Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Battlefield Earth

My friends and I watched two movies Saturday night: Leprechaun and Battlefield Earth (2001). I told myself I'd review both so my evening wouldn't have been lost in vain. While Leprechaun isn't a good movie, it's definitely fun to watch in the right state of mind. It was a low-budget horror movie that tried to be scary and failed hilariously. There's a purity to that enterprise.

The same cannot be said for Battlefield Earth. For one, it cost a hell of a lot more (more than $70-80 million if I'm not mistaken), and the effort doesn't show. It's dingy, unfocused, and poorly shot. It's a muddled, confusing would-be science fiction epic that gets so convoluted you stop caring. When the movie isn't being completely confusing, it's just uninteresting.

Set in 3000 A.D., 1000 years after a galaxy-conquering race of aliens known as Psychlos took over Earth to stripmine it for gold, humanity is reduced to a few scattered pockets of caveman. Terl (John Travolta), the Psychlo chief of security, hatches a scheme to train the "man-animals" to harvest gold for him as a way to buy his way off the planet, and he selects Johnny (Barry Pepper) to educate and train. But in doing so, Terl gives Johnny the desire and tools to lead a revolt.

Based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, I won't deny the concept of an enslaved Earth is an intriguing premise. How does humaniy live? What sort of fascinating or frightening creatures have taken us over? What do they want? What will the future hold?

But Battlefield Earth just bungles the whole idea. The Psychlos are just laughable foes; they look dirty with their unconvincing dreadlocks and elongated fingernails, they lumber around awkwardly on ridiculously tall boots, they wear nose plugs as breathing packs, and their plans don't make sense. Gold, really? And after 1000 years, they still don't have it all or even the largest hoard of it on the surface in Fort Knox? What value does it have to such an advanced race?

I don't know of anything else Roger Christian directed, but I'm not interested. Most camera angles are tilted for pointless reasons, slow motion for dramatic effect is overused, and all these tricks and techniques just make an already troubled movie look even more hokey.

Only Travolta brings any conviction, and he's awful. It's not that he's over-the-top; he's just unconvincing. The writing doesn't help. Terl comes off as an idiot by continuing to educate Johnny even after he knows he's a threat, failing to monitor the humans under his control, and giving them weapons. The other actors overwhelmingly look embarrassed, especially Forest Whitaker as Terl's assistant.

The special effects aren't special, and the plot makes no sense, even when accounting for the Psychlos' idiocy. Weapons and planes left sitting idle for 1000 years still work, humans living in radiation for 1000 years have had no effect, and we're to believe a handful of cavemen can succeed when the combined militaries of the world failed in nine minutes. It's like the Ewok battle in Return of the Jedi, only for the entire movie and not as cute.

So yeah, Battlefield Earth is bad. Maybe I'm just being overly critical by having to watch it after Leprechaun, but it's no fun. It's dreary.

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