All right, folks. The Day of Reckoning has come.
Some of you may remember that I failed last year’s horror film challenge and, as a result, invited you to choose my punishment movie. You chose Battlefield Earth because you’re horrible monsters, all of you.
Now that I’ve finally seen this movie, I feel qualified to say that nobody deserves this film inflicted upon them. No one.
I refuse to create a Spoiler Section for those of you who have not seen this movie. I don’t want you to watch this movie. Please listen to me and don’t watch this movie.
In the year 3000, humans — who are an endangered species and basically the cavemen of the future — will fight their alien tyrants, the Psychlos, for control of Earth.
1. The bad guys in a story should never be called “Psychlos.” Ever.
I mean, I feel like that shouldn’t even need to be said. You shouldn’t be able to take one letter away from the name of your evil alien race and get the word “psychos” unless you’re writing a tongue-n-cheek space battle spoof. Likewise, your hero? Probably shouldn’t be named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler because seriously. Was Valiant Jack McHero taken? This is dumb.
2. Of course, that’s barely hitting the tip of the iceberg for Dumbest Things About This Movie, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie that fails on so many levels. Okay, that’s probably not true, but as Mekaela and I were watching, I couldn’t help but think of Alone in the Dark, which is one of the only movies that I’ve ever actually graded an F on this blog. (Technically, it got an F+.) And you know what? I actually feel a little bit bad about that now because if I had to pick between watching that or Battlefield Earth ever again, I would pick Alone in the Dark in a HEARTBEAT.
At least Alone in the Dark was fun to mock. If I hadn’t been obligated to finish this movie, I would have turned it off twenty minutes into the film.
3. One of my biggest problems with Battlefield Earth is the chronology. Let me explain:
A Rough Chronology:
2000: The Psychlos invade and attack all humankind.
Nine Minutes Later: The Psychlos conquer all humankind.
3000: The Psychlos still have command over Earth, mining it for gold. (What is it with aliens looking for gold? I refuse to ever take this seriously.) The humans, meanwhile, are either kept as slaves, used primarily for manual labor, or live out their lives, free, but as frightened, primitive cave-dwellers . (My anthropology teachers would have killed me for using the word “primitive,” but that’s obviously how we’re supposed to see them and indeed is part of my problem with the story.)
The thing about the thousand-year span? It’s somehow both too long and too short of a time for the story that’s being told here.
3A. Why a 1000 years is too short:
What do you know about the year 1000? Possibly not a lot. If so, don’t feel bad — I don’t know a lot about 1000 AD either, or, for that matter, very much about the years that came before it. I do know some things, though, and you do too — for instance, you may have heard of guys such as Julius Caesar or Socrates or Charlemagne. All people that existed more than a thousand years ago, but we know their names (at the very least) because of school, because of books, because of friends and teachers, parents and pastors. We certainly don’t know everything about such men, and even celebrated historians probably have all kinds of things wrong, but nonetheless, we have some idea about the people and the societies that existed a millennia ago.
Now, the humans of Battlefield Earth are not so lucky in that they don’t have the local library or Stanford or Google as resources — their lives kind of suck. Fine. But I simply don’t believe that in a 1,000 years, we’ve so de-evolved as people that we apparently lost the ability to pass on any kind of history. The Cave People of the Future appear to be completely illiterate. They don’t know anything about aliens. They believe that abandoned cities were once the home of the gods.
And that just seems ridiculous to me. Of course language would have changed over a thousand years, but that no one bothered to write down any of what happened to them to pass on to their descendants? Please. Sure, we wouldn’t have Word anymore or a surplus of Five Star Notebooks, but you know, get creative. Use berry juice. Write some shit on the walls. Hieroglyphics, anything. You can do it. (And if the Useless Romantic Interest can carry a drawing of her boyfriend around for Plot Reasons, then clearly there’s something to write on besides the cave walls.)
Even if we became entirely dependent upon oral tradition — which I still feel is unlikely — that doesn’t automatically mean we lose all chance of holding on to our past. I do think we’d probably come to a lot of false conclusions, but you know what I think we’d manage to hold on to? The concept of aliens.
What makes Battlefield Earth particularly terrible is that it picks and chooses the most ridiculous things that we apparently remember. Math? Math is gone. No one’s ever heard of math before, much less Euclidian geometry. But we know the phrase, “Piece of cake.” We really know it — the characters repeat it maybe six or seven times during the film. Yes, we don’t know that 2+ 2 = 4 anymore, but we know that an easy thing to do is referred to as a piece of cake. Assholes. You don’t even know what cake is! You’ve never had cake in your miserable little lives!
Also: Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) is known as a Greener because he — and I shit you not — feels that the grass is always greener on the other side. Oh, and apparently, a good woman is hard to find.
I just want to cry. This is such bullshit.
