Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Battlefield Earth


Disaster darlings! Absolute disaster. Aida on Ice has been shut down permanently. The dress rehearsal had been going swimmingly, other than Olivia Newton-John singing half a tone flat most of Act I, until we reached the harrowing climax, the tomb scene. I ascended to the trapeze platform in my chiffon body stocking and skates and took off in flawless splits position. Andrea Boccelli, my Rhadames and catcher, however, seemed unable to see me barreling towards him and, when I flew towards his arms, he missed me by a mile. I plummeted into the safety net; unfortunately, the blades of my ice skates sliced several of the cords and I plunged toward the ice.

Fortunately, my fall was broken by the stacked pallets of Flamingo Fresh feminine hygiene products that had been placed there earlier in the rehearsal process. My torso came down on the Free and Fresh Maxi pads (with baking soda) scattering them everywhere, while my legs and skates broke open jars of Flamingo Fresh Forever Feminine Fluid Rinse (with apple cider vinegar). The ensuing chemical reaction was somewhat catastrophic. The ice rink became a bedlam of screeching chorines, yammering Guatemalans, and exploding feminine products. Fortunately, Olivia Newton-John had the presence of mind to drag me free of the carnage before the zamboni went up in a fireball. I was taken to Cedars-Sinai emergency and diagnosed with a fractured femur. I am now swaddled in plaster up to my hip and unable to leave the house for some weeks.

As lamentable scenes of mayhem are very much on my mind, I slipped the DVD of last year's mega turkey Battlefield Earth into the player in order to see if it was as bad as word of mouth suggested. It's not. It's worse. As the film progressed and became more and more ludicrous in terms of plot and style (or lack thereof), I thought at first that my Percocet was giving me hallucinations but Nurse Lynn, who has come to see to me in my hour of need, assured me that such horrific sights and sounds were indeed actually unfolding on the screen.

Battlefield Earth is based on a series of very bad pulp science fiction novels written by L.Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. I suppose there's a certain logic in a failed writer founding a religion, sort of like a failed painter becoming Chancellor of Germany. I've never wasted my time attempting to read the books and the screenplay (by Corey Mandell and J.D. Shapiro, writers with no previous major credits) is so idiotic that I had some difficulties with the plot. As far as I could tell, the story takes place 1000 years in the future. Earth has been conquered by a race of alien beings known as the Psychlos (of planet Psychlo) who look like the spawn of 70s drag queens and Bob Marley. They have come to earth to exploit its mineral resources, mining especially for gold. Humans have been reduced to primitive stone age tribes hiding high in the mountains as the conquerors have built huge domed enclosures for their dwelling places - Psychlos breathing something other than normal air (just what is not explained). There's also something about radiation and Psychlo atmosphere being incompatible but that's not really explained either. I guess science was not L. Ron's strong point.

For reasons surpassing understanding, our human hero, whose name I could never figure out and who is played by a confused looking Barry Pepper, leaves his tribe to visit an abandoned Putt-Putt golf course and shopping mall. While there, he is taken as a slave laborer by the Psychlos. The Psychlo security chief, Terl (John Travolta) and his dim witted associate Ker (Forrest Whitaker), notice our hero for his feisty spirit. Terl and Ker discover a hitherto unknown gold mine which is in a part of the Rockies that Psychlos can't reach as its contaminated with too much radiation so they hit on the notion of sending humans, whom they refer to as man animals, off to do the mining for them. Terl decides to educate our hero by strapping him in a dentist's chair and shining lights in his eyes, making him the savviest chap since Einstein.

There's then a bunch of plot about Psychlo politics, something about Psychlo's thinking humans' favorite food is raw rat, and eventually our hero and a bunch of other humans are turned loose to mine. Our hero, however, has other plans. He's become so smart he decides to destroy the Psychlos. Without bothering to educate any of the others in the dentist's chair, he soon has them all plotting advanced military strategy, navigating the length and breadth of the US in helicopter things, and understanding complicated written language. My favorite part is when they get to an abandoned Air Force base where, despite the lack of a power grid for more than a millennium, all of the electric appliances still work, including the flight simulators. In less than a week, our stone age tribesmen are piloting Harrier jets in a climactic battle scene that features the phoniest looking miniatures since the heyday of Ed Wood.

John Travolta, a major devotee of scientology, used his Hollywood clout to bring this piece of offal to the screen, casting himself as the villain. Politicians know enough not to be photographed holding drinks or wearing silly hats. Movie stars should know enough not to be photographed in the most ridiculous costumes and make-up since Patti Labelle's disco period. There's nothing menacing about him with his light voice and dancers carriage, despite all the yak hair. Travolta comes across as a mincing little queen, upset at the world that cashmere is no longer 'in' this season. Barry Pepper, usually a reasonable actor, is given no character or logic to play and seems to be saying to himself 'How did my agent talk me into this one?' throughout. Only Forest Whitaker, one of our better character actors, seems to be having a good time. He knows he's part of a ridiculous campfest and enjoys it for what it is.

Director Roger Christian started out as an art director on such films as the original Star Wars and Alien before graduating to director of such cinema classics as Black Angel and Underworld. He should have stuck with the paint brush. Scene after scene is confusing, awkwardly staged and completely defies logic. Most of the blame for this last point, however, lies with the incompetent screenplay. Every five minutes either I or Nurse Lynn was saying 'Why?' or 'How?'. The only explanation for what little plot there is, is that every character has ESP as they always seem to know things that they couldn't have found out in any other way.

The DVD contains several extras including some behind the scenes stuff, production stills, and make-up testing. There is also a commentary track with the director which I did not listen to as no power on earth will make me sit through that film again.

Good luck coin. Plaster dragon. Exploding mannequins. Zoo cages. Rat eating. Gratuitous holographic teacher. Exploding collar. Gratuitous self sacrificing bomb carrier. Impeccably preserved Declaration of Independence. Gratuitous ironic ending.

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