Movies I LOVE to HATE #1: Battlefield Earth (2000)
Director: Roger Christian
Cast: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Kim Coates, Forrest Whitaker, Sabine Karsenti, Kelly Preston
There are bad movies, and there are awful movies. Then there are films so indefensibly putrid that you feel soul sick just thinking about them.
Then, there is Battlefield Earth.
Calling this movie awful doesn't even begin to describe it. Saying that it's shoddy doesn't prepare one for the sheer ineptitude on display in the film. From its cheesy opening title to its hilarious final shot, Battlefield Earth is a text book example of how not to make a film. At least with some bad films, you can sometimes imagine ways in which the film might have improved. Maybe the story could have taken a different path or if the screenwriters addressed certain plot holes or inconsistencies. Maybe they cast a wrong leading actor or actress. The more one thinks about Battlefield Earth, however, the more one realizes that there was not a single solitary thing anyone could have done to save it. It is truly one of those rare films that was way beyond salvaging.
And yet, color me surprised, but I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Battlefield Earth is, in my mind at least, the very definition of an entertainingly awful film. Had the filmmakers intended to make a spoof out of the screenplay by Corey Mandell and J.D. Shapiro, then they would have succeeded in making one of the funniest spoofs since The Naked Gun from 1988. However, because they take everything so gosh darn seriously, they end up with a film that is often times a little funnier than that Leslie Nielsen classic.
It's almost impossible to write about Battlefield Earth in a conventional review, so instead of even trying, I shall now write up a check list of things that made no sense or were simply hilariously stupid. There's just no other way to discuss this film. So here we go:
– –The movie opens up with a scroll typed up in baby puke green letters. Apparently, earth was invaded 1,000 years ago by a gold loving alien race known as the Psychlos. The movie never even tries to explain why the Psychlos value gold so much, although given how nasty their teeth look, one could assume they plan to somehow use the gold for dental fillings.
– – It's sort of amazing how well the cities across America have held up over 1,000 years. Library books are dusty but readable. A flight simulator still works, although it's not entirely clear where it gets its electricity. That the buildings have been able to stand tall for as long as they have, for 1,000 in decay, is also something of a miracle.
– – When Jonnie first encounters the alien beings, he's hiding out in an abandoned shopping mall with two other humans (one of who makes these weird monkey noises). A Psychlo catches up with Jonnie, fires his weapon, and sends Jonnie flying through a number of perfectly positioned window panes. He shatters ever one of them with his body, and yet, somehow, when we see him in the next scene, he doesn't have a cut or a bruise on him.
– – After Jonnie and a few others are kidnapped, they are flown to their prison at the “Human Processing Center” in Denver. Before an alien even opens the doors to the spaceship transporting the humans, we hear it say something in its language, and we don't initially understand what the alien says (“Ooooo, blooga na oooooool!”). Later, we hear another alien say the exact same thing, only this time, we see in subtitles that it means “This one's untrainable. Terminate it!” In other words, the first thing the alien captives said to our human heroes, before they even open the doors for them, was “This one's untrainable. Terminate it!”
– – Apparently, for some unexplained reason, whenever someone speaks in Psychlo, it completely changes their voice. When Terl speaks in Pshychlo, his voice sounds deep and threatening, but when he speaks in English he sounds like...John Travolta, doing a really crummy British accent. The same thing happens to Jonnie when he learns how to speak Psychlo. Is there something about the dialect that affects the voice box in some way?
– – Why is everything so blue at the Human Processing Center? And why is everything purple on the planet Psychlo?
– – I'm not sure I understood Terl's plan to buy his way off of Earth. When he has Ker explain the plan to him to see if he actually understands it, he notes that because home planet owns Earth, the gold that resides there on Earth automatically belongs to them. Ker says that's what makes it the perfect crime. “The home planet doesn't know the gold exists, so those corporate crap heads, won't even know we stole it.” Yes, but, won't “home office” grow suspicious if two fellow Psychlos trapped on Earth sent them a shipment of gold saying, “can we come home now?” They're going to know the gold came from Earth and that they stole it. Or am I missing something?
