September 15, 2014

Battlefield Earth

One thousand years after our planet was conquered in nine minutes by floppy clown-gloved leather-fetish Rastafarians on stilts, humanity has been reduced to small isolated communities of impeccably beautiful and healthy model-actors in lush green forests--no wait, excuse me, I'm sorry, the totally-not-stolen-from-Star Wars opening text crawl says humanity's remnants are "hiding in radiated areas".  Not the verdant forests of Canada. Nope. Radiated areas. Totally.

Did I mention that director Roger Christian worked on Return of the Jedi? Because you might notice a little similarity in some of the filmmaking techniques employed here.

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 is the story of humanity's oppression at the hands of a dreadlocked John Revolta and his offensively oversized codpiece. Revolta plays Terl, the security chief of Earth for the evil psychiatrists Psychlos of the planet Psychlo, a galaxy-spanning race of morally-bankrupt resource-hungry capitalists that have been ruthlessly strip-mining gold from our Earth for a thousand years running. Despite having defeated Earth's entire combined military force in a total of nine minutes through the use of their gas drones(?), the Psychlos have been unable to wipe out humanity completely because their "breath-gas" explodes(!) on contact with "radiation", allowing the remnants of the human race to eke out an existence in areas that have been saturated with nuclear fallout.

"Breath-gas"?

Our hero (we know because of his long, flowing blonde locks), Jonnie Goodboy Tyler(!!), appears on his horse. Because we still have those. We brought them into the irradiated zones and have feed and saddles and brushes and stuff for them, what? Anyway, Private Jackson (sans his trusty sniper rifle, sadly) is returning to the movie set on which his tribe lives with medicine for his sick father, but his bland love interest Bland Love Interest, played by a Montreal actor to satisfy the legal requirements for getting Canadian funding, informs him that Dad done died. Johnny lets out a good movie "NOOOOO!" and destroys the medicine in rage. Boy, I sure hope Pop's illness wasn't contagious!

After arguing with the village elder (you got to have a village elder in these things, it's Movie Law) about the existence of the "demons from the sky who are totally not the Psychlos that we read about in the opening crawl", Jonnie rides out of the village to find a better life than slowly dying in the irradiated zones. Which is what the script says is happening to the people in the village, despite their gym-toned bodies and perfect make-up and gloriously white teeth. Jonnie meets Kim Coates and Another Guy shortly before the Psychlos appear and shoot Jonnie's horse, causing him to let out a "NOOOOO!" that's every bit as heartfelt and genuine as the one prompted by his father's death. The dastardly aliens then kill Another Guy, stun Kim, and force Jonnie to shamelessly ape the "Zhora crashing through glass after being shot in the back" sequence from Blade Runner, if that sequence were shot by a talentless hack through a murky green filter. Jonnie is hauled aboard a Psychlo air transport, causing him to scream in horror at being trapped with Kim Coates. The transport takes our hapless zeroes to the worst prison on the entire planet.

Denver. Oh yeah.

As an aside, from this point forward, every shot--and I mean every goddamned shot--is filmed through a murky blue filter at a Dutch angle. Don't know what a Dutch angle is? Tilt your head to the left as far as you can. Now imagine the entire movie looks like that. Watching this movie, you'll constantly suppress the urge to reach out and tilt the TV so the damn shot will be straight. Oh, and also the urge to turn the TV off and not have to watch the rest of this crap.

After the little transport lands in the crumbling, decayed remains--okay, more crumbling and more decayed remains--of Denver, Goldilocks McAmericanpatriot makes a break for it as soon as the craft's door is opened. A Psychlo tries to stop him, but Pvt. Jackson ends up with the alien's gun, asks God to lend him His strength, and blows the alien away. At this point, Terl appears and immediately lets loose with one of the all-time worst performances in the history of hammy overacting. Seriously, Revolta goes so far over the top he has to dodge low-flying aircraft. He doesn't chew the scenery so much as inhale it like Rob Ford on a crack pipe. We're talking Bruce Payne in Highlander End Game levels of overacting. HADDEGEBURN levels of overacting. Brian Blessed would tell him to take it down a notch.

Another guard reports that Pvt. Jackson killed the guard, but Terl sniffs at this, remarking that the guard must be out of his skull-bone (eh?) to ask him to believe that a man-animal (seriously?) could do such a thing. Terl gives Jonnie the gun back and orders the guard to let Jonnie shoot him, which he does. Terl, being a good villain, laughs uproariously at this and--scene!

Why didn't Jonnie shoot Terl as well? Uh...hey, look over there!

