SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen Episode 9 of The Man Who Fell to Earth on Showtime, don’t read.
When production designer James Merifield first signed on for Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, he thought he might travel to Cambodia or an exotic jungle to build a key set on site. But then the pandemic happened and he ended up building the key set for the UK season finale at Black Park in Slough.
A sequel to the Walter Tevis novel and the legendary 1976 film starring David Bowie, the series stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the alien humanoid Faraday who crashes his spaceship deep in New Mexico. Justin Falls, played by Naomie Harris, is the only human on earth who can contribute to the survival of his species.
In Episode 9, Falls and Faraday are kidnapped and taken to a cave where Pressman Thorn (Bill Nighy) is waiting for them. Going inside, they find monks seated and meditating as a man in a suit approaches them. It’s Thomas Newton, formerly known as Pressman Thorn.
The cave was inspired by Angkor Wat, the temple in Cambodia. “I had never been there, but I started searching the internet, looking at photos and using them as references for our jungle and cave set,” explains Merifield.
Inspired by the twining trees that surround Angkor Wat, he emulated the design with plenty of palm trees, vines and alien leaves. “We built Cambodia in Black Park,” says Merifield.
Merifield only built the trees 20 feet tall, “then the rest was left to CGI set extensions.”
The tree roots were made from pipe insulation, the material used to insulate pipes during cold months. Merifield says, “We covered the trees in plaster to make them look real — it gave them this textured finish.” When it came to the moss surrounding the temple, Merifield says, “It was made out of good old-fashioned sawdust. It was stained, stained and pasted over the rocks.”
For the interior of the cave, known as Newton’s Lair, a derelict old warehouse in Wembley, north London, seemed suitable for the Merifield construction team. “At the end of the episode in the cave, you can see these monks in a call to prayer, and there’s a huge bell with lanterns. These were used for practical lighting,” he explains.
He also worked with concept artists to ensure there were fantastic rays of light. “I had the idea that the huge crack in the ceiling that forms this shaft is coming from the roots of the trees. They had worked their way through this crack to form their root bed underground like the tree, causing the crack to widen and deepen over time. That then gave the DP and the gaffer a chance to light it like that.”
For the temple bell that stands next to the shrine, Merifield first had to find a bell big enough. “It’s all about the size,” he says. “So I had this bell made by a prop maker who carved it out of polystyrene and then cast it in fiberglass. The wooden frame it is embedded in was also cast, and while it was a beautiful prop, it was an expensive expense.”
https://variety.com/2022/artisans/news/man-who-fell-to-earth-angkor-wat-temple-production-design-1235306271/ “The Man Who Fell to Earth”: How the Temple of Angkor Wat Inspired Set Design