Man Who Fell to Earth sequel news: Bill Nighy has signed on to star in a new Showtime series that picks up where the Nicholas Roeg movie and the Walter Tevis novel end, Variety reports. Nighy will portray Thomas Newton, forty years after the events of the film and the book, the titular “Man Who Fell,” an alien who has ventured to Earth to try to save his own planet, which suffered from a desperate water and energy shortage.
This has been tried twice before, a Man Who Fell to Earth sequel. You probably didn’t know that, which should tell you something about the value of the enterprise.
An Iconic Bowie
Of course, David Bowie was iconic in the film; even Tevis called Bowie “genius casting” in the role. And replacing Thomas Newton is not like finding a new James Bond. It would be like making a sequel to The Hustler and The Color of Money, with some other guy replacing Paul Newman as Fast Eddie.
Indeed, both Lewis Smith and Michael C. Hall have stepped into Bowie’s shoes, Smith in a long-forgotten TV pilot/remake, and Hall in Lazarus, a stage musical sequel, with which Bowie was creatively involved. Neither made the role his own; no one else can.
But more importantly, we’ve already seen the conclusion of Newton’s saga; there is nothing more to tell that wouldn’t either be a depressing, dreadful slog, or undermine the message of the earlier story.
A sequel is unneeded
Spoilers for the original film and book follow:
When we last saw Thomas Newton, he was a wreck of his former self. Though he’d grown rich from alien technology, he’d failed in his mission to send a rocket to Anthea, his home planet; he’d provoked the ire of the FBI, who had imprisoned him and wrecked his spirit and his body; he had, as well, like all Tevis protagonists, become a hopeless, incurable alcoholic. (In the film, he wound up with his human-iris contact lenses merged to his eyeballs; in the book, he was blind.)
In a final-scene meeting with one of his corporation’s trusted executives, he confesses that his brain is ruined, and that his entire planet is now doomed to die. His project was designed to end with a rocket sent back to his home planet when Earth and Anthea were in alignment; now that moment had passed. When the executive asks, “There’s no chance?” Newton replies, “Of course there’s a chance.” A snowball’s chance, he might have added. But, instead, Newton says, “Easy come, easy go.”
What would happen to Newton after that? What could happen to him? Nothing but years of wealth and idle, perpetual drunkenness, and alienated regret, as the Antheans and, as well, the human race succumbs to their fate.
Any other ending would be entirely contrary to the bleak message of the original book and film.
What is the sequel about?
But Showtime has something happier in mind!
In the new sequel, Newton sends a message back to Anthea, asking for help. Anthea, which used its last resources to send Newton to Earth on a tiny rocket, somehow scrapes together more fuel to send another Anthean to Earth, who seeks to work with Newton to complete the mission.
This could be the most wonderful show in the world, but its premise is just wrong.
“I like to think,” Nighy mused to Variety, “that the film makers of the original film would applaud[.]”
This sounds so much like the standard Hollywood sequel. In the first movie, an alien comes to Earth, hoping to save his planet. In the sequel, another alien comes to Earth, hoping to save his planet.
A better idea to celebrate Tevis’s work
But I do have a point!
Tevis is an author whom, like Philip K. Dick, Hollywood has resoundingly rediscovered in death. The Netflix adaptation of Tevis’s novel, The Queen’s Gambit, was the best television series of 2021, and it captured the world’s attention.
Producers of streaming content looked around for more Tevis, and they found it in The Man Who Fell to Earth. But a little creativity would have led them to Tevis’s diabolical short science fiction, and then, with a bit more creativity, to Mockingbird, a so-so novel that will one day make a great film or TV miniseries, a dystopian AI world with a terrific payoff and a lesson for humanity.
Let’s hope that’s where they look next.
This review was written by Steven S. Drachman. He is the author of Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, which is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.
Image design, by Steven S. Drachman, shows the three actors who have played Thomas Newton to date. Inclusion of Lewis Smith, in the first Man Who Fell to Earth sequel, is intended to make a point.