Okay, bear with me while I try to review The Man From Earth without giving away the core idea of the thing which, itself, is quite an enjoyable reveal as the slight plot unfolds.
As John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is packing his possessions into the back of his truck, a number of his friends and colleagues arrive to make sure that they give him a proper farewell, whether he likes it or not. John appreciates the gesture and is sad to be leaving but he has to go and those around him are suitably stunned and disbelieving when he explains to them his reason for leaving.
The Man From Earth takes an interesting central concept (one that you could peg as either a science fiction idea or, indeed, a supernatural one) and looks at it with a keen eye. The problem is that it does nothing all that interesting with the bigger ideas. In fact, more than one or two moments feel a bit too gimmicky and the fact that the film constitutes nothing more than eight people having a discussion for most of the runtime it should really deliver something a bit more profound by the time the end credits roll. In my view.
The cast aren’t too bad. David Lee Smith is very good in the central role, Tony Todd is an excellent and open-minded colleague, John Billingsley makes a number of lame jokes, William Katt plays someone who dismisses the tale that his friend is telling (perhaps due to his own mid-life crisis signified by the leather jacket and the company of the student girl he enjoys), Richard Riehle is a fascinated doctor, Annika Peterson is someone who clearly has feelings for John, Ellen Crawford starts off as quite likeable but her character quickly turns sharp and Alexis Thorpe does well as the aforementioned young student who takes in the tale with a pleasing naivete but certainly isn’t a dumb young woman.
The script, written by Jerome Bixby, is also pretty good. The dialogue is fine and a lot of the conversational diversions are entertaining enough. Sadly, the weakest aspect of the movie comes from those listening to the tale. It’s hard to believe that people would sit there for such a long time listening to a tale they believe to be so far-fetched. And the few who actually believe the story are just as unconvincing because, let’s face it, who WOULD actually believe the life that John has led?
Richard Schenkman obviously has great faith in the material because his direction does very little to enhance the dialogue and exchange of ideas. There’s a nice ambiguity throughout until a finale that, once again, feels a bit too gimmicky and is actually harder to believe than anything that has come beforehand.
Ultimately, The Man From Earth is a decent little movie that gives some serious analysis to a scientific anomaly (perhaps) and also looks at the impact of that anomaly on other areas of “common knowledge” but it fails to really convince as a movie and would perhaps have been better suited to a theatrical piece or even a radio play. And I managed to write all that without revealing any major plot points. Phew!
DIRECTOR: RICHARD SCHENKMAN
WRITER: JEROME BIXBY
STARS: DAVID LEE SMITH, TONY TODD, JOHN BILLINGSLEY, ELLEN CRAWFORD, RICHARD RIEHLE, ANNIKA PETERSON, ALEXIS THORPE
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX