'The Man Who Fell to Earth,' April 24, Showtime
NEW YORK (CNS) -- "The Man Who Fell to Earth," British director Nicolas Roeg's 1976 big-screen adaptation of Walter Tevis' 1963 sci-fi novel, caused quite a stir on its release and has gone on to become a critical favorite and a cult classic.
Among other things, the film is notable for having provided glam rock star David Bowie with his first starring role.
Billed as a continuation -- not a reboot -- the eponymous 10-episode limited-series drama premieres Sunday, April 24, 10-11 p.m. EDT on Showtime. It will continue in that time slot throughout its run, concluding July 3.
A torrent of crude talk, unjustified by the story's context, undermines the program. It also entirely undercuts the thoughtful tone that the show's creators -- Jenny Lumet and her frequent collaborator, Alex Kurtzman -- attempt to establish at the outset.
Together with the rear nudity and incidents of violence, including torture, presented to viewers, the script's excessive vulgarity limits the appropriate audience for the series. In fact, viewers of faith may prefer to skip it altogether.
True to its literary source, Roeg's movie centered on Bowie's character, humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton.
But this is primarily the tale of a different extraterrestrial, an initially unnamed starman played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He crash lands in Los Alamos, New Mexico -- famed, of course, as the site of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb.
Taken in for questioning by Officer K. Faraday (Martha Plimpton), the newcomer is asked into whose custody he would like to be released and identifies Justin Falls (Naomie Harris). Although she's naturally a complete stranger to him -- and understandably perplexed at his choice of her -- the space traveler is familiar with Justin's scientific work, which is vital to his own mission.
Predictably, the plot contrives to drive this duo apart and then bring them back together so Justin can assist her new acquaintance, who has taken his interrogator's last name, as he strives to save his home planet, Anthea. A subplot involves single mother Justin's struggle to care for her elderly, wheelchair-bound father, Josiah (Clarke Peters), despite lacking health insurance.
Interestingly, Lumet is Hollywood royalty, being the daughter of celebrated director Sidney Lumet and the granddaughter of dazzling singer and actress Lena Horne. And the cast includes at least two players, Kate Mulgrew and Bill Nighy, from whom viewers might justifiably expect great things.
Neither a storied lineage nor talents that turn out to be wasted, however, can mask the basic banality of "The Man Who Fell to Earth." Despite a promising start, the show quickly stalls out aesthetically, leaving even those grown TV fans for whom it might be morally acceptable stranded.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.