[This review contains plot spoilers.]
Battlefield Earth is a movie that I had heard much about; its practically universal reputation as a terrible film despite a (reportedly) big budget and some big name stars intrigued me, making me wonder if I had achieved my goal; that I may be about to discover the pinnacle of ‘So bad they’re good’ movies…
The film opens in a desert camp, 1000 years after aliens took over earth, where some of the last remaining humans live a primitive, tribal existence. Instantly the film’s absurdity is beyond comprehension – what should be simple exposition is plagued by consistently ridiculous statements and clichés. When our hero (with the vomit-inducing name Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler) is debating the future of the tribe with the apparent leaders he breaks into some sort of fit, writhing his limbs and kicking dirt around to accurately portray his opinion that they may not be safe. Why they are reduced to such an eccentric yet primitive existence isn’t entirely clear; a couple of sentences in the opening crawl were seemingly enough to fob off these fundamental questions in the filmmakers’ eyes. This primitive aspect reaches a new, hilarious height when Tyler meets members of another tribe; they disagree and so make loud monkey noises at each other for 2 minutes. At multiple points in the production; the writing, the shooting, the editing, test screenings and so on; never did someone decide this may, just perhaps, be unbearably stupid, that any tension therein may be ruined by grown men, all with facility to have intelligent conversation, making howling noises at each other when faced with a dispute.
Some more nonsense happens before the aliens appear; the ‘Psychlos’, supposedly named by a writer’s 9 year old child. The main Psychlos featured in the movie are played by John Travolta and Forest Whitaker, otherwise good actors here hamming up their roles in such a way that you sincerely hope it is a self-aware act of ridicule. Like I say, I hope, but there’s not much to inspire hope in this movie. Despite wandering around looking like members of a terrible Klingon Death Metal band, we’re lead to believe they’re greatly successful in harvesting entire planets of their metals, but our insight into their world proves them to be completely inept. Tactical meetings descend into petty infighting & taunts, and they usually struggle to control a group of 50 non-educated, unarmed humans; who knows how they managed to wipe out nearly 6 billion of us with the entire world’s military forces at hand. Half of the time these dramas are completely pointless because, since they’re all the baddies anyway, we simply don’t care who’s stabbing who in the back. Even ignoring that point, they’re usually such tame yet contrived schemes that the implied twists are non-existent and John Travolta’s ‘character’ is so eccentric that it’d seem like he was a comic relief character, if not for the fact that he’s the main antagonist. He’s wisecracking (or indeed ‘dumb-cracking’) one minute, then coldly killing a secondary character the next. Are we supposed to fear him or laugh at him? The makers clearly didn’t know so good luck figuring it out for yourself.
The plot is at once so drudgingly boring and wildly incoherent that recalling it is more like a series of horrible memories than one single thread. Lowlights come when the religious tones barge in like a particularly obnoxious bull in a china shop as Tyler manages to unite the thousands of humans the Psychlos have as slaves then discovers science (these events do actually happen as flippantly as I write them). Put to mining gold; the most precious intergalactic commodity; Tyler’s newfound knowledge allows them to break into Fort Knox to steal their quota and use the rest of their time to plan an assault with the US Air Force jets that somehow still function after 1000 years lying dormant. Given the unexplained ease with which they break into Fort Knox and the Psychlo’s combination of massively advanced technology & extreme desire for gold it seems odd that they didn’t think of going in for themselves sometime in the last millenum but perhaps that’s just nitpicking.
The final battle sequence seems to last about 6 hours; it’s a near-unwatchable mess where it’s never entirely clear what precisely is happening, who’s winning or losing, or which characters have died. This is all accompanied by effects that I can only describe as truly unacceptable. Many Sci-Fi films have the odd questionable effects shot, but there is not a single one in Battlefield Earth that looks anything less than appalling. I genuinely think that some shots would be rivalled by a PlayStation 2 game for realism. This brings into question the matter of the budget. I had glanced at a publicised budget of about $75 million. Turns out that was a lie; the producers told everyone that figure when in fact it was far less than half that; $44million; which, once Travolta and other people had got their pay checks, left about $10million for the actual film’s production and effects which is less than nothing in Hollywood terms, not least a Sci-Fi epic. They were sued for fraud; a lawsuit I am considering following up on based on the only critics’ quote on my DVD;
“Fantastic special effects”
-popcorn.co.uk (now defunct)
In addition to the horrible acting, plot, effects and script, I had heard about the film’s overuse of Dutch Angles (where the camera is held at a jaunty angle). Still I was unprepared. In moderation Dutch Angles can have great effect; Sam Raimi makes great use of unusual camera angles for example; but literally EVERY shot in this film has a Dutch Angle; scenic shots, long shots, close-ups, establishing shots, interior, exterior, moving camera, static camera. Near the end of the film, the following completely static shot of a building appears. Accuse me of OCD if you will, but this shot, after having already endured the majority of the film, was the last straw; every millisecond that the image burned into my retinas pushed me closer to tearing out my own eyes.
I think it may be apparent that I did not particularly enjoy this film. No, I would sooner wade through electrified barbed wire than force myself to endure this film again. It has countless components that should make it a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie, and indeed some hilarious moments, but it goes too far; it’s so brainlessly sombre, so unaware of how ridiculous it is, that after just half an hour it is not at all enjoyable, even from the perspective of a lover of good-bad films.
Since it’s my own site, I am allowed to give it 0/10 as it has absolutely no redeeming qualities.