The Man Who Fell to Earth Review: An Epic Cinematic Experience

Whenever I see an iconic film getting the reboot or legacy sequel treatment, it usually inspires a sense of apprehension. Yes, it’s something that can and has been done right, but there have been far too many disappointments in that particular department. Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth is a lot of things, but it is certainly not a disappointment.

Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevisthe original film starred david bowie as an alien who comes to Earth in order to ship water back to his dying planet. Unfortunately, he gets sidetracked by all the distractions that human society offers, and things do not go according to plan. The new series effectively works as a sequel to the movie, but it’s also updated to reflect the state of our world today and for the most part, it is a self-contained story.

Even when Tevis first penned the novel, the idea behind The Man Who Fell to Earth was an old one. If you had the time and resources, you could probably trace it all the way back to the first moment humanity realized, to our collective surprise, that the Earth’s resources are not, in fact, infinite. Over 40 years ago when Nicholas Roeg‘s 1976 movie came out, we were still just beginning to understand exactly how big a threat global warming really is. In 2022, you couldn’t possibly think that importing water from another planet would save us. The problem has evolved and so must we, which is the driving argument behind Showtime’s new series.

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Picture via Showtime

Related:’The Man Who Fell to Earth’ Trailer Introduces Chiwetel Ejiofor as Earth’s Last Hope

An important difference between the movie and the show is in its protagonist. Trying to recreate Bowie’s iconic performance as Thomas Jerome Newton, the original man who fell to Earth, would have been an exercise in futility. Newton is a recurring character in the series, played by the ever-wonderful Bill Nighy, but he’s not the person the show focuses on. Instead, the new series introduces us to Faraday, one of Newton’s students who have come to Earth to complete their shared mission to save their homeworld. With this character, Chiwetel Ejiofor presents a very different kind of alien. The Academy Award-nominated actor does not hold back with the character, portraying him with a combination of childlike innocence and intense dedication.

Unlike the polished Thomas Newton, Ejiofor’s Faraday is very much a fish out of water. There is a comparison to be drawn between how characters in the movie react to Thomas Newton, who appeared to be an Englishman, and how characters in the show react to Faraday. The word “alien” doesn’t just mean an extraterrestrial anymore, and, whether he wants to or not, Faraday is exposed to every meaning of the word. Faraday’s observations on human life and society can be uncomfortable and in at least one case, his lack of communication skills leads to someone thinking he’s on the spectrum. But there is so much genuine heart behind the character, and it’s quite clear that he is, at the end of the day, a truly good person. Even in the show’s more comical moments, the sincerity that Ejiofor projects keeps the story grounded and rooted in the real world — a place that Justin Falls (Naomi Harris) knows all about.

With an ailing father and a young daughter to take care of, Justin does not have the time or patience to deal with Faraday’s antics. But without her, Faraday’s whole mission would fall apart. Harris plays the character to perfection, with all the pain, anxiety, and anger that comes with living a hard life. You wouldn’t think it when you first see her, but Justin is actually one of the most intelligent scientists in the world. The real world, however, has put her into a position where she’s forced to take up odd jobs and deal with shady people, just to pay the bills. These two characters, Justin and Faraday, are the axis around which the series revolves. Put those two together, and you get a show that projects both gravitas and heart.

From the very beginning, The Man Who Fell to Earth insist that what we need is not revolution but evolution. The series is framed as a speech being given by Faraday, presumably after he and Justin managed to figure out how to save his world and ours. And there is a feeling you get throughout his presentation that what is about to happen at the end of it is the next big leap in our journey as a species. That idea is supported by some mindblowing visuals that are beautiful and surreal. Honestly, even if this series was just a series of similar sequences with Ejio for narrating the story in the background, it would probably be a hit.

Is the show perfect? Maybe not, but whatever cracks and holes there are in the story are forgivable considering how well it is presented. If there’s one thing to point out as a negative, it would be that there’s a bit of inconsistency in Faraday’s knowledge of the world. It’s implied that he was basically a blank slate when he landed on Earth and that whatever he knows about human language, he picked up through imitation. But then we see the character use scientific words that he has no way of knowing, even if he knows the equivalents in his own language. There are a few moments like that, but they don’t necessarily impact the actual experience of watching the show. They’re just those little issues that nag at you after the actual episode is long over, and we can easily overlook them.

Another thing about the show that doesn’t work in its favor is the length. With The Man Who Fell to Earthcreators Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman have crafted a solid follow-up to the 1976 movie that is certainly cinematic in its tone and scope. So why spread it out over 10 episodes? Even if a movie wasn’t on the cards, the series could have been made with a shorter season that probably would have worked as a more tightly-woven narrative. All that being said, whatever issues The Man Who Fell to Earth has, they’re more than made up for by the main cast’s superb performances and the stunning cinematography. It might not be a cerebral, out-of-this-world production like the Bowie film, but the Showtime series stands on its own as a great show with something important to say. And we’d all be better for hearing its message.

Rating: B+

The Man Who Fell to Earth premieres on Showtime on April 24. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly on Sundays, airing on Showtime at 10 PM ET/PT.

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