Battlefield Earth (2000)

“They told me this planet was ugly, but this has got to be one of the ugliest crap holes in the entire universe.”

Justin’s Rating: I hurt inside. Bad Touch, John Travolta!

Justin’s Review: There was a time, a golden age of anticipation that I like to call early 2000, when I was young and innocent and virginal in everything I watched. This was an era when I naively thought that 2000 A.D. would be the best year of movies ever, kicking off with Battlefield Earth, which looked to be Braveheart in a post-apocalyptic scifi setting. I even read the book! And it’s a big, thick book, with many big words and complicated phrases (example: “Jonnie went over to the can. He kicked the side. It hurt his toe.”). I tried in vein to shut out the noise of pre-release reviews that stated Battlefield Earth was carcinogenic and would be an atrocity committed on all who bought a ticket. I rushed to see it opening day, deeply wanting to throw my Cloak Of Cult Love over the shoulders of John Travolta, to tell the movie that at least I understood what a maligned classic it was. Then I saw it.

And part of me died inside, forever.

About the only factor of interest in Battlefield Earth is for those of you interested in how NOT to make a film. If the director had a good choice and bad choice sitting before him, in sort of one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, rest assured that Battlefield Earth kept picking the options that resulted in a “The End” moment. First off, the relation between the novel and the movie is bare bones — they use some of the names and the skeleton of the plot — and in many cases do the exact OPPOSITE of what the novel does. At one point in the novel and the movie when the good guys are searching for gold, they check out Fort Knox looking for an easy solution. In the novel, Fort Knox has been stripped clean (which makes sense after a thousand years of alien occupation and abandonment of civilization). In the movie, not only is Fort Knox fully stocked, but some considerate ghosts have dusted all the bars to make them shiny and new.

And this is just the smallest example I could think of. They don’t even get to recruit the fierce Scottish warriors that play such a main role in the novel!

Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3000 when a strip-mining alien race called Psychlos have already conquered Earth, killed off most of the population, and are using the few remaining hu-mans for slave labor. This is what happens when you don’t pay the gas bill, unfortunately. The Psychlos are the universe’s dumbest aliens who sport dreadlocks and yet somehow think they’re at the top of the food chain. Despite mastering spacecraft technology, the Psychlos are bewildered by basic common sense (one being, don’t give a human captive your WEAPON). Essentially, Psychlos are Klingons without all the stupid Klingon rituals and a shade less intelligent.

One of the amusing aspects of the Psychlos is that they are (in the novel) ten feet tall; to attempt to portray this, the actors have to wear stilt-boots, so that they appear to have normal thighs, and about four feet of calves that threaten to trip them up at every turn. Unlike other scifi visions of alien races and their technology, Psychlos have pretty substandard stuff, except for a holographic teaching computer (gee, where was THAT when I was taking Spanish?).

Terl (John Travolta) is the Psychlo chief of security on Earth, who takes on a pet project of training humans to mine gold for his own pockets. The humans, led by Jonnie (Barry Pepper, who channels his emotions into random muscle twitches), engineer a revolution that takes the Psychlos totally by surprise. Sacrifices are made, rah rah, aliens are too dumb to see it coming, rah rah.

I wish to process past this insipid plot to point out that the brainiacs behind Battlefield Earth apparently didn’t think a single thing through. Nearly every action sequence is filmed as to make it unwatchable. They accomplish this through severe Dutch angles, extreme closeups, darkly lit sets, and a controversial film technique called Shake-O-Vision, which might be something you’d see if you were electrocuting someone who was filming a birthday party.

Conversations are at a primal “Me Tarzan, You PoolMan” level, which is fine considering that there are no interesting actors in this entire movie. You’d think that an invaded Earth, a slave race of humans, a revolt across the entire planet would be somewhat fascinating, but the filmmakers accomplished the impossible by making it unbelievably dull. I swear, while watching this film, I started writing thank you notes for Christmas gifts just to give me a few moments of suspense. Thank you notes! I’m a guy!

Nothing is good in this movie. Everything is bad. Just when you think you’re going to see a head blown up, the camera pans away… why? I didn’t come for the Scientology debates! The humans find 1,000-year-old fighter planes, which are in perfect condition, learn to fly them in a couple days, and then use them against advanced alien spacecraft. Yes, it’s that thought through. And I always love it when all it takes for an entire group to revolt in the face of assured bloody death is just a perky pep talk!

