Great Moments in Bad Storytelling: Man from Earth

Muggy, cloudy Memorial Day here in Eugene. I’m drilling through my Amazon Prime account and decided it was time to check out the best movie you’ve never heard of: Man From Earth. I got about three-fourths of the way through and realized it was time for another great moment in bad storytelling.

I really wanted to like Man from Earth (MfE), I really did. This story comes to us with pedigree. It was written by Jerome Bixby, famous for writing the short story ‘It’s a Good Life,’ later becoming the famous Twilight Zone episode. He wrote episodes of Star Trek and co-wrote Fantasic Voyage.  MfE was filmed on the movie-famous ‘Agua Dulce Movie Ranch‘ and you can see many familiar rock formations in the background.

But for all its pluses, the minuses are too big to ignore. No disrespect intended, and I know I’m not in the best person to judge. Yes, it’s an indie movie with indie movie budget and production values and yes, the soundtrack is distracting. Those are forgivable sins – indie movies get a pass for that. What makes MfE ‘the little movie that could’ should have been the story and that’s where our discussion takes place.

MfE’s plot focuses on “John Oldman”, a departing university professor, who claims to be a Cro-Magnon (or Magdalenian caveman) who has secretly survived for more than 14,000 years. The entire film is set in and around Oldman’s house during his farewell party and is composed almost entirely of dialogue. The plot advances through intellectual arguments between Oldman and his fellow faculty members.

At first glance, the story seems like the perfect blend of minimal scifi sorely lacking in the mainstream. Sadly, it’s greatest flaw is that MfE doesn’t blend at all. It’s structurally correct, but has the organic feel of a Brutalist apartment block. Dialogue only seems to exist to give the protagonist something to react to, and when he does his delivery doesn’t have the depth-less impact you’d expect from a timeless character.

So I’m a little bummed. I had high hopes for MfE just like I do for any indie scifi project. As I said at the outset, I’m not necessarily qualified to judge. Bixby finished the story on his deathbed and if you can go out with your boots on well then, my hat is off to you. I think it’s important to understand what I can learn from Man from Earth so that I can improve the craft of my storytelling.

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