptomaniac son named Billy (played by Star Trek: Next generation's Wil Wheaton). Unfortunately since this pilot was made in 1987 A few of the costumes are very dated. At one point John Dory is dressed in a long black shirt over a striped shirt, the sleeves folded to his elbows while wearing white jeans while Eva, at one point, resembled a thirty something year old trying to pass for Madonna's Like a Virgin phase. I'm all for eccentric fashion but this definitely dated the adaptation quite a bit. The Man who fell to Earth should remain timeless.

Just like in the film starring David Bowie, the alien hero has a wall of many television sets. He gets dizzy and yes, he met Eva the same way he met Betty Jo. However he has a few powers that our beloved, frail, Thomas Jerome Newton does not have. With a small crystal he carries with him he can cure his own nausea and also, with a touch of his hand (that would glow) he can heal the wounded in a very obvious "borrowing" from ET and Starman. With the use of his crystal he also has some very limited telekinetic abilities.

Though he has his naive moments he's not quite as naive as the original Newton. This Anthean is a bit more clever and observant. He knew when a camera was hidden in his home and had it destroyed. He could tell when his phone was tapped. And when he got a paper cut and his secretary tried to walk off with his handkerchief, stained with a sample of his blood, he stopped her. I actually kind of liked this change. Morse is played by Robert Picardo from Star Trek Voyager. Now I'm more of a Whovian (Doctor Who fan) than a Trekkie but I'm still a nerd at heart.

He's actually a little sweeter than the version of Newton we're used to. The World Enterprises base in New Mexico is identical to the original film. He meets the Betty Jo equivalent (Eva) in New York City instead of Kentucky. There are more scenes of New York in this version. And when he crash landed there had actually been four Antheans on board but he was the only survivor. The military, of course, found the crash site and took the bodies but they turned to carbon before they reached Morse's lab. Morse comes off as an all purpose alternative for Dr. Martinez.

Billy, the Betty Jo-like character's son, gets jealous when Dory mentions his own son and Billy decided to get even by telling Gage (The Bryce-like character) all he knew about Dory

Much like with what is being planned for The man who fell to Earth musical the Bryce based character betrays Dory but in this version he deliberately causes him to faint and then steals the alien crystals he carries around with him in a little leather pouch.

When Dory regains consciousness he's strapped down by Gage in a lab and interrogated. Like in the novel during the more friendly conversation with Bryce, Dory refers to his ship he is having built as a ferry boat and talks about how there's less than three hundred of Antheans left. Though in this version of the scene the Anthean is a captive of the Bryce-like character the conversation dialogue is nearly identical to the novel. Then it strays again when Gage tortures Dory. Gage accidentally blows up his own lab and dies in the process. No one seems at all upset at Billy for betraying Dory. Dory eventually leaves Eva and Billy and gives this soliloquy type of monologue addressed to his son on Anthea, that he will see him again, it will just take a little longer than he thought.

In spite of the parts I liked I can see why the attempted television series did not work.
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Not bad, not great.
k m7 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Once I saw the opening, I knew it was a low budget, 80's, big hair kind of movie, but if you can get over that, it's not a bad movie.

I see others have complained about it not being true to the book, but I never read the book, and don't care about that. I judge movies based on the movie, not the book. This movie was fine. Not too exciting, and I'm not a fan of D'Angelo (really, what is the big deal with this woman? She's in EVERYTHING!), but at least she played this mostly straight.

What makes this a worthwhile watch, though, was the star. I'd never seen this Lewis Smith guy before, and was stunned by the similarity between him and Jerry Seinfeld. They could be brothers. Not quite twins, but very similar features, mannerisms, and even the style of clothes. Really caught my attention, and undeniable. It was also mildly amusing to see Wil Wheaton and Picardo in a picture that clearly predates the Star Trek series they both appeared in, as well.

Overall, not a bad movie, and perfectly safe to watch with your kids in the room, no matter how young. Other than one pretty tame scene near the end, there is no violence at all, and no nudity, either. (How I long for the good old days when you could watch a movie, and know you wouldn't be surprised by hard core sex scenes, or sick and twisted violence.)

Low budget, but a good story.
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Awful example of how hacks reduce a film classic into a cheesy TV movie of the 80s variety.
max von meyerling3 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Textbook example of how a classic film can be screwed up into a hack TV movie. The thing that is the most obvious is that everything is pitched to the materialist aspirations of a TV audience. The woman is a New York artist, a flaky non-stop talker single mother (just like them), with a delinquent son, who lives in a huge Soho loft on Broadway no less. The relationship between mom and the son is a big plot element. Everything seems reduced into a small domestic situation. When she finds out that the neighbor who shows interest in her and her son is the head of a big corporation she gets angry that he's so rich. Yeah, its that sort of a film. And for a "timeless" story its embarrassingly anchored in a moment in the 80's. It panders to a low bow middle American TV audience who want to be reassured that this is the way it is "there" among "those people". The kids with boom boxes on roof tops, people dressed as spacemen in discos, giant lofts with lackadaisical artists daubing here and there at a canvas. Its as phony as the dubbed in traffic sounds in outdoor street scenes. Its just another job to be walked through. No one, from the director or writer down to the smallest bit actor actually believes that there doing anything of worth. Before I found this surfing on a weird cable channel in the afternoon when I ill never knew it existed. I can recommend this for film students who want to line these two films side by side to see how the business works. And P.S., I just hate that low key, wall to wall, synthetic piano noodling in the background, SOP for TV movies. Its just a different audience for an 80s TV movie than an early 70s theatre film and the differences are definitive of how to pander to the former. Of course today, 25 years later, they know better how to pander to the more ADD affected audience with such concoctions as LOST. Look up Bobby Roth's filmography and there is a list of hip but soon abandoned semi sci-fi TV featuring shorter but more intense scenes. The same old same old endlessly reshaped and sold.
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