3B: Of course, I suppose most of what I just mentioned is all theoretical. It’s (barely) possible that in the face of crushing defeat, humans would revert to living like cavemen in ancient times, making monkey noises and dressing like cheap extras from The Clan of the Cave Bear. But it is actually literally impossible for this movie’s happy ending to occur over a thousand years after the initial alien attack.
Why? Well, the humans attack the Psychlos with things like jets — because things like jets apparently work perfectly after a 1,000 years of disuse. Also, jet fuel — I guess it doesn’t evaporate. Also, flight simulators — yeah, those work perfectly too. And I’m sure that all the jet fighter pilots who watched this movie must have really appreciated the fact that their job can apparently be easily learned and perfected in the space of a week by illiterate cave dwellers with no problem at all.
4. And man — I feel like I’m not even scratching the surface of all the plot holes in this movie. For instance, let’s talk for a minute about how Jonnie learns all that crazy Euclidean geometry.
Terl (John Travolta) forces Jonnie to learn the Psychlos’ language to better communicate with him. He does this through some kind of Magical Babel Fish Machine — basically, Jonnie stares at this crazy purple light for a while and learns how to speak Psychlo. But he learns all sorts of other things too, like what triangles are, and it’s this new awesome knowledge that eventually allows Jonnie to lead the others in revolt and not only kill all the Pyschlos on this planet but destroy the shit out of the Psychlos’ homeworld too.
Putting aside Terl’s massive incompetence for a moment — it seems somewhat unlikely that Jonnie would really learn how to find the angle of an isosceles triangle through this process since, presumably, the species is advanced enough to come up with a way to transmit Introduction to Psychlo without a Geometry 101 rider attached. But I could (I suppose) forgive that, as I think the Magical Babel Fish Machine is really supposed to be the Magical Transmit Our Entire Psychlo Culture in Under a Minute Machine, and maybe understanding their culture without understanding things like mathematics would simply be impossible. Why the Psychlos would refer to this as Euclidean geometry makes no sense, as Euclidean geometry is named after the exceedingly human mathematician Euclid, who the Psychlos clearly know nothing about . . . but let’s move past that.
Here’s the real problem: Jonnie somehow learns how to read and write English through the use of the Magical Babel Fish Machine. And if the Psychlos knew how to read and write English, I could forgive that too, but as far as I can tell, they can’t even speak English, much less read and write it.
. . . you know, instead of using the Double Face Palm for when a movie is such an epic fail, I think I might start using pictures of my kittens. For instance, this picture?
This picture is of Bane, and she’s going to represent how movies like this drive me fucking crazy.
5. But let’s go back to Terl’s incompetence — and, indeed, the collective incompetence of the entire Psychlo species.
We’ll start with Terl giving our hero all the tools he needs to overthrow his enemies — yes, that’s always a smart plan. Why does he do this? Well, he wants to use the humans to mine for gold, but as he thinks it’s ridiculous that the “man-animals” could operate machinery, he decides he’ll need to teach them how to do this, and so picks the most defiant prisoner who’s always trying to escape as the likeliest candidate to receive all this knowledge. Oy.
But that’s only scratching the surface of this man’s stupidity. Terl sends Jonnie and a bunch of his fellow humans away to go mine for gold without any direct supervision at all. Not a single Psychlo stays behind to make sure these guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Oh, sure, there are cameras supposedly watching their every move. But since the cameras fail to capture both the arrival of Jonnie’s woodland tribe friends and Jonnie taking off in the shuttle to go fly around America — well, they don’t appear to be very efficient cameras, do they? What, are they too busy filming the intricate mating dance of squirrels?
And where do Jonnie and a few of his closest pals fly off to? Among other places — Fort Knox, where they pick up a shitload of gold and pretend that they mined for it. Which is to say that in the thousand years that the Psychlos have been on Earth, they have never found the gold in Fort Knox. A THOUSAND years.
Oh. My. God.
6. Also, remember that chronology I listed before, where I said that the humans fell only nine minutes after the initial invasion? That wasn’t just me being me — that’s apparently what happened. So Battlefield Earth would have you believe that while humans at the top of their game couldn’t last more than ten minutes against their alien conquerors, humans who can’t read, write, add, or subtract managed to launch a counteroffensive so powerful that they blew up an entire planet . . . and they only needed one week’s training under Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to do it.
That’s it. I can’t do it anymore. I’m hiding behind my cat.
Nygma, stop being sleepy and protect me!
7. But hell . . . I haven’t even talked about the acting yet.
Well, it’s about as terrifying as you might expect.
