When I was 16 I got to have a party. I had recently figured out social skills so I even had friends to invite. I thought I’d wow them all with my favorite movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The party was a flop. They spent the entire movie asking me silly questions and talking about boys. I decided friends were over rated.
The Man Who Fell to Earth remains one of my favorite movies, so when Space and Time movie columnist Daniel M. Kimmel said he was going to review it for the #134 issue, I got excited. His review is excellent and does a fine movie justice. You can read his review in issue #134 or online here.
In his column he mentions that the movie was adapted from a novel by Walter Tevis. In all my years of loving this film, I never knew there was a book first. Of course, I ordered it and read it… which brings us up to current events: The Review.
First off, I completely see why they cast David Bowie in the role of Thomas Jerome Newton. Newton couldn’t be anyone but the tall, delicate boned Bowie. Having read the book, he played the role of Newton perfectly. This is where the similarity between book and film ends.
As much as I love the film, the book is better. In the book we get to experience Newton’s inner thoughts which gives valuable insight to his character. The role of Betty Jo is clear and not at all what it is in the movie. Even Professor Bryce is a different character. The film isn’t wrong, but it is based on the book. “Based” is the key word here.
The tragedy of Newton is more poignant in the book. Newton’s intentions are clear and well thought out but the more human he becomes, the more muddled. In the end it’s his own vice and bureaucratic ignorance that unravels his mission. He becomes trapped and damned on a planet bent on self-destruction. Ironically, his fate is our own and we’ve damned ourselves as well.
Many things that I didn’t understand in the movie became crystal clear after I read the book. His relationship to his alien wife and Betty Jo is an example. In the end of the movie, Professor Bryce and Betty Jo have hooked up together and it felt like a betrayal to me. In the book it makes sense and I am happy for them.
I remain a fan of The Man Who Fell to Earth. It’s worth seeing simply because David Bowie is in it and it is a thought-provoking film with plenty of visual texture. Now that I know both, I suggest that any fan of the film must also read the novel by Tevis. It adds depth and clarity to an already wonderful film.
When I was 16 it was not the popular choice to show to a bunch of teen girls at a party but I regret nothing. Like Jerome, I felt like an alien at my own party not understanding how my friends weren’t mesmerized by every aspect of that film—and Bowie! Probably the best lesson that film has taught me is to choose like-minded friends.
I can’t freely mention the thing about the book that surprised me the most without spoiling it. If you don’t mind spoilers, drag your mouse cursor over the following, invisible paragraph to read my thoughts on it.
Betty Jo and Newton never have a sexual or intimate relationship in the book. It seemed out of character to me in the movie and I wondered how he could so easily betray his wife, having fun with this earth girl while she and his child are left to die. Also, as I mentioned earlier, when Professor Bryce and Betty Jo hook up after Newton is incarcerated by the government, it feels like his friends betray him. In the book, since Betty never has anything more than a friendship with Newton, it’s a happy ending.
But now I can say nothing more on the matter except to urge you to read this wonderful book. And thank you to Daniel M. Kimmel for his insightful review of the film. Again, you can read his review here:
Fish Out of Water: The Man Who Fell to Earth by Daniel M. Kimmel