Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Yes, it's Battlefield Earth the movie.

But first, a history lesson. The original novel was a late piece of work by L. Ron Hubbard who, in the 1940's, produced some quite decent SF and Fantasy published mainly by John W. Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction and its short-lived but long-remembered fantasy companion Unknown. Hubbard stopped writing fiction when he took his own advice about how to make a million bucks by founding a religion when he published Dianetics which evolved into Scientology and made his rich beyond his own grandiose dreams as well as conning thousands of people world-wide who swallowed his mix of pulp SF and mysticism believing it to be real. Battlefield Earth was his late-flowering epic which I have read but remember nothing about, though I did finish it so it can't have been that bad.

This movie is the result of the efforts of that well-known Scientologist John Travolta who was one of its producers and almost the only thing in it which makes it worth watching, though Forrest Whitaker is pretty good too. The actor playing the hero, however, is useless (all three are shown above, though it may be a midget standing in for the hero) which may not be his fault as the role itself is pretty shitty.

The premise is this: a thousand years ago high-tech alien Nazis with a sense of humour conquered Earth and have been raping it ever since; mankind consists of scattered stone-age level tribes on a starvation diet and slaves of the aliens, also on a starvation diet.

What's bad about the movie is pretty much everything. Johnny, our hero, from an isolated tribe who fears never seen demons, doesn't believe in demons and goes exploring. Within five minutes he's made a couple of new friends who show him a ruined city where they immediately get captured by the aliens (Psychlos). When Johnny figures out how to work an alien gun, Terl the head of security (Travolta) decides to adopt him as a pet and educate him so he and other humans can secretly mine gold. The training machine not only teaches him the Psychlo language, it also provides him with a degree-level education which includes Euclidean mathematics, though what an alien teaching machine knows about Euclid escapes me, and gives Johnny all  the basics he needs to rebel against the aliens. Not unscrupulous and intelligent Terl's best idea it would seem. He then teaches him how to fly one of their craft and leaves him and his buddies (who have increased in number as everyone recognises what an amazing fellow Johnny is) to mine gold. When Johnny cheats and takes some gold from Fort Knox, it never occurs to Terl to wonder where Johnny got the technology to turn the raw ore into ingots or even where it might be. Also during this two-week mining period, Johnny discovers nuclear weapons and learns how to use them, jet-fighters in pristine working condition and his buddies learn how to use them pretty quickly through a training simulator -remember we are talking people previously at a stone-age level of technology. So Johnny and his buddies learn how to use very high tech machinery, fly jets, launch missiles, explode a nuclear bomb, destroy the Psychlo's home planet with one and deceive a highly intelligent race, deceitful and unscrupulous by nature, which has been conquering planets for thousands of years.

And you wonder why this was hailed across the world as a giant turkey of a movie?

And yet, despite despairing of its stupidity, despite loathing Scientology and the idiots who swallow its total pigshit, an despite having barely skimmed the surface of its many stupidities, I really like this film.

I probably wouldn't if it hadn't been for John Travolta hamming it up for all he's worth as the jovial, venal, totally corrupt, egotistical, sadistic villain. He is magnificent in his over-acting, indeed it's almost a master-class in hamming it up. He transforms a truly awful film into a truly awful film that is, nevertheless, somehow endearing in its badness. It isn't just so bad it's bad. It isn't so bad it's good. But it is so bad it can be counted as a guilty pleasure.

Post Script.

Watching this reminded me of two other movies where Travolta plays the villain (thoughl, technically, in one he plays the hero and the villain and the actor playing the villain -Nicholas Cage- plays the villain and the hero). Respectively Faces Off and Broken Arrow, both movies directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo. I've ordered them both, and both are very cheap, today. Expect reviews quite soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whilst not wishing to suggest plagiarism by Pierre Boule or Rod Serling and '60s Hollywood screenwriters, doesn't this tale remind you of some of the inconsistencies in the PLANET OF THE APES films?