The Film: Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000,
The Principals: Roger Christian (Director), John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, Barry Pepper, Kim Coates
The shitty science fiction writer who came up with the most retarded religion imaginable wrote a massive 1000 page bad science fiction book. After 20 years of trying, the cultists who followed him got it made.
Is it Good:
I wish I could just leave it at that. I saw Battlefield Earth for the first time last night and I assumed that this was one of those terrible movies where everybody was simply overstating the case. Yeah, it was probably really bad but I’ve seen some films that are simply atrocious – try sitting through all of Garden of the Dead and get back to me – so it seemed likely that this was just bad in that special way Hollywood movies are bad.
This was not the case. It’s one of the worst movies I have ever seen, an utter trainwreck that was so hard to watch I had to force myself to keep looking at the screen. Battlefield Earth is one of the ugliest movies I have ever watched, and Roger Christian’s insistence on constantly using Dutch angles makes the film literally difficult to watch; I was getting kind of nauseous from quick cutting between one ridiculously angled shot and another.
Beyond that the film is irredeemably stupid; every element of the plot seems to exist only to make the audience go ‘What the fuck is the point of that?’ The 9 foot tall evil aliens, the Psychlos, are ludicrous not just in appearance but in concept, in culture, in action, in history and in every frame of this movie. The only pleasure I got from watching Battlefield Earth was from Travolta’s high camp performance, where he seems to be playing Rob Zombie if Rob Zombie was a very gay English twerp.
The film killed Barry Pepper’s career, I guess, and rightfully so. He’s awful. Flat, dull, and towards the end wearing what appeared to be fucking pigtails, Pepper is among the least charismatic leading men I have ever seen. He’s constantly upstaged by Kim Coates, who plays a caveman from the Bowery, and who at least has a presence of some kind.
What really kept me going through the film was trying to figure out just how serious everyone was taking the movie when they made it. Travolta is the most Scientological faithful in the cast, as far as I know, and he’s the guy hamming it up the most. Then again, he’s a member of a religion that is BASED ON SPACE OPERA, so it’s hard to tell what these people take seriously. But the entire film is tonally disastrous, because the high camp and comedy of the Psychlos doesn’t mesh with all the sturm und drang of the extinction of mankind and the caveman stuff; it’s like a bunch of clowns conquered the Earth. There’s just such a lack of menace to them, especially when Travolta’s most badass moment is SHOOTING THE LEG OFF OF A COW.
I did like that the movie ended with our caveman heroes blowing up a whole planet (since in the mind of religious leader L Ron Hubbard the idea that an atmosphere could explode when exposed to ‘radiation’ makes some sort of sense), but it was 110 minutes of tedium and unfunny humor to get there. And this, by the way, is just half the novel – there’s another 500 pages of mental illness from Hubbard waiting to be adapted.
No. This isn’t a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie. It’s intriguingly insane, and it seems to have been made by someone without a firm grasp on film, humanity or reason, but it’s not entertaining enough to actually sit through.
Scientologists had been trying to get this piece of shit made since 1982, when the book was released. In a true indicator of the bizareness of that ‘religion,’ Scientology put a 30 foot tall inflatable Terl (Travolta’s character, and the villain of the piece) on Hollywood Boulevard in 1984. While the movie backs off from the Scientology stuff, the book is a subliminal ad for the cult – the Psychlos are ruled by Catrists, which if you say it right sounds like the last half of psychiatrists, the people that Hubbard hated the most. There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the book that indicates that psychiatry is to blame for the Psychlos being a planet of assholes; meanwhile a caveman historian in the year 3000 talks about psychiatry as a human fad that went away.
Cinematic Soulmates: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Zardoz, Any Movie About a Cult