‘Man From Earth’ (2007)

This film was an entirely happy surprise! ‘ Man From Earth ‘ came out as an extremely limited release at a few festivals and a sneak preview in San Francisco. It is a science fiction film by its premise, but unlike every science-fiction film of the past 70 years, there are no action sequences and no special effects.

For those that don’t know, Jerome Bixby’s claim to fame are the teleplays he wrote for the original Star Trek back in the ’60′s and a couple that he wrote for Rod Serling’s original iteration of The Twilight Zone and a little story he wrote called “It’s a Good Life”.

But ‘Man From Earth’ has it’s start in one of Bixby’s Star Trek contributions, specifically Season 3′s “ Requiem for Methuselah “. There, the Enterprise, fighting a ship-wide outbreak of Rigelian fever docks at an apparently uninhabited planetoid to mine Ryetalyn to maufacture an antidote. As was the convention with many early Trek episodes, the planetoid turns out not to be uninhabited and Kirk, Spock and McCoy must make fast friends in order to accomplish their mission.

In this case though, the planetoid is inhabited by an apparently immortal human being, who has lived for 16,000 years as Alexander the Great, Leonardo DaVinci and a host of other historical figures. There’s something of a romantic diversion in the Trek episode, but it was the immortal that Bixby was still interested as he finished the screenplay for Man From Earth on his deathbed in 1998.

Certain friends of mine are fond of saying that the best ‘special effect’ is that of writing and that Bixby achieves here by the deft execution of a fairly plain situation : The apparently young college professor, John Oldman invites several faculty friends to his home for a going-away party. After a successful decade at his college he has announced his ‘retirement’ and plans to move on despite his popularity and the entreaties of the University. Faculty from almost all of the departments are represented, Math, Biology, History, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Psychology, etc. What they hadn’t planned on was the ‘secret’ he decides to impart to them that afternoon, the ‘fact’ that he’s 16,000 years old, born a caveman and lived through ALL of the formative ages of mankind.

Certainly, it is impossible to prove Oldman’s claims within the setting of the filmscript, but what ensues in the film’s 90 minute runtime is a multifaceted debate over Oldman’s claims – whether he’s lived that long, the events he’s experienced vis-à-vis the informal panel of experts gathered at the home Oldman is evacuating.

And it works. Where somone might expect a boring, single-camera, ‘My Dinner With Andre type of affair, the whole thing comes together as a remarkable tour de force that plays as a powerful extended improvisation rather than a scripted piece.

‘Man From Earth’ is a remarkable piece of scripted drama and far from any of the fare that typically shows up at the local Cineplex. If it turns up at your local videostore or on cable, be sure to give it a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

12/07/07

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