The Man Who Fell to Earth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Earth provided a consistently strong visual experience.
Sharpness looked solid. Various photographic techniques occasionally gave us a slightly soft presentation, but those issues seemed related to the cinematography. Overall, the movie was concise and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Despite the age of the movie, it seemed surprisingly free of defects. A little natural grain appeared, and a couple of specks manifested themselves, but these were so minor that they were not a factor.
Colors excelled. Within the production design, the hues came across as reasonably rich and distinct. I noticed no issues related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns, as the tones were lively and dynamic. Black levels were deep and rich, while shadow detail looked clean and clear. The image wasn’t flawless, but it looked exceedingly good.
The Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Earth worked quite well for a movie from the mid-Seventies. The soundscape offered a forward orientation. Within that domain, the audio showed good spread and imaging. For the most part, the sounded tended toward a general sense of ambience, but some more distinct examples occurred, and those were nicely delineated. Localization and placement seemed natural and accurate, and the elements combined well. As for surround usage, the rear speakers lightly reinforced the forward audio and did nothing more. Still, the whole package combined to create a nice soundfield that seemed better than expected for a film of this vintage.
Audio quality appeared erratic but generally solid. Speech sometimes seemed a little thin and hollow, and I also noticed some minor vocal bleeding to the sides at times. However, dialogue generally remained acceptably natural, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded fairly clear and distinctive, as the various musical elements appeared reasonably smooth. Effects occasionally sounded a little shrill, but they usually seemed acceptably natural and accurate. Bass response was a bit boomy at times but it remained fairly tight and offered a good presence as a whole. The soundtrack of Earth did nothing terribly spectacular, but I thought it sounded above average for a film from this time period.
How did the picture and audio of the Criterion Earth compare to those of the 2003 Anchor Bay release? Across the board, visuals were improved. The Criterion version was better-defined and boasted stronger colors as well as fewer source flaws. The audio was more restricted here than on the Anchor Bay release. That one offered remixed 5.1 tracks, and those expanded the soundfield to use the rear speakers in a more active manner. However, I won’t fault Criterion because they went with the original audio. While I though the 5.1 tracks were more interesting, I can’t complain about the very satisfying 2.0 mix. With much better picture quality and nearly as good audio, the Criterion disc did a better job with the presentation of the movie.
The Criterion release also includes many more extras than the Anchor Bay edition. On DVD One, we get an audio commentary with director Nicolas Roeg and actors David Bowie and Buck Henry. Roeg did one session on his own and another with Bowie, while Henry sat solo.
Originally recorded for a 1993 laserdisc, the edited track meshes the three recordings well. Bowie and Roeg look at how Bowie came onto the project and why he did it, thematic and character issues, Bowie’s state of mind at the time, locations and sets, Roeg’s style and his cinematic history, camerawork and visual design, scientific topics and how the film fits in the sci-fi genre, the movie’s non-linear style, and other production topics. Henry gets into his own casting and performance as well as why he wanted to work with Roeg, his impressions of the director, and additional story-related material.
Given how much I adore Bowie’s work, it probably comes as no surprise that I think he shines the brightest here. Bowie’s a truly interesting conversationalist, and he peppers the commentary with plenty of interesting and funny memories. Roeg gives us solid thoughts about his work, while Henry contributes his own useful concepts. More introspective than most commentaries and with a fair amount of interpretation, this one complements Earth well.
One minor complaint: this commentary has become somewhat dated because the participants refer to a fair number of then-current events. This doesn’t make it tough to understand their intentions, but it can cause some confusion as the listener tries to get into a 1992 mindset to comprehend the references.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with an Interview with Screenwriter Paul Mayersberg. In this 26-minute and 14-second piece, Mayersberg discusses the work of author Walter Tevis and various issues connected to its film adaptation. The writer gets into the complications related to bringing Tevis’s complex tale to the screen and what he attempted to do with the story. Mayersberg also goes over various references and influences , connections to Tevis’s The Hustler, cast and characters, and specifics about the script. He tells us quite a lot of useful information about the script in this rich and involving chat.
We hear from the novel’s author himself in a Walter Tevis Audio Interview. Recorded in 1984, he chats with writer/broadcaster Don Swaim for about 24 minutes. They discuss Tevis’s history and its influences on his work, how he got into writing and eventually made it into his career, reflections on his novels, his interest in “speculative fiction”, and his plans for the then-future.
The interview largely discusses Tevis’s then-current novel. That makes sense since the author obviously wanted to promote his product, but it means the interview isn’t tremendously interesting for those who want to learn more about Earth. Tevis is always lively and frank, and he ensures that the chat remains enjoyable. It just doesn’t satisfy for those who want to know what led Tevis into Earth. He does toss out a few notions such as how his alcoholism affected the story but nothing else about Earth pops up here.
Performance… Candy Clark and Rip Torn goes for 24 minutes and 50 seconds. We find interviews with those two actors. Recorded separately, they talk about their impressions of the film, why they took their parts and their performances, the script and the characters, working with Roeg and Bowie, shooting the sex scenes, and general anecdotes about their experiences. Both provide fine notes, though I think Clark offers the most interesting tidbits such as the revelation that she fills in for Bowie in one scene. Neatly edited and engaging, “Performance” works well.
A few different segments appear under the banner Production and Costume Design. We find audio clips with production designer Brian Eatwell (23:34) and costume designer May Routh (19:35). Both participants discuss issues we expect. Eatwell gets into sets and the movie’s visual look, while Routh chats about the film’s costumes and related challenges. Eatwell proves especially edifying as he digs into topics like working in New Mexico, collaborating with Roeg and his thoughts on the actors, and many shot specifics. Both are useful, but Eatwell is very chatty and engaging. This section also includes “Sketches” of eight costume concepts.
Six trailers and one TV spot show up along with a collection of Galleries. That domain gives us “David James’ Photographs” (181 shots), “Nicolas Roeg’s Continuity Book” (39 frames), “Si Litvinoff’s Snapshots” (35) and “Nicolas Roeg Poster Gallery” (52). All offer good material, but James’ pictures are definitely the best of the bunch. In addition to the stills, James provides a surprisingly long and informative audio introduction about how he came onto Earth and his work on the flick.
The package includes a 32-page booklet. It presents a 1938 poem from WH Auden, essays by Graham Fuller and Jack Matthews, and photos. It’s a good little piece. It also throws in a reproduction of the original novel, which is a very nice touch.
Anyone who wants an evening with a light and easy DVD should skip The Man Who Fell to Earth. A complicated film, Earth presents an intriguing experience that falters at times but generally seems compelling and interesting. The DVD offers very good picture quality along with positive audio and some very nice extras. Definitely not a film for a general audience, Earth provides a difficult movie that doesn’t totally succeed, but it offers enough vivid material to merit a viewing by those who feel an interest in the project.
Does this Criterion edition merit a purchase for fans who already own the prior Anchor Bay release? I think it’s worth it. It improves picture quality and includes many fine extras. Audio is a little more interesting on the AB version, but both are quite solid. The Criterion Earth is the one to own.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH