5 / 5 stars
Science fiction just wouldn’t be the same without Jerome Bixby. His stories have inspired classic television and film, and his scripts are just as memorable. One of his short stories was adapted for The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” Another, which he co-authored, became the inspiration for the classic film of miniaturization Fantastic Voyage (1966). But Bixby is best known for writing episodes for the original Star Trek series, including “Mirror, Mirror.” That’s right, science fiction fans, without Bixby, our other-dimensional alter-egos would not be sporting the cliched goatee. His last screenplay, The Man From Earth, completed in 1998 and not filmed until 2007, nine years after his death, is a satisfying swan song that reminds us of a time when the genre was truly mind expanding.
John Oldman (David Lee Smith from CSI: Miami) is a college professor who feels it’s time to move on after 10 years at the same school. When colleagues gather at his cabin to throw him an impromptu going away party, John confesses his secret to them: he is 15,000 years old. What follows is a gripping conversation where each character in turn questions and tests Oldman on his experiences in a quest to discover the truth and examine their friend’s sanity. The dialogue touches on biology, history, anthropology, philosophy and religion, all the time ratcheting up the tension, until finally each character’s patience and their own deeply held beliefs are stretched to the breaking point.
The Man From Earth concludes with a twist that even Rod Serling would have appreciated. In fact, the entire film plays like a 90-minute Twilight Zone episode, complete with well-fleshed out characters and ideas that inspires the viewer to contemplate long after the final credits roll. The film is a delightful anachronism devoid of special effects, expansive in its ideas and just downright fun. Besides its strong script, The Man from Earth is bolstered by a great cast including William Katt, Star Trek alumns Tony Todd (Worf’s brother, Kurn, of ST:TNG) and John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox of ST: Enterprise), as well as stellar performances by veteran character actors Ellen Crawford and Richard Riehle.
While the idea of immortality has been dealt with many times before, even by Bixby himself in the Star Trek episode “Requiem for Methuselah,” rarely has it been this thought-provoking. The Man From Earth is perhaps the most profound, engaging film ever on the subject as it slyly forces us to question our own existence given what relatively little time we have in this world.
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