Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien who has come to Earth in search of water to save his home planet. Aided by lawyer Oliver Farnsworth, Thomas uses his knowledge of advanced technology to create profitable inventions. While developing a method to transport water, Thomas meets Mary-Lou, a quiet hotel clerk, and begins to fall in love with her. Just as he is ready to leave Earth, Thomas is intercepted by the U.S. government, and his entire plan is threatened.
As a Bowie (and SF) fan I had high expectations for this movie. I also read the novel, although I did not find it particularly memorable or inspiring, but hoped for an interesting on screen development. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing many years ago, as I did yesterday evening, when the movie was broadcast by BBC Two, to commemorate what would have been Bowie's 70 birthday.The non-linear plot follows Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien dropped to earth to find water for his dying planet. Despite his superior scientific knowledge, Newton get corrupted by our bad earthlings way and his plan derails miserably.Among the many problems of the film, the biggest for me were: the poor development of the "alien" planet, of which we see only four inhabitants (Newton and his family); the narrative, which is a series of disconnected scenes following the slow deterioration of the Newton character and the annoying jumps in time. All the main characters grow older within 40 minutes, while Newton does not age a minute. This could be because he is an alien, but it certainly does not help to connect with what goes on.Besides, there is plenty of useless nudity and sex scenes. One of the main characters is a horny professor who sleeps around with his students. We get him canoodling with three different girls for no other reason than showing more of the same, when his character was well defined by the first sexual encounter. It is a very "cold" movie and I felt completely disconnected. Bowie conveyed alienation in an almost perfect way, but it is up to the viewer to decide if it is because of his acting skills or to the fact that he was going through the weirdest period of his life and was probably just being himself. Also, rumors of problems with Roeg and uneasiness on set might have contributed to the overall weirdness.
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Something falls out of the sky. A strange man claiming to be British citizen Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) walks into a small town. He begins a rise with only $200. He hires lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) and creates a giant high-tech company worth $300 million. It's still not enough for his mysterious goal. His motion sickness gets the best of him in a small town hotel elevator. He is rescued by hotel worker Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) who begins to help him acclimate. She becomes his companion. Meanwhile, scientist Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) is suspicious of Newton. He gets fired for his womanizing among other things. He gets hired by Newton's company. He's invited to meet Newton out of the blue.On the one hand, it is ambitious in its snap editing, otherworldly jumps, and David Bowie is the perfect alien man. The writing is intriguing sci-fi. On the other hand, the directing is not exactly good. It's trying to do something but there is no drive or intensity. David Bowie is compelling mainly because he's playing an odd spacey David Bowie character. This deserves its cult status and it's a fascinating watch for Bowie.
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Aside from the vaguely intriguing start with Bowie's arrival (it's not clear where he got the clothes, the rings to sell and the British background, or indeed how long he'd been on earth – where did the car and the chauffeur suddenly come from?). This is a long disappointing mess of a film. I tried very hard to get into this and enjoy it but the narrative structure is confusing and disjointed. I think the film just tries to be clever and art-housy but I found it a complete bore and very frustrating to watch – the Emperor's New Clothes you might say. There is absolutely no chemistry or sex appeal between the two main characters. Visually, it's quite stylish, the best part is the first 30 minutes or so with the frailty of the alien character shown and the interesting and amusing idea (from a digital photography age perspective) of self-developing film.
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I first saw this film in the late 70's and haven't been able to decide to this day whether it is the noodlings of a rather Sixth-Form mentality or a genuine work of art. The story - such as it is - concerns 'Thomas Newton' (Bowie), who appears from nowhere (he's actually from a distant planet) and presents himself to a corporate lawyer with several ground-breaking ideas for new products, all of which earn a massive amount of money for Newton's new company. He needs this money to launch a space program in order to get back to his home planet where his family - and indeed the whole population - is dying from lack of water. SPOILERS FOLLOW. After a great start, his company falters and Newton falls victim to the same frailties that afflict the Humans around him - greed, sleaze, waste and sloth. In the end he has given up his grand scheme and lives his life as a sad drunk, surrounding himself with women, drink and the low morals that come along with them. So the question is - is this film high art or make-it-up-as-you-go-along junk? A deep and biting comment on the human condition or just aimless posturing? Plenty of each, I'd say. But one thing is for certain - it's a very mixed bag, some scenes looking like a million dollars, others like the work of a bored amateur. At least it ends poignantly with Artie Shaw's 'Stardust', which brings the whole thing to a perfect end.