Any way you look at it, it’s just your basic slaves-revolt-against-the-empire story, but while the novel did a fine job of jazzing it up, the movie did a fine job of making wading through a compost heap a more enjoyable prospect. I’m really starting to kick myself for ever anticipating big-budget movies (Independence Day, The Phantom Menace), but I suppose I won’t stop doing it anytime soon.

PoolMan’s Rating: The best part was when I didn’t pay for it!

PoolMan’s Review: I have a suggestion for the Academy: Create a new Oscar category, titled “Best Picture Which Tried Really Hard To Be One Thing, But Wound Up Stinking The Joint Out And Becoming MST3K Bait”. Now wouldn’t that make for some interesting clips?

My rating line refers to the fact that I had a free rental credit with Blockbuster, and decided that if Battlefield Earth was as bad as I’d heard it was, I wouldn’t have to later feel bad for having paid for it. As it was, I actually would have paid. Here’s why.

Battlefield Earth is supposed to be a serious science fiction movie about the decimation of the human race and its eventual rise over its alien oppressors. I’ve heard the novel is anywhere from average to fantastic, and truth be told, I can see where it might be. But somewhere along the line (read: at the point where John Travolta decided to do his Scientologist “friend” L Ron Hubbard a favour and signed on in a lead role), absolutely everything comes off the rails at breakneck speeds, and you end up with one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

The story goes a little like this In or around the year 2000, a race called the Psychlos (?) attacks Earth, overthrows our entire military in nine minutes flat, and proceeds to enslave some of us, drive the rest into hiding, and mine the hell out of the planet. Seems metals (particularly gold) are hard to come by back on Psychlo, and they do this all over the galaxy. Jump forward to the year 3000, and mankind is nearing extinction. In an effort to get his ass off our planet, the head of security, Terl, teaches one human, Johnny, everything he needs to know about Psychlo technology and language so he can mine a huge deposit of gold in a radioactive area (which would ignite the Psychlo’s breathing apparatus, seeing as they don’t breath our air too well). However, like any bright chimp, Johnny is instead inspired to lead his fellow humans in a revolution over the Psychlo tyranny using the information he’s given.

The key here is to think like a Misty. (If you don’t know what that means, a Misty is a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan well-schooled in impromptu sarcasm.) This flick is riddled with plot holes big enough to drive a Star Destroyer through. Here’s a short list of my major ones:

  • Wouldn’t humans living in radioactive zones be dead long before a thousand years passed?
  • Would it really be that easy to get into Fort Knox? (answer: no)
  • Why oh why does Terl encourage the guard to give his gun to Johnny?
  • Would planes left unattended for a millenium actually fly?
  • If our trained military went down in less than ten minutes, how do a handful of cavemen who’ve had all of 4 hours of training on a flight simulator beat them so handily with a total of maybe ten jets?
  • After a thousand years, what are the chances that a hard mining race like the Psychlos wouldn’t have already sucked everything out of Earth centuries ago?

As you can see, most of these gripes are related to the fact that this takes place a thousand years in the future. That’s TEN CENTURIES, people. You know, roughly five times the age of the U.S.? But herein lies the fun. This movie tries so hard to be serious and over the top, it’s flat out hysterical. I didn’t laugh this hard at some Monty Python flicks. You can pick it apart, mock the characters, insert your own lines, and soon you’ll be thinking you’re Tom Servo or Crow! When you get to the scene where Terl starts blowing the legs off cows, if you’re not laughing, you have led a shallow, uninteresting life.

Another interesting point. I think someone went through The Big Book of Camera Tricks For Total Idiots, listed down every single technique they could find, and said to the director, “Here. Do all of these.” Honestly. Angled cameras? We got ’em. Coloured lens filters? Every shade of the rainbow. Random slowed down footage? Check. And wipes, wipes, wipes! You’d think Lucas directed portions of this flick!

I will rent this movie again, in the future, I really will. It was far too entertaining for all the wrong reasons to never see it again. Frankly, I think it’d be excellent payback for Justin and I to watch, since he forced me into The Doom Generation. However, be warned, it’s bad. Really bad. It’s the This Island Earth of the year 2000. If you go see it, and end up hating it (which I would understand), please don’t hate me and mail-bomb my house. I’ve heard so many people actually express anger towards this flick, you’d think Travolta would be dead by now. But I’m telling you as plainly as I can, Battlefield Earth was bloody awful, and I loved it for that exact reason.

