I’ve blogged about some real barrel-of-crap films this last year. The Warrior’s Way and Real Steel come all-too-swiftly to mind, and Sleeping Beauty isn’t far behind. Of course, with all those movies, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. This time, I went in with my eyes wide open. You’ll soon realize what a mistake that was.
Now, I’ve watched some pretty terrible movies in my day. Cult “favorites” like Manos: The Hands of Fate, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room…you know…the real masterpieces. There is sometimes just as much joy to be found in a profoundly horrible film as there is in an actually good one.
Battlefield Earth skirts the line between hilariously bad and just…bad. I mean, it is an awful movie. Released in 2000, its special effects often look like they’ve been lifted from a late 1980s TV miniseries. Some sound effects seem like they might have been taken from public domain stock of old radio serials. The editing is haphazard, the camera work is amateur. In every technical aspect, Battlefield Earth fails, and fails hard. Even the menu on the DVD was shitty, though I can’t really blame whoever was in charge of that. The subject matter doesn’t exactly inspire excellence, after all.
John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and Barry Pepper star in this bloated pile, chewing the scenery as though they were starring in a Schumacher-helmed Batman movie. Travolta and Whitaker play the villains, a pair of “Psychlos” from the planet Psychlo. Yeah. We arrive in the year 3000, and are informed via a few bright green paragraphs that the Psychlos have ruled Earth for 1,000 years and that MAN IS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES. Eking out a caveman-like existence in irradiated parts of Colorado, Barry Pepper’s heroic Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Yeah.) sets out to…I dunno…get take-out from Golden Palace?
Instead, he and some other humans are rounded up in a very Planet of the Apes-like scene, and we learn that Brighteyes — I mean Johnny — is smarter than your average manimal. Of course, it’s not exactly rocket surgery to out-think the Psychlos, whose ridiculous scheming would give the old Megatron-Starscream dynamic a run for its money. As an example, Travolta’s Turl explains to Whitaker’s Kur that they need leverage on the humans…and that this leverage must be their favorite food. To find out their favorite food, Turl allows them to escape, tracks them through the abandoned ruins of Aspen, Colorado, and determines that they must like rat, even though its the only edible thing they come across.
Turl then shoves Johnny in a learning machine and force-feeds him rats while the device teaches him the Psychlo language and basically gives him everything he needs to overthrow his oppressors. But of course, the evil and over-confident Turl doesn’t see it that way, even after Johnny establishes multiple times that he should not be underestimated. On the contrary, Turl teaches him how to fly a Psychlo cruiser, then dumps him and a crew of humans out on an incredibly rich gold mine to extract the ore. Barely supervised, Johnny and his rag-tag bunch of revolutionaries instead take off for Washington, DC, Fort Knox in Kentucky, and Fort Hood in Texas. At that final stop, they discover an underground cache of weapons and Harrier jump-jets that are in absolutely remarkable condition after 1,000 years. They also find an atomic bomb. In just a few days, these guys master the piloting of fighter aircraft and become experts in nuclear weapons, and decide to not only assault the Psychlo’s domed base in Colorado…but also destroy their entire planet.
And so they do. With only a scant number of setbacks. Because, as we learned early in the movie, the Psychlo atmosphere ignites when exposed to radiation. Maybe that explains why they laugh hysterically, often for no apparent reason. I mean, sometimes it’s maniacal laughter, but sometimes they’re letting out these over-the-top laughs about things they really shouldn’t be amused by. They’re like the evil Dr. Hibberts of space.
Battlefield Earth isn’t even an original disaster. It rips off of all sorts of science fiction movies and falls into numerous cliches. It’s almost as if Star Wars and Planet of the Apes had an epileptic baby and gave it up for adoption to War of the Worlds.
The first half or so is suitably entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons. But at some point, I just stopped being delighted. I was actually taking notes at the beginning of things I wanted to mention, funny/stupid things the one-dimensional characters said, but I stopped and just rode out the rest of the groan-fest. It just felt like the movie would repeat itself every 20 minutes or so with escalating urgency and more explosive results each loop. And the poor cinematography and often-dim lighting don’t make it an easy movie to let wash over you.
So while it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone even vaguely familiar with entertainment that Battlefield Earth is a hot mess of stupid, I can’t even say it’s so-bad-it’s-good. Now that I have experienced it for myself, I’d say it’s something you should try only if you absolutely have to. Like rat.