Saturday, June 10, 2017

DWF ‘17: The Man from Earth—Holocene

If a 14,000-year-old immortal must disappear every ten years to avoid detection, it stands to reason he would eventually live in Chico, California. John Oldman, now using the name John Young, has finally reached that point. He has also finally confided his secret in others, albeit under ambiguous conditions. The Cro-Magnon who might also possibly be Christ and other characters created by the late science fiction writer Jerome Bixby return in Richard Schenkman’s The Man from Earth: Holocene (trailer here), which premieres at the 2017 Dances with Films.

Usually John Oldman prefers to disappear like a thief in the night, but his faculty friends got wind of his leaving a threw him the going away party that is Schenkman’s original Man from Earth film. During the course of the evening, he told them the fantastical story of his life. Reactions were mixed, especially when he implied he was Christ—or rather a disciple of the Buddha who was mistaken for a messiah when he started to preach his master’s teachings in ancient northern Israel. Art Jenkins, the archaeologist particularly resented being played a fool, but when he started researching Oldman in the period between the films, he found himself unable to disprove any of his claims. Unfortunately, his resulting “nonfiction” book short-circuited his academic career.

However, it is the start of a paper trail that intrepid anthropology student Isabel Chang and her friends can follow. They have faithfully enrolled in “Young’s” comparative religion courses, often observing he talks about all the major religious figures as if he knew them personally. Based on a mounting pile of circumstantial evidence, they start to suspect Jenkins’ book is gospel, so to speak. However, the implications are different for each of them.

Chang hopes Oldman/Young has transcendent wisdom he can offer the world. Her roommate Tara is increasingly (and inappropriately) attracted to their professor, who looks remarkably good for his age. The Born-Again Philip is not sure whether the truth threatens or strengthens his Christian convictions, whereas his pal Liko is mostly along for the ride.

The original Man from Earth riffed on themes Bixby first addressed in his Star Trek episode, “Requiem for Methuselah,” but it was produced and released posthumously. In a sense, it is quite fitting these characters continue to live on after him. Setting aside the heavy-handed religious revelations, there is something about the immortal that resonates on an archetypal kind of way.

It helps that David Lee Smith hits all the right notes as the world-weary (he’s entitled at this point) Young Oldman, clearly portraying all the guilt and loneliness, as well as erudition that comes with immortality. Even though her fellow Scooby Mystery Team-mates get all the foibles, it is still Akemi Look who commands the screen as Chang. She really has presence and star power. As Jenkins, William (Greatest American Hero) Katt is certainly convincing playing someone who has seen better days. Yet, it is Michael Dorn (Star Trek’s Worf) gets the best scene as the department chair contemplating his mortality with the sympathetic Cro-Magnon.

Holocene is the sort of speculative fiction that can get by without any special effects. In fact, there is really no call for them here. It is all character and idea driven. Fans will be happy to note the screenplay, co-written by Schenkman and Bixby’s son Emerson maintains the internal logic and narrative consistency of the first film remarkably well. Strangely compelling, Man from Earth: Holocene is recommended for admirers of Richard Matheson’s more spiritual work (such as What Dreams May Come) when it screens imminently today (6/10) at the year’s Dances With Films.