Forest WhitakerBarry PepperJohn TravoltaKim Coates
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Roger Christian
Writer: Corey Mandell, J.D. Shapiro, L. Ron Hubbard
Keywords: Razzie-winning, SF, post-apocalypse, rubbish
Country: USA
Actor: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Sabine Karsenti, Michael Byrne, Christian Tessier, Sylvain Landry, Richard Tyson, Christopher Freeman, John Topor, Shaun Austin-Olsen, Tim Post, Earl Pastko, Michel Perron
Format: 118 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 28 August 2010
Not only did it annihilate everything at the 2001 Razzies, but they dug it up again in later years for Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years (2005) and Worst Picture of the Decade (2010). Its other triumphs included Worst Screen Couple, won by "John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him". J.D. Shapiro apologised publically for writing its screenplay.
I was looking forward to this.
Unsurprisingly I decided that it's not as bad as people say, although this does include some epic trashings. I recommend Roger Ebert's. This film cost a lot of money and in some departments it's perfectly competent, which makes it all the more fascinating that it ends up such a train wreck. Basically it's the director's fault. I'd have sworn blind that some MTV teenager must have shot this film, because the big action scenes look like music videos. Dramatically they're hollow and sometimes they don't even connect with their neighbouring shots, destroying any sense of visual narrative and reducing the story to celluloid noise. The actors disappear. The camera lurches like a drunkard, half the time in slow motion. Interestingly a lot of the worst offenders are actually quite nice-looking sequences, but in a meaningless way that suggests that some musicians must be about to start singing.
There was a chunk of the middle of the film that I quite enjoyed. "This isn't bad," I thought. I was wondering what I'd missed that everyone else was complaining about, because I didn't see the problem. However then came the action finale and the movie collapsed. The narrative curls up and dies, crushed under footage that might perhaps have been exciting had anyone given it to an editor. Would-be directors should study Battlefield Earth at film school, as an example of what happens when you neglect the basics. Note also the way the incidental music tries to impose cheap emotion on scenes that don't deserve it. The hero's girlfriend running to embrace him at the end is the funniest example of that.
Incidentally, Roger Christian's last film before this had been Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999). He'd been the second unit director and it even won him an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
The acting isn't as bad as everyone says. Admittedly Sabine Karsenti is useless as The Girl, but apart from her the real problem is that those yellow contact lenses make all the Psychlo actors' eyes look dead. No one's going to look good when the make-up department's practically turning them into zombies. John Travolta is being a ham, but I don't mind that. Meanwhile I'm a fan of Forest Whitaker, Saving Private Ryan starred Barry Pepper, I really enjoyed Kim Coates... seriously, this is a good cast. It's not their fault Roger Christian's making them look terrible.
As everyone knows, this is based on the first half of an L. Ron Hubbard novel. I've read it, actually. I quite enjoyed it, in its pulpy way. It was fun. I'd have liked them to do the whole thing, actually, which would at least have given it more energy and plot twists. Obviously this isn't a good adaptation, but I quite liked the way the film brings alive the post-apocalypse Earth and the Psychlos. There are some nice touches, like the way these post-civilisation humans describe the ruins of Washington D.C. as "this great village". I also quite like the Psychlos' near-psychotic denial of mankind's sentience, which is taken so far that it's almost like religion or ideology. After all, they've turned murderous backstabbing capitalism into both a political system and an article of faith, so I can understand the psychological urge to deny the humanity of their victims. It does make them look stupid, though.
I suppose I should mention the Scientology angle. Hubbard invented the church of Scientology, of which John Travolta is a member. This film is basically a religious cultist's vanity project. However it also needs saying that Travolta's taste in movies famously sucks.
As I've said, I liked a decent-sized section of the movie. The humble translator alien and his exterminated species is an effective moment, while I have nothing against all the non-action stuff of humans educating themselves, breaking into Fort Knox, deciding who's going to carry the bomb and so on. That was fine. I like Barry Pepper's "breaking the stick" explanation. The actors get more room to breathe. All that was okay. In summary, this is a halfway decent post-apocalypse story with some goofy plot holes... until we hit the action scenes, which render the entire film a waste of time. It's very male, despite a few token attempts. The use of music is practically self-parody. You could obviously edit something a million times better out of the original footage, especially if you digitally altered the camera angles to be vertical, but the final film doesn't work at all. Calling it the worst movie ever made would be a ridiculous thing to say, but it's got a fair claim to being one of the highest-profile misfires if you consider the budget and (on paper) talent involved. After all, technically it's got an Oscar-winning director.