Clare’s Rating: I wish I had one of those lame-assed nose block thingies to prevent the foul stench of this movie from reaching my smell receptors

Clare’s Review: So I’ll just start off by saying that I didn’t actually watch ALL of Battlefield Earth. I missed the first ten minutes and then, seriously, had to watch something else after about an hour. However, I feel like I saw enough to be able to form an opinion. I know you’ll all be shocked and amazed when I tell you what you already know: this movie sucks ass. Betcha didn’t see that one coming. Please just understand that the predictability of my opinion is about a million times LESS predictable than this movie. I really wanted to come up with some clever way to twist it around to make it somehow possible to describe what is good or redeemable about Battlefield Earth. I’ve thunk it over really hard actually and I’m here to say that, honest and true, this movie is just a big steamy pile of John Travolta’s turd.

Everything I witnessed while viewing Battlefield Earth was confounding and irritating. Here are the highlights:

John Travolta can’t act. That’s not really front page news, but apparently because he had some sort of quasi-come back and people love his big goofy grin, it’s largely believed that he has some sort of talent or charisma. I say bunk. Apparently Travolta took lessons from Jon Lovitz’ Acting Guy and melded that motivation with his own startlingly good impression of baby Stewie from The Family Guy, threw on some sort of sadly designed make up and voila! The most craptastic piece of ego inflated bull**** ever committed to film. I wanted to laugh, but more than that I wanted to reach into the TV and slap the dopey, self satisfied, ego inflated grin right off his measly, jet owning face.

This movie was edited by an epileptic monkey. It doesn’t help that the piddley story that barely holds itself together is cut and spliced in such a way that makes it impossible to know (or care) what the hell is going on. From what I could piece together, Barry Pepper plays some weasel faced simpleton whose only purpose in life is to run away from John Travolta incompetently enough to keep getting caught. There’s something about gold and something else about Forest Whitaker’s character double and triple crossing John Travolta’s. Oh hell, who knows? It’s just a mushed up stew of dumb clichés. I can’t explain it any better than that. I was too distracted by the fact that all of the actors playing psychlos wore what amounted to jumbo sized KISS boots and not a single one of them could walk around in them convincingly. So any time I’d see one enter or exit a scene, I immediately would be drawn into the fantasy playing out in my head of a line of them just sort of tipping over on each other like foam rubber encrusted, dread lock wearing dominoes. Enough of this painful recitation of what I bared witness to.

Here are some rules for Battlefield Earth: The Drinking Game. As always, be careful, know your limit and have fun.

1) Any time John Travolta grabs someone else by the neck – drink and do your best melodramatic over the top bad guy laugh. Drink twice if he grabs someone besides Barry Pepper.

2) Any time Barry Pepper tries to run away – drink and yell “Run Forest Run!!”

3) Any time Barry Pepper is caught after running away – drink and sing the chorus to Loser by Beck.

4) Any time Forest Whitaker’s damn droopy eye distracts you from what’s going on around him – drink and promise yourself you’ll rent Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai because we all know he can do better than this sad sack of crap.

5) Any time a security camera is shown pushing out of or pulling back into a wall – drink and yell “peek a boo! I see you!”

6) Any time you notice how hard it looks to clomp around in those damn psychlo shoes – drink and do your best Gene Simmons impression.

7) Any time they cut to a scene using a 1970’s style, Star Wars kind of wipe – drink and sing the theme to Batman.

8) Any time a psychlo’s genital region makes you scream in either delight or horror – drink and say “It’s already wiped out the Dodo, the Cuckoo, and the Ne-Ne, and it has nasty plans for the Booby, the Titmouse, the Woodcock, and the Titpecker.” Drink 5 times if you know which episode of the Simpson’s that’s from.

9) Any time someone tries to eat, or make another person eat, a rat – drink and squeal in terror like a little girl.

10) Any time you start thinking about things like compiling a grocery list, trying to remember where your keys are, what else you could be doing or how nice it looks outside – drink and remind yourself how lucky you are not to be watching The Doom Generation.

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