Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shitty Movie Review - Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000

I recently suffered through a string of bad movies, including America's Sweethearts, Serendipity, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Osmosis Jones, and Mixed Nuts. After such disappointment, I didn't have the time nor the attention span to dedicate to any truly good movies, so instead I went in the opposite direction, looking for a truly bad movie. 2000's Battlefield Earth has been maligned to the ends of our Earth and back. Yes, it is bad, but not entirely so, and unfortunately its negative reputation exceeds its shittiness. That doesn't mean it compares favorably to Plan 9 From Outer Space, as that would be unfair to Plan 9, but it is its own kind of shitty, and despite being horrible, it is still entertaining.

Much of the negative publicity that surrounded the film stemmed from the novel's authorship by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. A lot of people felt, whether they had actually seen the film or not, that the movie would be a means of subliminally indoctrinating viewers with the tenets of Scientology. There was a lot of concern that this would be a Scientology movie as, after all, Scientology's second most famous follower had helped champion it and was in one of the leading roles. But those people clearly never watched the movie, since they would have realized that if it had anything to do with Scientology, it was the single-most, worst possible means of ever popularizing the religion.

Very little meaning can be gleaned from Battlefield Earth which paints themes with broad brush strokes that seldom materialize into anything that really makes sense. It is a sloppily constructed movie with ambitious but severely limited production design and inferior acting the likes of which make elementary school plays seem like Olivier's Hamlet. In other words, it's glorious.

I've never heard the word "leverage" used so much, and it made me wonder whether the characters in the movie actually knew what it meant. Never at any point do they try to define "leverage" or refer to it in other terms. The visual effects are poor, even by 2000's standards, with extensive blue screen that is laughably bad. Concepts such as scale and depth appeared to be lost on the creators of this film. Too much has been said about the costume design, so to touch upon that is to simply flog a dead horse.

Director Roger Christian's constant use of center wipes seemed like a nod to or take on George Lucas' side wipes in Star Wars. (Christian was a protégé of Lucas', having worked as a second unit director on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The poor direction should seem much more obvious now.) Too bad no one told him copying Lucas' direction, particularly his overused and outdated wipes, was not the best of choices.

But the acting, oh the acting. Christian is clearly an actor's director, if by that I meant he says "Action" immediately followed by "Print." Acting in the film fell into two camps: the man-animals and the Psychlos. The man-animals, led by Barry Pepper's Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, portray themselves as a cross between Neanderthals, Brendan Fraser in Encino Man, and the apes from Planet of the Apes. They alternate between grunting and talking coherently with the occasional 20th century colloquialism ("piece of cake"). The Psychlos fare no better. It seems as though they are constantly talking to each other as if they're all 1930s vaudevillers, complete with lame jokes, pausing for reaction, sniggering, distasteful punchlines, then more sniggering. John Travolta, who plays the lead baddie, Terl, does as good a job of acting in this film as anyone else, which doesn't say much. He gets the most scenes to chew on, and at least he bought into the character and the story. On second thought, maybe he shouldn't have. Others, like the poorly used Forrest Whitaker as Ker, act as though the movie is a joke, waiting for the director to yell, "Do it again, but try to embody the character this time." But the director never did.

My favorite scene, though, involved Terl confronting Ker with trying to get "leverage" over him. Ker has copied evidence of Terl's fraud and given it to an associate for safekeeping. Terl tries to guess who Ker could have given the evidence to. The mechanic? Cut to a Dutch angle shot of Forrest Whitaker chortling on the left of the screen. A concubine? Cut to a Dutch angle shot of Forrest Whitaker chortling on the right of the screen. The options exhausted, Terl has one last suggestion, music building, and he reaches into a box and pulls out a head: "Our friendly bartender!" Rim shot, then cut to Forrest Whitaker not laughing. But I did. Snigger, chortle, guffaw. Those Psychlos are such comedians.

My shitty movie rating: 8 turds out of 10. Rent it now!

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