Release Date(s)2007 (November 21, 2017)
Studio(s)Anchor Bay Entertainment (MVD Visual)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
On paper, everything about The Man from Earth sounds completely wrong, and the idea of it sounds like something you would avoid like the plague. Shot with MiniDV cameras and taking place in essentially one room for its entire 87-minute running time, the idea of a dialogue-driven piece about a man explaining his unprecedented 14,000 year old prehistoric origins and engaging in intellectual arguments and discussions with his friends and colleagues couldn’t sound any more pretentious or uninteresting. Yet, despite the initial knee-jerk reaction to its description, as well as its technical flaws, The Man from Earth winds up being compelling in spite of itself, and is regarded as one of the finest pieces of modern science fiction by many of its loyal followers.
The Man from Earth is essentially a play and the dialogue is the star. As the Man in question goes over his various histories, including spending time with Buddha and Vincent van Gogh, we are also being stimulated academically. The reactions to the information being fed to the other characters is fascinating in and of itself, but also the performances from those involved who spent no less than 8 days shooting the film at break-neck speed. Revelations reveal themselves along the way (including a couple of major ones which I won’t spoil), peeling back even more layers that sometimes require much-needed patience from viewers. However, if they’re as engaged as I was, they’ll feel rapt by it and moved in a way that they won’t be able to quantify in words.
With a cast that includes Tony Todd, John Billingsley, William Katt, and David Lee Smith, The Man from Earth is a thought-provoking piece of science fiction that doesn’t require the use of space ships, aliens, or even outer space. It’s a slow-paced film that is not so much a movie, but more of an ensemble-laden theatrical production. Notions of death, what it means to die, how it affects others around you, and how living beyond it would affect you personally, makes for some shockingly riveting discussion, if anything else. A passion project for all of the people involved, including the late Jerome Bixby, who wrote various episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and finished the story for The Man from Earth on his deathbed, a simple yarn about a college professor announcing that he’s actually a Cro-Magnon man couldn’t be farther from space laser territory.
Although the film was released on Blu-ray several years ago by Anchor Bay, it was a stripped down release with no extras. That has been rectified thanks to MVD Visual. The transfer of the film is problematical, but unfortunately, it’s inherent in the source. As I stated previously, the film was shot using MiniDV cameras, so it can’t look much better than it already does. That said, it’s still quite a watchable presentation and you forget and forgive its flaws once its underway. Fine detail is sparse and black levels are crushed, more times than others. Having a look at the Restoration Demo that’s been provided in the supplements, overall brightness and color saturation have been improved since its last release as well. There’s no point in picking on it, so we’ll move on to the audio, which includes English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM tracks with optional subtitles in a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, and French, amongst others. Neither track really provides much in the way of immersion, but score and sound effects do have plenty of fidelity to offer. This is a dialogue-driven film, and as such, it’s the main drive of the presentation, which is clean and clear at all times.
For fans of the film, the real draw of this release will be its extras package. It includes two separate audio commentaries, one with Richard Schenkman and actor John Billingsley, and the other with executive producer Emerson Bixby and author Gary Westfahl. Both provide plenty of insight into the making of the film and its development. Next is the surprisingly excellent 86-minute documentary about the film The Man from Earth: Legacy, which includes nearly all of the cast members and some members of the crew speaking directly to the camera about the film’s journey to get in front of the cameras, as well as its production and file sharing fiasco aftermath. Next is a set 2 to 4 minute featurettes including From Script to Screen, Star Trek: Jerome Bixby’s Sci-Fi Legacy, On the Set, and The Story of the Story – all of which go over very brief bits of information. Next is the original 2007 trailer for the film; the teaser and theatrical trailers for the upcoming sequel The Man from Earth: Holocene; the bizarre and out of place Contagion 30-second short (which I can only assume was shot during the making of the sequel); a photo gallery with 20 stills; the aforementioned Restoration Demo; and a DVD copy containing all of the same bonus materials.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that most people, whether they’re hardcore science fiction fans or not, haven’t seen nor heard of The Man from Earth. Despite its underground popularity among enthusiasts of the genre, it’s still a film that hasn’t quite found a major audience. Looking at it from the outside in, it’s easy to understand why. However, if you consider yourself a tolerant individual and you’re looking for a vastly different kind of viewing experience that will enthrall you, The Man from Earth is your ticket. And with MVD Visual’s excellent Special Edition Blu-ray release, it’s the best home video option available.
- Tim Salmons