Cut to--no, I'm sorry, wipe to Jonnie and some other humans getting hosed down by the Psychlos as Jonnie snarls "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty alien!" Oh wait, that was me. Jonnie ends up getting the hose away from the guy--Jesus, he can just take anything out of their hands at any time--and sprays the Psychlos with it, who stumble around on their stilts in slow-motion. Galaxy-spanning conquerors my ass. The Borg these guys ain't.

Cut Wipe to Terl, along with *sigh* his assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker--I so wish I were kidding), waiting to meet up with Zete, who we gather is somebody important. He beams in from the home planet and immediately declares Earth a "craphole" ("craphole"?) because the sky is all, like, blue. Get it? It's funny because what we think is beautiful is ugly to the Psychlos. Really makes you think, doesn't it...about how fucking moronic this movie is, I mean. Zeke...Zeel...Zete says that they should kill all the humans after all the gold is mined. Uh....why wait? In fact, why haven't you done it already, if you can? And why are you capturing them, anyway? They don't mine the gold; you have Psychlo workers who do that. So why not use Psychlos for other jobs, too? Like, uh...breaking rocks into....smaller...rocks (the only "job" we ever see the human slaves doing).

Another bigwig appears, the Planetship of Earth. What's a Planetship, you ask? Why, a fat bald man with a gigantic bulging neck tumor, of course! I mean, what else would a Planetship be?

The Planetship and Zwhatever laugh at Terl, who thought they were coming to reassign him to a sweeter gig, after they reveal he will instead be assigned to Earth permanently. Terl goes to a bar to seek solace from the sweet, sweet booze, which for Psychlos is called kerbango ("kerbango"??) and is a glowing green liquid. Apparently the Psychlos get drunk on the Predator's blood. Ker tries to console him by pointing out that Earth is a pretty "cushy job", and Terl responds....

Okay, now, you have to say this line as far over the top as you can. Think of a community theater reject doing the "hold their manhood cheap" line from the St. Crispin's Day speech, then raise it about an octave, and then put him in floppy clown gloves, dreadlocks, and hideous contact lenses as he delivers the line:

"While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained...to conquer galaxies!"

As long as those being conquered don't, I don't know, try to take something out of your hands. Because then you'd just look silly.

It's too bad nobody trained Terl to act, because fucking Jesus. And he's got to have some serious balls to deliver a line that badly as a scold to Forest fucking Whitaker. I assume the next scene will have Revolta lecturing Barack Obama on the finer points of public speaking just before instructing Morgan Lander on how to death growl.

Throughout the movie Ker tries to outfox Terl in some incredibly lame boss-employee scheming. (Petty office politics...OF THE YEAR 3000!) This time he puts a file with the potential for big profits--which he had kept for himself assuming Terl was about to be reassigned--on Terl's desk. But it's all for naught, because Terl has a picto-camera (picto-camera?!) installed in his office that catches Ker in the act. In the movie's sole moment that comes anywhere near succeeding, Ker says he didn't think Terl would mind a little scheming (being that the Psychlos are evil and all), and Terl replies that he doesn't mind and permits Ker to claim a share of the profits. Kind of a nice moment. And then Terl orders Ker to "check the compo-gradients" (Compo-gradients?!?) Whew, I was afraid the movie might stop sucking.


Ker's file details massive gold deposits in the irradiated zones, meaning the Psychlos can't get to them. Remember? The exploding breath-gas thing? ("Breath-gas"?) Terl's insanely stupid plan is to recruit human slaves to mine the gold, when 20 minutes ago Terl got a guard killed because he didn't believe Jonnie could even pull a trigger. Ker and Terl ask the Planetship to approve this plan--because if there's one thing this movie needed, it's more of that guy--and he says no because humans are too stupid to learn to mine. So Terl blackmails him into letting him do it. There, that wraps up one pointless subplot that's stretched out over a good half hour of the film's running time.

Terl selects Jonnie to lead the team of miners. He takes Our Zero to a machine that beams knowledge directly into his brain. So then what's with the business of how smart humans are, if you can just zap skills and knowledge into their heads? Terl wasn't very selective with the machine though, since it beams into Jonnie's head everything the Psychlos know. Maybe Terl should've fittled with the settings a bit more so that the machine wouldn't teach Jonnie things like, oh I don't know, that the Psychlos' breath-gas ("breath-gas"?) explodes on contact with radiation. Or how to both speak and read their language. Or how to operate their computers. Or that they have a teleporter that leads directly to their home planet. Or everything else he'll use to lead the humans to overthrow and destroy them. (Oops, sorry to blow the ending of the movie for you.)

