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Jerome Bixby's The Man from Earth

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 28, 2017
Jerome Bixby's The Man from Earth

Fans of "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" will know Jerome Bixby's name; he contributed some of the best beloved episodes to both series, including classics "It's a Good Life" ("The Twilight Zone" episode about a six-year-old with unlimited psychic powers who holds his entire small towing thrall) and "Mirror Mirror" (the "Star Trek" episode that introduced the "mirror universe" ship, crew, and Empire).

Bixby also wrote the less-loved "Star Trek" episode "Requiem for Methuselah," which mashed together "Forbidden Planet" and "The Tempest" with the sci-fi trope of an immortal man. This, evidently, was a long-standing idea that Bixby liked to play with; even after "Requiem for Methuselah" he had a story in mind about a man who had lived for thousands of years, surviving into the present day. As Bixby's son and others tell it on the extensive extras for this special edition of "The Man from Earth," which was digitally filmed for around $100,000 about a decade after his death, in 2007, the writer only finished his tale about an ancient immortal while on his own deathbed, dictating passages which were dutifully transcribed onto anything available (such as napkins).

Somehow, Bixby's script ended up in finished form, and then made its way into production under the direction of Richar Schenkman, who managed to bring together some "Star Trek" alumni for his cast. The film feels like a stage play committed to a hard drive; seven friends and colleagues join John Oldman (David Lee Smith) at his cabin in the woods on the eve of his departure. Oldman is leaving his position at a university after ten years, despite being a successful faculty member well on his way to still greater success. No one understands his desire to move on. Under their concerned and puzzled questioning, John finally confesses that he has grown accustomed to starting his life over every decade or so when people start noticing his perpetual youth. He's immortal, and how: He was born in the stone age, fourteen thousand years ago, and he's traveled a good part of the earth along with his 140 centuries.

The cast includes Tony Todd ("Star Trek: The Next Generation,""Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") plays Dan, who among all the gathered professional colleagues is most open to John's incredible tale; John Billinglsey ("Star Trek: Enterprise") plays biologist Harry, who doesn't quite believe the story but wants to; and William Katt ("The Greatest American Hero") plays Art, a skeptical colleague who grows hostile and summons another acquaintance, a psychiatrist named Will (Richard Riehle), who in turn leads John through a whole new round of questions about his 14,000-year lifespan.

Also on hand are Ellen Crawford as Edith, an art historian and hard-core Christian whose composure begins to crumble as John deconstructs the historical underpinnings of her faith, and Alexis Thorpe as Linda, a gamely intrigued student who has hooked up with Art and who is dazzled by the possibilities of a life like John's, and Annika Peterson, who plays John's romantic interest, Sandy -- the latter having a real chore on her hands as she tries to convince John to overlook the inevitable prospect of age and loss, and dare to love again.

Core beliefs are challenged and easy myths exploded in this film, which presses too hard in places for dramatic urgency but benefits from some clever and clear-eyed thinking about the practical and philosophical implications of witnessing, literally, all of human history. It's easy to see why this intriguing, and often charming, film has a cult following despite its low-res source visuals (which are, evidently, somewhat improved on this remastered edition, but which are still often blurry).

This Blu-ray/DVD combo includes a slate of special features, among them a documentary that clocks in at 89 minutes (a tad longer than the movie itself), but which is unexpectedly absorbing; cast, crew, director, and Bixby's son Emerson (who served as executive producer) all look back ten years to recall the experience of making the film. Schenkman and Billinglsey appear on an audio commentary; Emerson Bixby also appears on a separate audio track, along with writer Gary Westfahl.

A couple of featurettes from 2007 are ported over to this special edition as well, including a segment dedicated to the movie's "Star Trek" connections (oddly, this sidesteps "Requiem for Methuselah" and ignores Bixby's scripts for several other "Trek" episodes, focusing exclusively on "Mirror, Mirror"). "On the Set" and "The Story of the Story," also from 2007, provide more of a look behind the scenes. A short film, trailers, and a glimpse at a new sequel, "The Man from Earth: Holocene" round out the extras.


"The Man from Earth" Special Edition"
Blu-ray/DVD Combo
$39.95
https://mvdb2b.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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