David Bowie famously starred as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in this intriguing yet odd and very sexual adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel. Although the general concept is the same, there are substantial changes to plots and characters. I like the book very much but I can’t say the same for the film, although there are a lot of interesting elements to it, the soundtrack is good and of course Bowie is the perfect alien.
The story is that Newton journeys to Earth, where he then starts amassing wealth for a mysterious project. People are very curious about him, particularly his housekeeper (Betty Jo in the book, Mary Lou in the film), a chemist called Bryce and, disastrously, the FBI. He starts to act more human, he becomes an alcoholic and realises he can’t ever return to his home planet (named Anthea in the book, unspecified in the film).
The most glaring difference between the book and film is, to put it bluntly, sex. There’s none in the book. There’s a lot in the film. I suspect that adding these scenes might be a trait of the director Nicolas Roeg, going by how his previous film Don’t Look Now (based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story) turned out. I’ve discovered he also directed the Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches, which has no such scenes, but then it’s a children’s film.
There were a few things I found somewhat lame in the film but I won’t mention them because they’d be spoilers. I think that the story and dialogue could have benefited from staying closer to the book. I didn’t mind the changes to the characters so much.
Recommended for David Bowie fans, anyone who’s read the book and those who don’t mind seeing a lot of nudity.
Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.