The teaching computer also teaches Jonnie how to read and write English. Seriously, why would the Psychlos have any interest in preserving the written languages of the species they exterminate and/or use as slave labor? Shut up, because they do, that's why! (It also teaches him Euclidean geometry. We know because this space alien machine built by space aliens from space uses the term Euclidean.) Terl wants to make sure Jonnie doesn't get any bright ideas about resistance, so he takes him to the Denver Public Library (you know the one) and leaves him alone because "there is nothing here that will help you". Oh Terl, if only you knew, since Jonnie immediately picks up a copy of the Declaration of Independence(!!!). Well, the Psychlos are done for now! Jonnie has the words of the Founders burning in his heart, so tyranny's days are numbered. No genocidal gas drones without representation!

Oh, and I'm just going to point out that the teaching computer, when teaching Jonnie the Psychlo language, appears as a Chinko Clinko, an offensively racist obsequious fawning stereotype of an arcane-knowledge-possessing exotic Chinese mandarin. You're welcome!

Jonnie attempts his first uprising, stealing some Psychlo sidearms from a locker using Terl's security code, which Jonnie figures out in about five seconds. Way to lead by example there, Chief of Security. But when he and the rest of the initial mining group turn the guns on Terl, they don't fire. "If you rat-brains knew anything about firearms," Terl sneers, "you'd know that you never store loaded weapons." So Jonnie got the knowledge of the Universe beamed into his head but not how to make sure a gun is loaded? Jesus, I don't know which of these guys is dumber. Holmes and Moriarty these guys ain't. More like Derrida and Fukuyama. 

Also, "rat-brains"?

To quell this little rebellion, Terl shoots the legs off some cows in the middle of a field somewhere (uh....) and then threatens to kill Bland Love Interest (remember her?) with an exploding neck collar. Somewhere, Wile E. Coyote is nodding approval. To demonstrate that he's totally serious and the neck collar really does explode you guys, he slaps one on...a guy who is also there. When Terl gets ready to push the button on the remote detonator he holds, Jonnie begs him not to kill whoever this is, and Terl agrees as long as Jonnie promises never to ask him for any favor again. Does anyone not see where this is going? If I tell you Ker is there too, does that help? Anybody? Should I put in a disclaimer for anyone who has a weak heart and might be shocked, shocked! by what happens next?

Terl says, "I only said I wouldn't kill him" and tosses the detonator to Ker, who blows off the guy's head real good. Ha! Betcha didn't see that--oh, you did. Oh. Ohhh. Ohhhhhhh--

So Jonnie and his crew are sent off to mine the gold, more or less unsupervised, but Jonnie knows something the Psychlos don't know: When he was in the library, in addition to reading the holy scripture of the Founders, he also discovered the existence of Fort Knox.

*Imagine the sound of a record scratch here.* Wait. Back this crazy train up. I know the Psychlos are dumb, but really--in a thousand years of mining gold, the only substance they care about, the substance they came to Earth to find in the first place, they never found Fort fucking Knox? Plus, the gold in Fort Knox is already smelted. And shaped into bricks. Even Terl isn't dumb enough to buy that they just pulled this stuff out of the ground.

Wait, I'm wrong. He is, and he does.

And it just gets dumber. While one group of cavemen is at Fort Knox, another is locating a massive storehouse of military weaponry, including Harrier jets(!) complete with training simulator(!!) and a nuclear bomb(!!!!!!!).

So these primitive cavemen spend what must be hours on a still functioning and powered training simulator in order to learn how to fly thousand-year-old Harriers (notorious for being probably the most difficult vehicle to fly, combining all the issues involved in piloting both a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter). Intensive day-long training complete and still-functioning nuke armed, Jonnie and the cavemen put their plan into action.

Blah blah shooting, blah blah Jonnie shamelessly apes the "people shooting at Neo and destroying the pillars around him" scene from The Matrix, blah blah cavemen fly thousand-year-old Harriers and score somewhat improbable air-to-air victories in Independence Day-errific style, blah blah Terl thinks he's blowing off Bland Love Interest's head with the exploding neck collar but instead blows off his own arm (don't ask), blah blah genocide when Jonnie beams the nuke over to Psychlo and utterly destroys the entire planet, blah blah Terl is left imprisoned in Fort Knox surrounded by the gold he so lusted after, while a double-crossing Ker has joined up with Jonnie. The end.

So humanity 1, Psychlos minus several billion, I guess. Humans rule!

Battlefield Earth is a godawful mess of a movie, difficult to watch due to the constant eye-straining blue filter, incessant Dutch angles, and scenes with John Revolta . The film is laughably goofy, purging some of its source novel's most egregious bad elements while still keeping way too much, and Revolta's performance is ham-heavenly bliss. For the seasoned bad-movie watcher only....but if you count yourself among that number--and God help you if you do--you must have blown a head-gasket if you haven't seen the glorious trainwreck that is Battlefield Earth.

Oh, and Scientologists eat babies.