Thursday, May 5, 2011

THE MAN FROM EARTH (Richard Schenkman, 2007, USA)

A college professor professes to be 14,000 years old to his intimates on the eve of his cyclical evacuation to deter questions regarding his inability to age. Director Richard Schenkman converts Jerome Bixby’s interesting premise into a prosaic pantomime of ponderous pseudo-intellectualism.

John Oldman (geez, even the pun is awful) is packing his sparse belongings into his truck for destinations unknown while his professor colleagues attempt to throw him an impromptu farewell party. After a few drinks and superficial questions, John reveals that he is a 14,000 years old Cro-Magnon. His friends fail to follow the joke then for some inexplicable reason become angered and offended when John persists with the veracity of his tale. He vomits forth textual facts tinged with personal experiences while his colleagues attempt to discredit his ad hominid assertions. But the story becomes too preposterous, not only failing to suspend disbelief but garroting it in the process.

The direction and cinematography is appalling, not because of its obvious low-budget nature but in the fact of Schenkman’s incompetence: the film seems pasted together from random shots (do we really need to see an ear dominate the screen in a reverse angle shot?) seemingly done by a child with a digital camera. Each character becomes a cipher for argument (the Biology professor, Fundamentalist Christian, Psychiatrist, Geologist, etc…) but fails to become a convincing and complex person: their reactions are incomprehensible and laughably inconsistent, deriding John one minute then pondering the awesome possibilities the next. John soon admits to knowing Vincent van Gogh (even mispronouncing his name), sailing with Christopher Columbus (who thought the world was flat? WTF?), being the template for Jesus after meeting Buddha, and other such nonsense. I won’t even mention details of the final act of synchronicity which is jaw-droopingly inane.

The film wants to postulate that truth is subjective; that is, the others cannot disprove John’s story but this is argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy that seems to convince his friends. The story doesn’t delve too far into the mechanics of John’s immortality other than he says he doesn’t scar, which fails to explain why he looks like a middle-aged American. Remember, he is not a descendant but rather a surviving exemplar: for some, it must be reassuring that Jesus was white! Why didn’t he speak a few words of Sumerian or Aramaic (or hundreds of other language), or describe mundane details of his routines over the centuries? I would expect to witness some mysterious or exotic inflections or speech patterns as he falls back into the comfort of a favorite dialect or denote some strange gesture or body language. But John Oldman just seems to be some guy who can recite history. It would have been more interesting to hear a tale of desperation and mundanity, a life that has experienced the stinking streets of 17th century London to the muddy trenches of the Great War as a common man instead of some self-important parable. This is a tale that wags the dog…and smells like one too.

Final Grade: (F)

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