Here’s the thing: I’ve never considered John Travolta to be a particularly great actor, but I’ve liked him in movies before: Pulp Fiction, Look Who’s Talking, the incredibly epic Broken Arrow. I certainly don’t think he’s the worst thing that’s ever come across the big screen. And yet in this movie . . . he’s so unfathomably bad. He’s speaking with what might be considered an extremely vague British accent that comes and goes when it pleases, and basically every time he opens his mouth, I want to punch him in the face. (What makes the accent-of-sorts particularly laughable is that he continues to talk through clenched teeth, and the result is . . . fairly ridiculous.)
And Barry Pepper . . . I haven’t seen Barry Pepper in a lot but from what I remember, he’s perfectly respectable in movies (and TV movies) such as Saving Private Ryan, True Grit, and 61* — and yet here — here I don’t even know what to say about him except that it’s all just terrible. I know the dialogue he has to work with is crap, but still . . . good Lord. The first few scenes alone earned him that Razzie win.
The only even slightly redeemable people in this movie are Forest Whitaker . . .
. . . and Kim Coates . . .
. . . who aren’t good, exactly, but seem to do the best they can with what they have to work with. Which is basically nothing at all.
8. Although Coates — along with Barry Pepper — is forced to do a ridiculous amount of slow-motion screaming. (Coates probably only had to scream two or three times. I think I lost track how often Jonnie screamed in — supposed — agony or fury.) And it’s not just the screaming — there’s a ridiculous amount of slow-mo everything. Between that, the intrusive score, and some truly terrible and vaguely Shakespearian line deliveries, someone clearly wanted this movie to be an EPIC DRAMA.
Clearly, that person failed on every conceivable level.
9. Who is this person, you might ask? Well, that would be the director: Roger Christian. And allow me to blow your mind for a minute? This man has won an Oscar.
What. The. Fuck.
Now, he didn’t win for Best Director. He won for Best Art Direction – Set Direction, for a little movie you might recognize . . .
He was also nominated in the same category for Alien. ALIEN.
So, you’re thinking, Okay. He’s clearly an abysmal director who doesn’t know how to coach actors or recognize gigantic flaws in the script, but at least this movie LOOKS good, right? And your logic would be sound, but you’d still be wrong.
Battlefield Earth looks terrible from set to makeup to lighting to CGI. The lighting gets me especially — you know how horror movies like to shoot creepy scenes in red or green or blue? It’s like that, but possibly less subtle — and with more yellow as well. The Psychlos makeup is inconsistent. The CGI is bad, even for 2000, and the set direction and cinematography are just so ugly and uninspired. Oh, and everything is shot at some crazy angle for no reason I can see — which I’ll admit, I didn’t notice at first despite the fact that it’s everywhere because I have this theory that my brain is wonky when it comes to seeing straight lines. But once I went back looking for it, it became really apparent.
And for Christ’s sake: no more wipes EVER. I thought the Star Wars wipe was bad, shit. I’d take that any day over the . . . I don’t know . . . the stage curtain wipe? It probably has an actual name — the wipe begins in the center of the screen and pulls back like stage curtains. It’s a truly horrible transition, and Roger Christian uses it over and over and over.
What made it particularly funny, though? In the beginning, after Jonnie returns home with medicine for his unfortunately already dead father — medicine Jonnie tosses away in rage like a JACKASS because if his father can’t take the medicine, NOBODY gets it — he leaves the tribe in a huff because there is no destiny or god or monster or some emo bullshit. The tribe’s shaman then stands over some hill looking at the skies like he’s looking at the Red Sea, and I was like, “And Moses parted the sea,” or something, and then the screen actually parted.
Laughed my ass off.
10. I briefly mentioned earlier: Jonnie has a love interest in this movie.
Her name is Chrissy (Chrissy? Really?) and she has no purpose in this movie at all, other than to be leverage. For you see, leverage is something of a theme in this film . . . pounded in with about all the subtlety that you’d expect from a treasure like this . . . and with one tiny change I can pretty much write her out of the movie entirely and the story would be the exact same. Of course, that would be sad, because she’s one of only two female speaking parts in the whole film, and the other is only there because she’s John Travolta’s wife.
Kelly Preston’s actual character? Maybe three minutes of screen time and even less important than Chrissy. Which is saying something.
11. Did I mention the humans blow up an entire planet? Got to like a movie where the heroes blow up a whole planet and no one even blinks an eye or whispers the word, “Genocide.”
12. Finally, I feel like I should mention that though this movie is based off of L. Ron Hubbard’s novel — well, the first half, anyway — it doesn’t appear to have very much to do with Scientology. If anyone feels differently, please comment — because I am certainly not a Scientology expert — but from what I’ve heard about their crazy mythos . . . shit, at least a movie infused with galactic overlords and soul-volcanoes might have been fun.
We are defeated.
If you’ve conquered a planet with the express purpose of gaining their gold . . . actually look for their gold.
Also: I have to watch all my westerns this year. I have to. I can’t go through this again. My brain won’t take it.