– – Before Terl takes Jonnie to the mountains with the others to mine the gold for him, he hooks him up to a Psychlo learning machine that's apparently crapped out by a holographic jelly fish (I'm not kidding). This learning machine, which zaps Jonnie's eyeball with a pink light, is quite an interesting machine. Not only does it teach him how to speak Psychlo and how to mine, but it also teaches Euclidean geometry (don't ask), Molecular Biology, how to read English and how to break into the Psycho's weapons room (but luckily for Terl, it doesn't teach the humans how to load the weapons).
– – The movie gets a huge laugh when Terl snarls in frustration, “It's obviously too much to ask a man animal thing to learn a language as sophisticated as Psychlo.” I'm sorry, sophisticated? “Zoh glay gloo gloo glee glay glah!” To say that the language sounds like something made up by a three year old is to insult the intelligence of the average three year old.
– – Travolta's character Terl is a complete dunce. When he isn't trying to gain leverage over Jonnie by shoving a dead rat in his face (don't even ask) or trying to intimidate him by blowing the legs off of cows (please don't ask), he basically leaves our heroes everything they need to thwart his plans. He leaves them alone in the mountains with a space ship and, apparently, a map that helps our heroes find their way to Washington D.C. in one pointless scene; Fort Worth, Texas where all the ammo is; AND Fort Knox, so they don't have to worry about mining any gold at all. There is suppose to be an “eye in the sky” watching them. It's not doing a bang up job if you ask me.
– – We learn later in the film that human beings lost a battle with the Psychlos 1,000 years ago in a “measly 9 minute fight.” The Psychlos have had a good 1,000 years to improve upon their technology, so how are we suppose to believe that the humans can win the fight against them now, using the same weapons that failed them before? And where the heck did they get the fuel for all those fighter jets? Not only that, but....
– – How did those cavemen learn how to fly them so well in the span of a couple of days?
– – When Terl visits Jonnie in the mountains to check on the mining, he studies the gold bars the humans stole from Fort Knox. “Why is it in bars?” he asks him. Jonnie's answer is that they smelted all the gold in his honor. His answer is so stupid that you'd think Terl would pick up right away that he's lying, but he actually falls for it! When they aliens are this dumb, you can't help but wonder how in the world they ever defeated us in the first place.
– – There is one scene during the climax when one of the humans sneaks up behind an armed Psychlo and begins wailing on him mercilessly with a metal pipe. Then another Psychlo shows up, and what does the human do? He lowers the pipe, and stares at the alien with a deer in the headlights look while the alien points the gun, cackles, and shoots him. Is there any reason at all why the human did even try to take cover?
– – Another scene in the climax involves one female warrior screaming “Everyone on the ground, NOW!" when the Psychlo dome is destroyed in the climax. It's seems an unusual thing to scream into a radio, especially considering everyone is on the ground. Doesn't she mean, “Everyone go underground, now”? It would've made more sense.
There are so many other things about Battlefield Earth that are just so wrong. The costumes are atrocious (the Psychlo costumes are especially hilarious). The cinematography is terrible, especially considering over half the film is shot, for some reason, at a slanted angle. The musical score is wildly bombastic. The editing is desperate.
In spite of all of this, I still enjoy watching Battlefield Earth. As a serious sci-fi epic, the movie fails in ways you wouldn't think were humanly possible. As a comedy, it is a guarantee that when the end credits roll, your cheeks will hurt from laughing so hard. The only way this movie could be funnier is if there was a DVD release with those Mystery Science Theater guys providing commentary. With or without them, though, the movie is a lot of fun to watch.
Final Grade: 4 turds out of 4 (It's craptacular!)
no stars out of ****