'Battlefield Earth' Review: Stupid Man-Animals
The first film in our Reader Submission Month is Battlefield Earth suggested to us by Kyle Crothers. It's a film I've seen a fair number of times, not because of its compelling story line or talented acting, despite having characters played by Forest Whitaker, John Travolta, Barry Pepper, and Kim Coates. This film has won so many Razzies that it's mind blowing. In every category in which it was nominated, it won. The only nominee that managed to not get the award was Forest Whitaker, and that's only because Barry Pepper beat him for Worst Supporting Actor. The Razzies organization declared that Battlefield Earth was the worst film of the first ten years of the 2000s. They also list it as one of the top ten worst films ever made in their published guide to awful cinema. Forest Whitaker publicly regrets his involvement in the movie.
The film is based off of the first half of the book by the same name, which was written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. The second half was intended to be filmed as a sequel, but this movie received so much public hate that all thoughts of a second film were shut down. Since the movie's release John Travolta, a member of Scientology and a massive fan of Hubbard, has never put the film on any resume he has ever submitted for an audition. Nearly everyone involved with the film has either regret it, or have straight up shifted the blame on to nameless others. Battlefield Earth recorded a net loss of 43 million dollars. This film is the science fiction version of The Room, and it is glorious. This is going to be a long review, because a simple glossing of the plot would do the absurdity of this movie an injustice.
Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3000 A.D., a time period during in which a race of beings called the "Psychlos" use what is left of mankind, due to nuclear war, as mining labor. The Psychlos are a race of humanoids that range between eight and ten feet tall, wear black armor, have dreadlocks, are super strong, and breath some toxic gas that kills humans. They follow a pure form of capitalism, in which power comes from one's position within the company of the Psychlo society. Human beings have devolved in to the base form of hunter/gatherers, afraid to go out at night, and certain that monsters roam the world outside a small area of land in which they cower, or at least the ones who do not work as slaves do.
The film follows Barry Pepper, playing a young man named Johnny Goodboy Tyler. In his rebellious travels he comes across Kim Coates and another man, who make "Oook Oook" noises while hoisting spears above their heads. The duo lead Johnny through a city, explaining every day American icons such as McDonald's golden arches and mannequins as a cave man might have explained the stars in the sky or how the Grand Canyon was formed. Their tour ends in a mall, where they are all captured by Psychlos and taken to a slave camp. Here we finally meet John Travolta and Forest Whitaker. We learn that the Psychlos harvest metals from planets to craft whatever it is they make for money, and that Earth is a relatively small backwater outpost.
Travolta's portrayal of the primary villain, Terl, security leader of the Earth outpost and formerly a high ranking member of the Psychlo hierarchy, is astounding in its animated committal to the eccentric, power mad villain. It is one of the most insane roles in the long and storied history of insane John Travolta parts. Forest Whitaker takes the role of Travolta's assistant Ker. He does not fully commit to his role like Travolta, but even Whitaker can't make a cowardly, heavy handed, slimy son of a bitch in the body of a ten foot tall alien in to a compelling character.
The plot progresses as Ker discovers a recon patrol that exposes a gold vein in the hills. It's too far away for the Psychlo's portable air supplies last, so Terl decides that he will use Johnny. Johnny displays his intelligence by shooting a guard with the guard's own gun, so Terl uses a machine to gift him with knowledge of how to mine. With this plan, he can steal all the gold for himself and finally leave the planet. However, in teaching Johnny, Terl kills a few of the other human slaves, angering Johnny's character. When he learns enough to teach the other slaves, and after Terl takes him to the demolished Library of Congress to prove the Psychlo's superiority over man and instead teaches him about liberty and freedom, Johnny leads a rebellion among the slaves. The rebellion uses salvaged jet planes, rocket launchers, machine guns, and explosives in order to fight the Psychlos. They learn how to use these devices by reading training manuals and using a flight simulator. It's insane. I'm not sure how many times in this review I have used and will continue to use that word, but it is the best descriptor for the crazy plot of this film.
Stylistically the movie almost isn't horrible. It feels like a comic book, which fits the absurdity of the film itself. The lighting is grim, the cameras are covered in colored gels and screens that add an odd blue, yellow, and green hue to every shot on the main base of the Psychlos. Even the shots outside the base, where the lighting is meant to feel natural and pure is warped by the almost endless colored taints on every other scene. The soundtrack is meant to be inspiring and, when something nasty happens and the audio cuts out almost completely, shocking. It accomplishes neither of those goals, instead feeling stale and cliché.
This film is horrible. It is one of the worst films I have ever seen. Yet I have watched it many times, both drunk and sober, as well as with friends and alone. It is the best horrible movie I've ever seen, and I encourage everyone to watch it at least once with the mind set of enjoying the true campiness. Some of the things that the basic humans believe is also mildly humorous, though not nearly enough to save this titanic of a film. If you've already seen Battlefield Earth and understand what I've been discussing for this entire review, I'd suggest finding a copy of the Rifftrax audio recorded for the film and give that a watch as well. It's an extra level of hilarity on top of an already hilariously terrible film.
Final Say: Watch It Once