Monday 12 August 2013

Battlefield Earth (2000)

Forest Whitaker and John Travolta as the campy villains.
The whole film is shot at these outlandish angles.  It sort-of works.
So many words of scorn have already been poured upon 'Battlefield Earth' that I shall keep my comments short.  This is an adaptation of the first half of a novel by L Ron Hubbard, the sci-fi author who went on to invent Scientology, perhaps the most easily derided of the Western religions.  His 'L' stands for 'lasers', by the way.  Like 'Xanadu' (1980), this motion-picture has merited a place on Wikipedia's 'List of films considered the worst', and while it's easier to sit through it than through many films which are technically or artistically better, there are stretches of 'Battlefield Earth' - exciting and colourful stretches - where boredom somehow sets in, where the fizzy adventuring fails to stimulate, the epic conflict elicits too late interest, and one wonders how soon the film might end.

By accident or design this failed blockbuster resembles obscure B-movie 'America 3000' (1986); each depicts an apocalyptically dusty America in the year 3,000, in which hairy men are oppressed, but find, though education, the key to revolution.  Incredibly, women get the better role in the earlier film, in which they're horrible jerks who ought never to have gained power, rather than here where they're almost wholly absent, except in a brief cameo as a possible bearer of the hero's child.  Not for them the guns, the adventuring or the declaration of independence.

An outrageous transition from one scene to the next.  There's a lot of these.
The former film had a humility of sorts: despite its flaws it knew it was ridiculous.  John Travolta, star and producer of 'Battlefield Earth', however, seems to have believed utterly in the merits of his film and its capacity to dazzle and impress its audience, and to attract them in the first place.  In interviews he compared it favourably to 'Star Wars' (1977) and 'Planet of the Apes' (1968), which is always a mistake.  He, or rather director Roger Christian under his enthusiastic tutelage, found ways to give these classics visual tributes in the new film, borrowing from the Apes the image of our hero in prison being sprayed with a hosepipe - which isn't especially striking here - and from 'Star Wars' the absurd, curtain-like wipes which mark the transition from one scene to the next.  These were a curious novelty in 1977, but an unwelcome and unbeautiful distraction in the year 2000.  Like 'Space Camp' (1986), 'Battlefield Earth' does itself a disservice by reminding its audience about 'Star Wars' every few minutes, emphasising the gulf in merit between the one sci-fi and the other.

The film isn't without merit, but I found no good reason to care for the heroes, or for the future of humanity, that male and American race.  John Travolta and Forest Whitaker, as the very villainous aliens, are highly watchable but too ridiculous to seem legitimately threatening.  The film might have made a fun and visually innovative half-hour of television if all the scenes with humans in were removed - but it seems rather extreme to wish such a fate on any movie.

Why would you even want to watch it after my comments?  Because it sounds 'so-bad-it's-good'?  Oh, ok.  Enjoy yourselves how you will, but you might get more out of 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988).

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