A scientific team of television executives led by Frederik (Frederick van Pallandt) have devised a new way of travel – through time itself. But they must try out their theories with practice, and that involves building up a huge degree of emotional energy to propel the subject through the years, both forward and backwards, so the best method they figure out is to take the actor Terence Stamp (as himself) and place him in a situation of obvious peril. If they broadcast images of him about to die onto television screens across the globe, that should amass the required amount of power and as a result push Stamp through time, which he decides to agree to if it means he can see his late wife again. But is science going too far?
Hu-Man would have been left an obscure title in Stamp’s filmography that almost nobody knew anything about had it not been for a career interview from 1998 he agreed to participate in with critic and director Mark Cousins. Somehow Cousins had secured a couple of clips of this to show and ask him about, albeit acknowledging that it hadn’t been seen in its entirety since the nineteen-seventies and remarking the extreme travelogue footage it depicted was how he imagined the actor spent his wilderness years of that decade. Stamp didn’t have much recollection of it, but that tiny extract of the film generated much interest in all who caught it, leading many to wonder if it could have possibly lived up to the striking visuals we glimpsed in that programme.
Eventually, after extracts were screened in London by the BFI in 2013, bootlegs from a television broadcast of the film emerged, and those curious enough to track it down were rewarded with what to all intents and purposes looked like a try at recapturing the peculiar mood of Alain Resnais’ Je t'aime Je t'aime, the time travel sci-fi with a heavy romantic element of a few years before that coincidentally also proved difficult to see for a long time. Only erstwhile documentarian Jérôme Laperrousaz opted to include locations that were as out there as he could find across the planet, from an avalanche-threatened glacier to an active volcano and corresponding river of lava, all the better to imperil his leading man by plonking him right down next to them and filming the results.
That attempt to drown Stamp in the opening half hour certainly looked authentic, not that Laperrousaz wanted him dead, he just wanted some spectacular shots, and putting him on a patch of beach fast disappearing below the tide was one such procedure: he really did go under, too. It’s quite often that science fiction movies and television from before the nineties could be accused of predicting the rise of reality television, and Hu-Man was yet another one as the unseen masses consume the threats to Stamp’s life for entertainment as much as generating that energy vaguely discussed by singing star van Pallandt (who would be murdered twenty years later) and Jeanne Moreau, playing another boffin who is acquainted with Stamp and brings him into the experiment, though he may have another motive.
Well, he blatantly has another motive and that is to reunite with his wife, who in uncomfortable parallels has killed herself by drowning (in real life Stamp’s partner did not do this, so he may be playing himself but his history was invented). As a consequence of TV stunt his live-in friend (Gabriella Rysted) kills herself too, though it’s unclear why, as was a fair bit of what was going on here since the director was more interested in creating an emotional landscape as textured as the actual landscapes he took in with his lens. As a simple novelty of watching a movie star in bizarre situations that appear genuinely dangerous at various points, Hu-Man had a focus of interest, but the themes were so airy-fairy that unless you appreciated Herzogian use of striking natural scenery to relate the narrative then you wouldn’t have much to get your teeth into. Though make no mistake, that was a good reason to catch the film, as its stark romanticism paled in comparison to seeing Terry nearly hit by a lava bomb. The soundtrack composers included Eric Burdon among their number, too.