The Good: Umm . . . Special effects?
The Bad: Characters, ACTING!!!! Plot. Direction.
The Basics: In about 117 minutes, three were actually engaging. The rest was predictable, obvious and ESPECIALLY poorly acted.
[Like many films I reviewed a long time ago and did not like, I did not go back and rewatch "Battlefield Earth" before revising and moving this review. The only thing that truly caught me was my assertion that Barry Pepper couldn't act. I guess this wasn't his best performance. There are other movies that prove he can act, so I let the comment stand with this note! Enjoy!]
I went into Battlefield Earth expecting the film to be a complete lemon. I've never been much of a fan of John Travolta (Primary Colors still ranks near the bottom of my film barrel) and a lot of people I respected told me this was the worst movie of all time. The truth is, it isn't. I've seen worse films. I've reviewed plenty of films that - given the opportunity - I would rate worse than this film. At the moment, the only one to come to mind is the awful National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Okay, there may not be a LOT of worse films than Battlefield Earth, but there are some.
Battlefield Earth is the story of the year 3000. In that year, humans have been enslaved and driven toward extinction by the evil forces of the planet . . . ::shudder:: Psychlo. Okay, the film had me surprisingly engaged until the first mention of the villains as "Psychlos." For one reason or another, the Psychlos have been killing off people for a thousand years while they strip mine Earth. It has never occurred to them in that entire time to enslave people. So, why do they bother to keep humans in cages?
That question is the first of many unsatisfactorily answered in the film. And it's a pretty huge question. Another one is, if the Psychlo people value metal so much and they're so intelligent, when they arrived, why didn't they: #1. Notice coins are made of metal and assume they came from somewhere and look for where all the coins were produced as a source of gold (i.e. that Fort Knox lasts 1,000 years after an alien invasion whose purpose is gold is somewhat absurd) and #2 Disassemble every skyscraper in the world? I mean, let's face it, if metal is your thing, there are tons and tons of it in skyscrapers.
Perhaps the writer (the founder of scientology L. Ron Hubbard) never considered these obvious points that struck me rather instantly when the film began. I suppose the simple answer is that the Psychlo only want our gold. Why didn't they just ask? The film references the Psychlo invasion and how it took nine minutes for the Psychlo to destroy the military powers of Earth. That being the case, how is it that the supposed protagonists in the film find a perfectly usable air force? Okay, but getting back to this allusion of the nine minute collapse of the Earth military, it occurs to me that the writer has no clear understanding of how humans work. Faced with a clearly superior foe, humans are resourceful. Who wouldn't believe that 21st Century humans, faced with extinction or ponying up some dough wouldn't sell ourselves for freedom. That is, the purpose of this film is instantly overlooked; were aliens to invade today and say "Your money or your life" the Earth governments would say "What money?" and the Psychlos would say "Arg, matey, we come for your gold!" and who wouldn't believe that the human government wouldn't laugh and say, "You want our gold, well, okay!" The truth is, the world no longer runs on a gold standard. There's not enough gold on the planet to equal the unified world currencies. We'd say, "here are all our major sources of gold, go away and don't come back."
Okay, so from the beginning, we know that the film is absolutely pointless and unrealistic.
Given that, the film opens by insulting our intelligence by presenting Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (no, it's not "Greenboy" as it sounds throughout the film!). Jonnie is a human who rides a horse, dresses in rags and has an annoyingly pretty-boy face for a time when humans are nearing extinction. Jonnie is promptly captured by the Psychlo after setting up a pathetic romantic subplot.
I'm irked at films where things are post-apocalyptic and everyone is a de-evolved numbnut dressed in furs. If we're to believe that air force planes put together by the lowest bidder will last for a thousand years, why wouldn't we believe that malls are occasionally looted for ancient clothes that are still intact?
The Psychlo security chief, Terl, upset about being stuck on Earth indefinitely, strikes upon an unbrilliant plan: let's take the malcontent human who has been killing Psychlo and use him and his friends for an experiment. Terl decides it's time to try using humans as slaves. Unsupervised. So, Terl and Goodboy educate each other on the ways of their people as Goodboy and friends plan to destroy the Psychlo city.
Okay, I'll get off the plot shortcomings. There are way too many. It's an obvious attempt to be Star Wars and instead of the Empire, it's the humans fighting the Klingons from Star Trek. Whoever designed the costumes clearly stole them from the Klingon uniforms established in Star Trek The Motion Picture."
John Travolta is horrible in his acting. He plays a huge, burly villain with the most annoyingly high pitched voice. Poor Forest Whitaker, relegated to the assistant to Terl! It's a sad thing when fine actors take bad parts. Whitaker makes due with it as best he can. Sabine Karsenti is obvious as the romantic interest in the film's weakest, most obvious subplot. The real loser of the film on the acting front is Barry Pepper. Maybe he's a scientologist friend of Travolta's, I honestly don't know. He can't act his way out of a paper bag, though. Both the acting and the character are truly pathetic, uninspired and utterly unrealistic.
None of the characters come alive. Terl has moments of being villainous and in control, but his critical underestimating of the humans - especially after he sees what they are capable of when Goodboy (I shudder every time I write that name) kills a Psychlo lieutenant of his - undoes any of that.
This film doesn't even entertain as it is something too obvious. Every frame screams "Hero story you've seen before!" And while the best such films use villains that are wonderful and the equal of the hero (Vader and Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, Gul Dukat in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Society in Brazil) the villains here are too little villain, too little sense. And how ethnocentric! If I were an invading force here to take over the Earth for its gold, why would I chose the United States (especially if I didn't know about Ft. Knox and/or the Federal Reserve in NYC?)? My answer: I wouldn't. And if I did, I would only do it if I were making many many cities.
I guess I ought to go off and become a supervillain. Or perhaps films this obvious and daft ought not to be made.
For other science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
Land Of The Lost
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© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.