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Future Schlock

There's Something Faintly Endearing About 'Battlefield Earth's No-Holds-Barred Stupidity.


WOW. THIS IS the one. Every week, Hollywood churns out mediocrities and mid-range mistakes, movies with nothing to recommend them but nothing horribly wrong with them. They're cultural detritus that should never have been made, but they've been focus-grouped into non-controversiality and intense uninterest.

But Battlefield Earth. This is the movie every critic dreams of--something so wretched as to be unbelievable. Was there no one who said no? Could the director, cast, crew and caterers not smell the stink coming off this script? What strange act of God or man could allow such a thing to be made?

I mean, Battlefield Earth makes Independence Day seem subtle and intelligent. Pauly Shore could watch this movie and, based solely on the fact that he's not in it, stop feeling the intense shame that must overwhelm him every day. God could create a new hell where this film is shown endlessly, just in case there are people who are too evil to go to regular hell.

The plot involves, I swear to God, these business school guys from outer space who have taken over the earth. Like all evil business school grads from outer space, they express their emotions by laughing maniacally after everything they say:

B-School Guy: But if I sign this, you'll have complete control!

Other B-School Guy: That's right. (Throws head back.) Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha !!!

(And later...)

Another B-School Guy: I've given a recording of you betraying the company to someone trustworthy...if anything happens to me, it goes to the Home Office!

Other B-School Guy: It seems I've taught you well! (Throws head back.) Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!!!

John Travolta plays the alien sub-commander, the whiny head of security for earth operations for the company. His big plan is to earn a lot of "credits" by training the "man animals" to mine gold for him.

Now, frankly, these business aliens (they call themselves "Psychlos," speak a language called "Psychlos," and conveniently come from the planet "Psychlos") pretty much just go around destroying every alien race they encounter and stealing all their stuff, so it's not clear why they'd be mining gold. I mean, gold is basically useful for its exchange value, whereas you don't really need exchange value if you're just killing and stealing.

Still, this sort of logic hole is what keeps the movie going.

For example, in a stunningly smart move, Travolta's character, Terl, in order to get the humans ready for the gold mining, puts a human into a "teaching machine" that teaches the human not only the Psychlos language, but also all about their weapons and pretty much anything he'd need to know to destroy the Psychlos homeworld.

This is what most business folks call "stupid." But then again, the Psychlos feel like they have nothing to worry about, because they defeated the combined forces of the earth in only nine minutes, and that was a thousand years ago.

Since that time, the surviving earthlings have been reduced to caveman level, going around in furs and hunting with pointed sticks. However, this doesn't stop them from learning, in the course of one week, how to fly jet plans. In perfect attack formation. Which is odd, considering that these cavemen, prior to learning that there were such things as jet planes, hadn't yet learned that there were such things as "tools."

There's also the question of why these jet planes, which have been abandoned for a thousand years, should still be working, and all fueled up and ready to go, to boot. Or why it is that the Psychlos are capable of defeating all enemies, except of course a bunch of spear-throwing cavemen. But asking such questions would require "thinking," and that would only take away from the pleasures of watching this film. Or, at least, from the pleasures of making this film.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this movie since it's based on a book by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology and incredibly crappy science fiction writer, and is produced by John Travolta, big-time Scientologist and ex-Vinnie Barbarino (actually, it seems more like it was produced by Vinnie Barbarino). Some thought that there would be hidden Scientology messages in the film. Frankly, the film would have been improved by hidden Scientology messages. It would have been improved by a long section wherein someone just read aloud from Dianetics. In a monotone. In the dark. Try to imagine a film that's even more stupid than Scientology. You're probably not even close to how dumb Battlefield Earth is.

My friend Karmen thought the film could have been spiced up with some nudity. I'm thinking the only hope on those lines would have been to have a break halfway through for some actual hardcore sex scenes. You know, just spliced in from another movie.

Although, as a study in sheer badness, I think there's something endearing about Battlefield Earth. Maybe it's the awful special effects, or the terrible costumes and makeup--the aliens look like 1960s Star Trek villains, or maybe it's just how relentlessly stupid every plot turn is: true, gritty, no-holds-barred stupid. A movie that doesn't appeal to just one type of badness is so hard to find these days, that I think it should be celebrated when it rears. So cheers to Battlefield Earth--it might truly turn out to be the worst of the year!

Battlefield Earth is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750), De Anza (745-2240) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.

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