Jun 02, 2017

What if you found out one of your friends is 14,000 years old? Watch this film.

BYGautham Shenoy

It’s not often that a producer of a Hollywood movie thanks peer-to-peer networks and illegal file-sharers for sharing his movie without permission. But, in 2007, that’s exactly what happened when the producer of The Man From Earth thanked all the ‘pirates’ for lifting the profile of the film far beyond his expectations.
And if there is a cerebral, yet simple, thought-provoking sci-fi movie that deserves to be shared, talked about and recommended, it’s The Man From Earth, which has gone on to gain a bit of a cult-like status even amongst people who don’t watch sci-fi movies, proving that you can have a good thought-provoking movie in this genre without even a single frame of special effects.
Who needs CGI when you have a great script? And in this case, the script came from Jerome Bixby, a screenwriter and short story author whose repertoire includes Star Trek, Twilight Zone and It! The Terror from Beyond Space, the 1958 sci-fi alien monster movie which was one of the chief inspirations for the basic premise of 1979’s Alien.
Bixby’s last work, which he completed on his deathbed in 1998, The Man from Earth is based on his own story written for a 1969 Star Trek episode. Called ‘Requiem for Methuselah’, the story was about a 6,000-year old man in outer space – but with none of the usual trappings associated with a sci-fi movie.

Left: Jerome Bixby, the writer of The Man from Earth. Centre: Evil Spock (note the beard) and Kirk from ‘Mirror Mirror’, an episode Bixby wrote that introduced the ‘Mirror Universe’ concept to Star Trek. Right: Cover of Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, a novelisation of the movie, whose story was co-written by Bixby.

The premise of the Richard Schenkman-directed The Man From Earth is simple enough. What if you found out that someone you knew was 14,000 years old? Not immortal; just old, very very old. And who never aged.
And that’s what John Oldman, a professor (played by David Lee Smith) tells a small group of his colleagues who’ve decided to have an impromptu get-together at his home to wish him farewell, just before he leaves town. Initially reluctant to give the reason for his departure, he admits that he leaves a place once people start noticing he doesn’t age. And then the big reveal: That he is a prehistoric caveman, more specifically a Cro-Magnon, who has been alive and walking the earth for 14,000 years – right from the Upper Palaeolithic, or late Stone Age, to now. All this in the first 10-odd minutes.
The cover of The Man From Earth’s DVD with a review that says, ‘Quietly restores dignity to science fiction of the mind’

Skeptical at first, his fellow scholars present – a biologist, an anthropologist, a historian, an archaeologist, a psychiatrist, and an art history professor, who’s also a very devout Christian – press him for answers, probing his story, trying to pick holes, questioning his memory, speculating on possibilities as John Oldman (the name makes sense now) tries to answer them all while telling his story involving primitive cultures, art, history, and of course, religion. With a twist at the end that either puts everything in place or raises more questions. That’s it.

ALSO READ: A science fiction classic twice over: The oddity that is The Man who fell to Earth

A few people; a single location; and almost 12 Angry Men-ish in its dialogue and pace — that’s The Man From Earth in a nutshell. But with a lot of thought-provoking questions and speculations, in just 87 minutes The Man From Earth gets one thinking, and it stays with you for a while after the credits roll. Personally, I’d recommend watching it with a group of friends over a lazy evening so you have people around to discuss what’s really going on, or to bounce off opinions in the post-movie discussion.

Trailer of The Man From Earth
And speaking of watching The Man From Earth, if the producer of the movie is himself ok with file-sharing sites, who am I to disagree? There are rips of The Man From Earth available on almost all of the file-sharing sites. And if that’s too much effort, the full movie is available on YouTube, with subtitles should you need them. So go ahead, and treat yourself to this most excellent movie before its sequel, The Man From Earth: Holocene, comes out later this year. Again directed by Richard Schenkman, Holocene will see David Lee Smith returning as John Oldman, with a cast that includes Vanessa Williams.
And that’s it for this week’s edition of New Worlds Weekly. I hope to see you again here next week, as we look at something different next week from the wide and wondrous worlds of sci fi. Live long and prosper!

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Gautham Shenoy is a writer of FactorDaily.