While going thru some low budget movies online, I stumbled upon The Man from Earth. The thing that stood out for this movie was that it had a 7.9 out of 10 rating on imdb. Usually the low budget movies with unknown actors n director are rated around 4 - 5 out of 10 on imdb. 7.9 was definitely outstanding for a low budget sci fi. The 73,175 votes also sound pretty substantial and unlikely a bid to push up the rating by the production team (or fans) .
The storyline had a intriguing hook. At a farewell party became an intense interrogation when the retiring professor reveals to his colleagues that he is actually 14,000 years old. One of the imdb user reviews mentioned that this movie was "a seriously engaging film ... A sci-fi film with absolutely no special effects" (phalanges1 from United Kingdom).
All these reminded me of Cube. A low budget Sci Fi movie with limited special effect, small cast and limited sets production but it remained one of my favorite sci fi movies to date. It's a sci fi movie that brings something new and different to the plate. A risk taker that leaves the viewers something to think about after the credits rolled.
Something tells me that The Man from Earth could be my next fave sci fi movie.
As Professor John Oldman prepares to move, his colleagues show up unexpectedly to give him a farewell party. His concern colleagues was worried about his sudden resignation and they continued to press him for the reason in departing so quietly.
Unwilling to reveal his reasons, John propose a possibility of a prehistoric caveman living in the modern time. His colleagues (from different academic fields) assumed that he was going to write a sci-fi story about a 14,000 years old caveman and they started to chip in the possibility of such scenarios happening. John then dropped the bombshell by revealing that he is a 14,000 caveman who don't age and in order to remain incognito, he moves every 10 years.
The intrigued colleagues then began questioning him about his beginning, his journey and experiences in 14,000 years. As the conversation continued, John's colleagues became irate and unsure if he is telling the truth or just making a tall story to conceal the real reason for leaving.
"One century's magic ... another century's science"
The Man from Earth was engaging and fascinating. It was worth the effort and time to check this movie out. These days I usually watch movies at home and there's a high tendency that due to boredom, I will move onto something else after a while. But not with The Man from Earth. Right after the revelation of John's origin, the movie became lively and interesting. It was a fresh air to the stale state of sci-fi movies these days. It's a testament that you don't need big budget, huge production sets or A list actors to tell one heck of a sci-fi story.
The main bulk of the enjoyment came from the lively discussion on Professor John's questionable "longevity". The script was well written and the writer (the late Jerome Bixby) did an incredible job in blending scientific facts with imagination. There were some interesting question asked about John's origin, his journey, his limitation and his knowledge. The answers provided were equally intriguing and it made this "What Ifs" science fiction feels so probable.
The script also had a good flow and a tantalizing change of events to keep the discussion fresh and lively. Basically it put you in a room with the academics and one guy who claimed that he is 1400 years old and you would want to know what are his replies to all the questions that were asked. The dynamics in the room changes quickly and for a movie that's basically a group of people talking in a room, the pacing does not feel stagnant at any point of time.
Personally one of my favorite segments was when the conversation centered around Professor John's "encounter" with famous religious individual. It's science fiction but there are materials here that I believe would offend some religious people. But then again, it opens an interesting "What If" and as an atheist, I find it fascinating way to touch on how religions might be formed.
The cast might not be as famous as A listers in Hollywood but I felt that the entire cast did a decent job in their respective roles. Folks might recognize Tony Todd from Candyman and the Final Destination franchise. I haven't seen him in any non horror genre and I thought he did quite a good in job as an empathic friend. Although I have not seen most of David Lee Smith's works, I thought he did well to portray the mysterious lead character. He has that stoic Christopher Lambert aura in Highlander (another sci fi classic about immorality) and that help sells the 1400 years old story.
The movie wasn't without faults and there are just a couple of things that I like to nitpick. First of all, it was too short (86 minutes runtime) and for someone who was engage and fascinated by the conversation, I was hopping for more questioning. But then again, it's a sign that the movie had achieved it's objective.
In this movie, the colleagues exhibited a general hostility towards protagonist which I felt was rather forced and hard to empathize. If what John was saying is true, I would imagine that a group of academics would want to ask questions that not available on the textbooks, confirm some theories and etc. It's like the opportunity of a lifetime. If John's story wasn't true, it would still be an enjoyable entertainment for intellectuals to kill time with. I believe the hostility in this movie was streamed from the fact that if they accepted the story, they would also had to face the unfairness of their own mortality or it could even be a plot device to bring a form of closure to the discussion. But then again, it just a little hard to accept why the majority of the group were so upset with him.
Lastly the ending could have been left a little more ambiguous. Was he really a 14,000 years old caveman or was he just entertaining his colleagues with a tall story? I think such open ended ending would be a better fit with what was going on with the bulk of the movie. But then again that would probably upset another batch of viewers.
The Man from Earth was an unexpected find and a hidden gem in the sci-fi movie. It's a type of movie that dares to dream big even when they didn't have the Hollywood blockbuster budget to do so. It toyed with the "what ifs" in a manner that a lot sci-fi movies are not doing hese days. Personally, The Man from Earth comes highly recommended. Do try get a copy of this movie. According to Wikipedia, the producer Eric D. Wilkinson actually thanked the Bit Torrent community for sharing the movie illegally and spreading the good words around. You can always donate some money to the independent filmmakers or buy the dvd later on if you have enjoyed the movie (like I did). The Man from Earth comes highly recommended.