A blog about movies and filmmaking.

What kind of party do you throw for a caveman?

In b-movie, sci-fi on June 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

A Mammoth…

Yeah, maybe I’ll stick to the day job. But, this is kind of the premise of Richard Schenkman’s THE MAN FROM EARTH, written by the sci-fi author, Jerome Bixby. This movie, from 2007 – which while not actually released to the public for free; like the already mentioned SITA SINGS THE BLUES – has made the rounds of the online piracy circuits, with the encouragement and gratitude of it’s director. And were it not for the movie being available for online viewing via NETFLIX’s Instant Watch, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. 

The story revolves around the final gathering of a number of academics to say goodbye to their friend John Oldman, who has decided to move on to greener pastures. When he’s continually goaded about where he’s going and why he’s leaving – and maybe why he has an authentic paleolithic stone tool – he starts in on a possibly fictional story of a man, who has lived for 14,000 years. Having started out as an early man and continuing today as a normal person. At first the friends take it as a joke, which then leads to arguments about him being mentally ill and finally them dealing with whether they do believe the story or not. 

The cast is filled out with interesting casting choices, ranging from John Billingsley, Tony Todd and William Katt. And then there’s our main character, played by David Lee Smith – who’s credited with a role in FIGHT CLUB  and ZODIAC – who does a great job at playing this role completely straight, never giving an inch on this being a joke. The presentation – in Full-screen format – on Netflix, was kind of irritating and the filmmaking itself, seemed more like bad sitcom camera handling, but the story is so captivating that the quality of the movie-making falls away, except for one scene towards the end, which between some of the awkward dialogue and staging the movie ventures far into TV-movie melodrama. 

But, the star here, besides Smith, is the story. Jerome Bixby, who’s name I’d never actually heard before, but had written a number of well-known, if not considered “classic” science fiction – namely the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of STAR TREK and “It’s a Good Life” on THE TWILIGHT ZONE (which was then turned into a segment in the movie, which I’d mentioned previously, starring Kathleen Quinlan). But, the story crafted for this movie, is all set in a small cabin in the woods, venturing between the main room, to a small bedroom and outside to the vehicles. There are numerous movies that manage to keep this small area, and be captivating. Everyone mostly stays circled around the fireplace, asking questions to John – like, “Where were you in 1282AD” or “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable huddling in the backyard around a fire?” Going back in forth in their credulity. Eventually one of the characters calls in a psychologist, hopefully come to see if John needs help. 

Where the movie goes though, is very thought-provoking and really lead me to think about how misguided we – as seemingly civilized, modern humans – are. There’s discussions about buddhism and early christianity, and the problems that relationships – both intimate and social – lead to with someone that never ages and seemingly lives forever. And then there are two scenes, at the end that seem necessary for the story, but also kind of break the style of the movie. One is kind of a nice twist, even if in the structure of these sort of theatrical type stories, has to be  there – and I won’t go into it much further, because it is a nice surprise. The other though, is what I hinted at before, when it’s asked whether John Oldman has been anyone that has been characterized in the Bible, and the description he gives leads the other characters to surmise who he was – and one character’s reaction, while being an acceptable one for some people; doesn’t seem to fit with the group of people that we’ve been watching for an hour. It tries to remain respectful of christianity, while pointing out the fallacy, of relying on a book that has been continually edited and redefined by man throughout centuries.  

The movie is a great attempt at a sort of cerebral sci-fi, without any special effects, or ever leaving our main characters. Seek it out in whatever format/media available and give it a spin. 

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