14,000 Years In The Making – Man From EarthMarch 15, 2008
What, what’s that…? Oh…..piracy. As in, video piracy. Film piracy, within the context of this article. The bane of every filmmaker everywhere, who spend a lot of hard work trying to put their vision on the big screen, only for the unscrupulous and not-exactly-thin Chinese dude selling it right next to Murni in SS2. All the while enjoying a ‘mee utara’, too. And his probably arrived within the hour.
But if you listen to what the producer of ‘The Man From Earth’ has to say, what he’s doing is not a bad thing at all. In fact, Eric Wilkinson will be lauding him if his film is amongst the choice selections. “Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and starting posting positive reviews…People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!”
But what is his movie about? It tells the tall tale of a college professor, John Oldman (David Lee Smith), who suddenly resigns from his position in school. Gathering to celebrate his departure, his colleagues were surprised (to say the least) when he claims to be a 14,000 year-old man, who have survived from the pre-historic area to…well, the post-historic era. Attempting to discredit the story, they all played along, but as the holes in his story becomes ever more difficult to prove, tempers rise as some startling revelations were made.
Before I go any further with my review, a warning: not for hardcore Christians. I say hardcore, in the sense that if you are uncomfortable even with the slightest of slights to your religion, then look away now. Go back to church, continue praying, and…do whatever it is that you do. But DON’T watch this film. In short: if you can’t handle ‘The Golden Compass’, then there is no way that you can handle ‘The Man From Earth’. If you don’t care about all that, however, then by all means, do check this film out.
Why? If ever a movie makes you question and question certain formalities and conventions that are long held dear, then this movie is it. Very few movies, in my opinion, goes as deep as this film. Sure, ‘Batman Begins’ scratches the surface slightly with “It’s not who I am, but what I do that defines me” theme. And yeah, ‘The Prestige’ makes you frown your head as your brain races to figure out what’s going on (I just realised I quoted Christopher Nolan’s latest films. Does it say something about the man himself?). But one that makes you stop, and think, and go, “Whoa…that’s deep”? Off the top of my head, only John August’s ‘The Nines’ have ventured that far into that territory in recent times (and that’s another movie that I’ll review for you guys sooner rather than later).
But back to this film. Let’s leave John and Christopher behind for a moment. Let’s talk about Richard Schenkman for a bit. “Richard who?” you might be saying. I know that I definitely said that out loud when I check it out. Doing a bit more research, as it turns out, he used to direct videos for Playboy. Now that’s definitely the kind of stuff that leads to ‘The Man From Earth’ :)
What kind of film is this, then? What kind of movie does a man who used to do Playboy videos make? The answer is a basic one. In the technical sense, the form of this movie is nothing to shout about. It is a DV film, meaning that it’s shot on the same technology that your holiday Handicam uses. It doesn’t have much music, save for one theme song that plays over the end credits, some instrumental pieces, and a classical piece on a small radio (“Sitting on the floor, listening to Beethoven. Nice.”). In short, the form of this film is what you and I can do, if we really want to.
But the content? Oh, how magical the content is! The script is amazing, to say the least. It was written by Jerome Bixby, who actually passed away almost a decade ago. The man, as it turns out, has a background in writing plenty of sci-fi fare, so its no surprise that there’s a fair amount of technical knowledge that is bandied about on screen. After all, the characters are all college professors, each specialising in an area of their own. That may well be the most difficult of challenges; from my experience, writing scripts requires an ability to be able to see from multiple view points, from different perspectives. Making it believable, even in a genre film like sci-fi, depends on your ability, and most importantly, knowledge about these different roles. Jerome Bixby, then, had this ability to do so, but at the same time, he eschews the sort of mumbo-jumbo that only other professors would understand. The director may have much to do with this, but what we have in the end is a discussion that is understandable to the layman. That it is carried out with passion and vigour is a credit to the cast, whose performances give credence and do justice to the story it tells.
Despite the sci-fi background, then (Bixby also wrote some episodes for the Star Trek series), the discussion is as much a philosophical one as it is a scientific one (and, at times, a religious one). “If you go back there today, would it be the same?” asked John, the one who claims to be a caveman. He was asked how he did not know where he was from, since geography didn’t change. John counters by asking the girl about her hometown. “No,” she admitted. “I’m sure it’s all different and built up.” “It’s the same for me, we can’t go home again, because it isn’t there anymore,” he said. “Picture it on my scale. I migrated through endless flat space, and saw endless new things. Forest, mountains, tundra, canyons. My memory sees what I saw then. My eye…sees freeways, highways, Big Macs under the Eiffel Tower.” Probably not the best example, but certainly enough of one to know of the sort of rubber band that your mind becomes: stretch, played around with, flicked and then returning to its normal shape.
On a whole, then, this is not a movie that will dazzle you visually. The mind, in a sense, sees what the eye sees, and in that regard, there isn’t very much to see in this film. However, it will definitely be stretched, for the intellectual discussion is incredibly vigourous in nature, and very well thought out. It benefits from a cast who performed a great script well. It also helps to have a director who simplified things without trivialising them, so much so that even the Chinese guy selling the DVD won’t have much trouble understanding it. Further proof, as if it’s needed, that when it comes down to it, the story, and the execution of the story, is the only thing you ever need in a film.
Although piracy can help too, as it turns out…
Fikri is not 14,000 years old.