Monday, November 2, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #2: Battlefield Earth

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

If and when I gain dictatorial powers over the American continent (because yes, I will annex Canada as lebensraum), one of my first acts will be to round up the producers and director of Battlefield Earth and have them unceremoniously put up against a wall and shot. John Travolta will be stripped of his citizenship and exiled (he gets a free pass for Pulp Fiction). Remember this when you are proclaiming your loyalty to Generalissimo Boivin, lord of the former United States and Canada and Protector of Mexico, in the Oath of Obedience to the Boivinian Union of America: the overthrow of our democracy has its roots in the great offense I took from watching this terrible, terrible movie.

Battlefield Earth ("a Saga of the Year 3000"!) is of course based on a novel by Scientology founder, pulp science fiction author, and snake oil salesman L. Ron Hubbard. The setting is one thousand years in the future, the year 3000 to be exact and an advanced race of aliens known as the Psychlos (really) has nearly wiped out and enslaved all of humanity. As you the viewer are constantly reminded, "man is an endangered species!" The Psychos are ten feet tall and have six fingers, they also have a preference for dreadlocks and bad acting. The best way to describe how they look might be as a combination of the Klingons from Star Trek: Enterprise and Rob Zombie at the height of his recording career wearing Fremen stillsuits. Did I mention they have six fingers? There seems to have been an order from the Church of Scientology that as many shots as possible be close-ups of the Psychlos' hands to emphasize the fact that they have six fingers. Either them or the creature effects union.

As has been stated before, the Psychos have taken over Earth, and have the bragging rights of conquering the planet in nine minutes flat. Pretty impressive, eh? That would certainly set high standards for their level of technological development and military know-how, right? You would think that only a more advanced race would be able to overthrow them, right? Also, that happened a thousand years ago, clearly they've advanced since then and become even more powerful. After all, the United States military could probably take on an army of Vikings or other eleventh-century warriors. Given that humans have since been reduced to a Stone Age level of civilization post-Pyschlo conquest, it's pretty obvious that it would be borderline impossible for any sort of resistance to be put up by humanity at this point, right?

Well, please ignore all of these glaringly hard truths because without them there would be no Battlefield Earth and there's no denying that this movie exists, no matter how much you might wish and pray that it doesn't. Barry Pepper, an actor who I really didn't like in the first place and now I have a bona fide reason to straight up hate, is a cave man who wanders away from his village and gets captured by the Psychlos, led by a hammy, hammy John Travolta and his right-six-fingered-hand-man Forest Whitaker. The Psychlos decide, for some reason, to teach Pepper their language so that they can better use humans for gold mining, because that's how creative L. Ron Hubbard was: the most valuable resource to our alien overlords is gold for some reason. Barry Pepper soon learns enough about human history and stuff from Travolta's super convenient lasik surgery encyclopedia (enPsychlopedia?) that he finds a way to get all the humans to rise up against their extraterrestrial oppressors. He's even able to teach them how to fly Harrier freaking Jump Jets and use atomic bombs in a short span of time. Keep in mind these things were powerless to stop the Psychlos in the nine minute worldwide initial war against them and those were well-maintained newly built machines piloted by experts with years of training, not cave men. Even Rob Kunzig, a man who has probably spent more time in his life playing flight simulators than speaking to me, would require months if not years of training to proficiently pilot one of these things in a combat situation. But no, you can teach a group of neanderthals, men with no knowledge of what a airplane is let alone any basic understanding of how you might operate one let alone any variety of vehicle, to pilot them in the span of a few days if you really need to.

Those are just the plot holes. Sometimes if a movie is well acted and/or directed enough, or at least has enough good special effects, one can suspend their disbelief and ignore glaring inconsistencies or failures of logic. The problem with this movie is that 1. the plot holes are waaaaay too big and 2. there is nothing at all good about this movie. The acting is just plain bad. Like bad bad. Maybe it's just that if you give even a good actor a crappy script, he's still going to look like an ass who couldn't act his way out a wet paper bag. The fact that there are no good actors in this movie (Travolta has less than a smattering of "good" performances, Whitaker is hit-or-miss and has done things that should get his Oscar taken away, and Pepper has the good fortune of having been sixth-billed in a great movie) doesn't help either. You could have the Royal Shakespeare Company appear in this catastrophe and it would still suck.

Probably the film's greatest sin is the obligatory "Braveheart Speech" rallying all the humans to fight for their "freeeeeeeeedommmmmm!!!"Among other offenses, the phrase "blow the dome!" is repeated at least twelve times with no respect for its oral sex connotations. That's unforgivable.

A major tenant of Scientology is that the genre of space opera is merely the ancestral memory of our thetans or whatever popping back into our heads from previous lives or something. Since Battlefield Earth is a space opera written by Scientology's prophet and founder, it holds a certain position of respect in Scientological circles, I would imagine. This being a semi-sacred text, Travolta's championing of its film adaptation as a pet project can be something comparable to Mel Gibson's work on the Passion. Now, say what you will about Gibson or his religious views, the Passion is a well-done film in that its goal is to show you the brutality of Jesus' death and make you feel really sad about it. It accomplishes its mission in that regard. I'm not sure what sort of proselytising Travolta and director Roger Christian were hoping to do with this movie, but if I were in charge of Scientology I would suppress the hell out of this. Considering it bombed horribly (and essentially swept the Golden Raspberries) I guess official action on the Church's part really wasn't necessary.

Battlefield Earth is as good a refutation of the Church of Scientology as any that exists. Well, maybe not as good as this one.

Battlefield Earth is ranked #27 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 3% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.