Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Does It Suck- Guest Author Kevin Shamel on Battlefield Earth

Alien Travoltalogues or, How to Wreck Real Pulp Fiction or, I Still Like Battlefield Earth, Even Though I Can’t Tell You Why

Let’s take a look at L. Ron Hubbard. Now pulp fiction. Now L. Ron Hubbard. Pulp. L. Ron. Pulp. L. Ron. Pulp. L. Ron. Scientology.

Oops. How did THAT get in there?

That is exactly the only real problem with the movie, Battlefield Earth. Well, that and the platform boots and dreadlocks. And big rubbery werewolf hands. And man-animals flying jet fighters so damned well after no real training. All right. Mostly, it’s the Travoltalogues that really do it. Which brings us back to pulp fiction.

Now, I’m okay with Travolta. He was funny in Welcome Back Kotter. There’s these parts on the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction where he talks about French Big Macs that tells me that some good music is coming up. I like that.

I didn’t really like how he took over Battlefield Earth. This movie is constantly being called the worst movie ever. People blame L. Ron Hubbard. People blame the poor guy who wrote the screenplay. People even blame Scientology. I say blame Travolta. I especially say that since I just read an article by the guy who wrote the screenplay, J.D. Shapiro, and that’s what he says to do. Screenwriter Apologizes

The story of Battlefield Earth is pretty cool. I read it when I was a teenager. It’s about a typical young dude a thousand years from now named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (but in the movie he’s just Jonnie and he’s somehow far less important than the alien played by Travolta). His tribe of barely surviving humans live in the mountains, barely surviving. Our hero lives near enough to the evil jerks who conquered the Earth called the Psychlos and when he goes adventuring, he’s captured by them.

The aliens came generations before, and most humans are dead. Most of the planet is abandoned. All cities have been in ruin for a thousand years. The Psychlos have a big dome encasing Denver pumped full of their atmosphere so as to remain comfy while their human slaves build them a nice place to live. The Psychlos are there to mine gold and other riches. But they can’t send radioactive stuff to their planet, which is in a different universe, and therefore has different elements. Their air reacts violently with radioactive materials.

Jonnie ends up being a personal slave of one wicked alien named Terl (played generously by Travolta), learns all about Psychlos and other aliens and then he manipulates the evil jerk into helping him learn how to destroy the Psychlos and free the humans. The book is pure entertainment. With some stuff about how psychiatry is stupid, because it was written by L. Ron Hubbard. But it’s a great story of the old pulp science fiction style, and the movie could have stayed in that set and really, really rocked.

It did not, of course. It went with slow motion running and shooting, dreadlocks, bad teeth, and gimmicky camera angles.

As it is, knowing the whole story, I still like the movie.

It’s big budget. It’s got decent looking spacecraft, the planet Psychlo looks cool floating all purply in space. The weapons and the FX surrounding them are rad. The scenery is almost pretty realistic sometimes.

The platform boots suck. But the aliens are supposed to be really tall, so I forgave that. It was harder to forgive the big rubbery werewolf hands, but when Travolta’s hairy fingers weren’t wobbling around while he gave some speech about nothing in grandiose, fake alien drunkenness, I could almost forget they were gloves. Travolta’s wife’s alien head was a bit rubbery looking, too. Thankfully, her wolf hands were normal sized. And gloved.

The movie was pretty silly as far as time passage and its effects on things. The fact that books weren’t dust after a thousand years, and that machines like flight simulators worked and there was electricity everywhere the plotting humans went (in the week they had to prepare to take over Denver from their alien overlords and destroy an entire planet) was sorta silly. In the book, there was much more to do to get into Fort Knox than open a door. And it was pretty hard getting planes working again, if I recall.

I’m supposed to be defending this movie, I know. It’s a difficult. It’s probably a bit like trying to defend Scientology to a Protestant who’s seen a documentary about it produced by a curious Mormon who went undercover for a billion years with the SeaOrg. I like the movie, despite knowing there’s more to it than it even says.

Okay. So if you can get past the ridiculousness of the Travoltalogues, the skipping-over of important details for those diatribes, the silliness of savages flying around F-15s after a few days in an ancient flight simulator, and the fact that the movie ends (pretty ridiculously) long before the book ended, and only hinted at what the book went on to say, it’s a pretty fun movie to watch by yourself late at night eating a stash of candy and drinking rootbeer while you’re really, really stoned.

Damn. Why do I like this movie?

Read the book.- Kevin Shamel


  1. I very highly recommend watching the Riff Trax version of this film. If you don't know Riff Trax, it's the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 doing modern movies.

    This one is gold.

  2. Nice, Chris, I'll have to check it out. Thanks!