8/2/07

R020 Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000

(2000, SciFi-Postapocalyptic, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy.

Was there ever a time when we were not watching Battlefield Earth?

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Irradiated cavemen battle large, smelly aliens for supremacy of the Earth.

Summary:

My girlfriend's tongue is longer than yours.In the year 3000, mankind has been enslaved for a thousand years by a cruel extraterrestrial race known as the psychlos. The last free humans must eke out a meager existence in select irradiated deserts, where the psychlos can’t follow. Not that any of the human survivors know this; they’ve long since devolved into fur-wearing tribalism.

One day, our hero Jonnie Goodboy (I did not make that up) decides to reject this irradiated, desert-dwelling lifestyle to look for greener pastures. He finds lusher lands and more fur-clad explorers almost immediately. His new companions show him the artifacts left behind by their departed gods (i.e.: statues, mannequins, and fiberglass mini-golf replicas of famous landmarks) and they share a rabbit supper.

And then the psychlos attack. (Think of the Harkonnen, crossed with the Klingons, crossed with the most offensive Jamaican stereotype you can imagine. Now put the result in huge prosthetic boots and a bifurcated nose catheter. Be sure to avert your eyes.) They use their stun guns to throw the intrepid explorers through plate glass windows and random street signs. Then they gather their groggy captives into cages and fly them back to their dome city.

At the dome, we meet mankind’s chief tormentors, Terl and Ker (John Travolta and Forrest Whitaker). There’s some intrigue about Terl and a senator’s daughter and a Byzantine code of corporate law, etc., etc. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The upshot is that psychlos are filthy, murderous gold prospectors who will do anything to dig up another vein. Ker finds a new vein, but cannot dig it up because it’s in an irradiated area, and for some reason, even a small amount of background radiation means instant death for a psychlo. Training man-animals for this purpose would be against all regulations, so of course Terl wants to do it anyway. If only they could find a man-animal smart enough to learn how to use the mining equipment...

Jonnie, in the meantime, has been rabble-rousing amongst his fellow prisoners, righting wrongs, standing up for the oppressed and downtrodden, meting out social justice, and generally making an ass of himself. Terl rescues him from the guards during a particularly ill-advised escape attempt and hooks him up to a “teaching machine” that zaps the entire sum of psychlo knowledge directly into his brain.

You can pick man-animals up by the scruff of the neck, and it doesn't hurt them.There’s a half-hearted attempt at intrigue here, but it’s nonsense involving an exploding head and the consumption of a live rat, so I’ll skip it. Jonnie and his pals end up in the irradiated zone with a bunch of psychlo mining equipment. Instead of mining, however, Jonnie decides to break into a bunch of top-secret military installations from the old days. Soon, he and his fur-clad cohorts have gathered a nuclear bomb, numerous more conventional explosives, and logged in several hours on an apparently solar-powered flight simulator. They return with gold lifted out of Fort Knox; Terl comments on their delivery of refined gold instead of ore, but apparently does not think the discrepancy worthy of investigation.

In the interminable ending sequences, the humans rise up against their psychlo captors, lure them out into the dome, and then burst it with the recovered explosives to asphyxiate their opponents. More fur-clad humans fly in to fight the psychlo spaceships with ancient fighter jets. A noble revolutionary sacrifices himself to teleport a nuclear bomb back to the psychlos’ home planet. This inexplicably destroys the entire alien world. They imprison Terl, hire Ker to work for them, and then, I guess, the Earth is saved.

Thoughts:

I will cleanse the Earth of thetans.L. Ron Hubbard both wrote the Battlefield Earth novels and founded the oft-reviled celebrity religion, Scientology, so it’s difficult to review one without mentioning the other. The movie, however, does not seem to espouse any kind of doctrine, Scientologist, Christian, or otherwise. Exactly what it does espouse, aside from contempt for its audience, is difficult to say.

Simply put, this movie hates you. It thinks you are a credulous, slack-jawed moron whose suspension of disbelief can be stretched infinitely, like a quantum rubber band. It thinks you are a gullible fruitcake, easily distracted by shiny objects, breaking glass, and sixteen-inch alien tongues. It thinks you are a borderline schizophrenic incapable of perceiving reality as a continuous whole, and thus willing to accept even the most disjointed of narratives. It’s badly acted, poorly written, haphazardly put together and more, but aggressively so, like a calculated insult to moviegoers everywhere.

Of note: John Travolta. He plays a seven-foot-tall alien with a prosthetic forehead, matted dreadlocks, platform boots, and a nose catheter, and then affects the nasal whine of an effeminate bureaucrat. It’s a very strange character choice, completely incongruous with the rest of the film, and though I cringed at his eccentric performance, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. I mean, no one else even attempts to act. It’s like he reluctantly agreed to participate in Goofy Dress-Up Day at work, and then found out he was the only one who remembered when the day arrived. (Sadly, this has actually happened to me.) Poor thing, at least he tried.

Also of note: Oblique camera angles. They upset our sense of cinematic balance. Most directors use them sparingly to contribute to a scene’s sense of wrongness. I’d say that Battlefield Earth director Roger Christian uses them because one of the legs on his tripod is six inches shorter than the others, but that would not explain why all the crane, helicopter, and CGI shots are tilted as well. By the time you reach the end of this turkey, the camera work alone will have made you nauseous.

Mike has assembled his old MST3K companions Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett for this track, and while I have enough faith in Mike to say that he could have pulled it off on his own, I honestly don’t see how. The Coleman Francis films hurt more than this movie, but not much more. Frankly, the fact that they made it watchable at all is a miracle. My favorite bits include Kevin’s pitch to Mike on how he wanted to make a movie with an endless action sequence through a nearly opaque blue filter, Disembaudio’s addition of a sitcom laugh track to one of John Travolta’s sillier performances, and Bill’s reading suggestions when our heroes stumble into the ruins of Library of Congress (Tom Robbins, Captain Underpants...). I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not going to watch it again.