Aug 1, 2016
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2000) (part 3 of 10)
Oh joy, now it’s my turn to subject myself to fifteen minutes of this crap. Hopefully, you’ll find some entertainment in my torment. You sick bastard.
We continue with Jonnie and the Cavemen stuck in the hold of a Psychlo ship, and their airlock filling up with a dark, purple haze. “Director” (and I do use that term very loosely) Roger Christian just can’t resist the urge to beat us over the head with this fact, so the whole scene is shot through dark blue and purple filters.
There’s a nice long shot of the greenhouse’s inner framework, which is also an obvious matte painting. Inside is a city, rendered in miniatures, which we’re shown in all its tiny glory. After (probably) spending a good chunk of the effects budget on these miniatures, I’m sure they were determined to give them plenty of screen time, no matter how fake they looked.
Bombastic music plays in the background, just in case you didn’t get the point that what’s happening to the Cavemen is bad! Bad! Bad!! Subtle, this movie ain’t. And of course, all static shots here are tilted at an angle, but anyone who’s actually made it this far into the picture should be used to that by now.
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary, Christian boasts about the “gritty realism” of the special effects. Sorry, but no. He also confesses that the budget was way too small, confirming our earlier suspicions. —Jet]
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As the ship lands, a scroll appears at the bottom of the screen informing us that Jonnie and the Cavemen have been taken to the “HUMAN PROCESSING CENTER – DENVER”.
As the humans look on in terror, a harsh, unintelligible and guttural sound can be heard, which turns out to be a Psychlo talking. There’s a close-up of Jonnie and Skinny Guy, who apparently is named “Carlo”, and it’s tilted off to the right. Their POV looking out at the Psychlos is just as tilted, making it look as if the ship landed at a very odd and unnatural angle.
And just to make sure we “get it” about the Psychlo’s speech, the two humans share some classic dialogue: “what’s he saying?” “don’t know.” No, I couldn’t understand the Psychlos, but now I know that the characters can’t understand them, either. Thanks, movie! I’m suffering from multiple concussions that would have otherwise prevented me from grasping this simple concept! Hey, that might explain why I signed up for this Mega Recap in the first place.
Since he’s our designated hero, it’s time for Jonnie to do something heroic, so he makes a brave charge out of the ship. Unfortunately, the Psychlos are much larger and stronger, and two of them start using him as the beanbag in an impromptu game of hacky sack.
And since Carlo is not the hero, he turns tail and makes a run for it. A Psychlo guard takes aim at Carlo with his weapon, but his cohort reminds him (via the captions, since they’re still speaking in gibberish), “You can’t use it if it’s dead.” Gee, even the dialogue in subtitles is lame beyond description.
This leads to a close-up of the Psychlo’s weapon, which reveals that it has two settings. That’s right—the guy just set his phaser to stun. Carlo gets hit by the stun beam and falls to the ground in glorious slow motion, and lands with his head tilting off to the left. And with the weird angle, I almost expected his unconscious body to start sliding off the screen.
Meanwhile, the Psychlos are still manhandling Jonnie. But since we’ve already seen him fall through several dozen panes of glass without getting cut to ribbons, we already know there’s no chance of him getting seriously injured. And despite the Psychlos’ superior strength, he wrestles a gun away from one of his captors. With a victorious whoop, Jonnie somehow manages to fire the weapon, but for some reason, he immediately drops it and tries to flee.
It turns out he hit one of his Psychlo guards. However, we don’t see the guard fall, and the reason for that is obvious. To portray the Psychlos’ larger stature, they jacked the actors up on stilts. No forced perspective, no CGI compositing. Stilts. And to conceal this, they made all the Psychlos wear what can only be described as 1970s era Moon Boots.
Jonnie enters a building and runs right into an obscenely tilted corridor, where Psychlo guards are hosing down humans. Jonnie runs down the corridor in slow motion and tilted off to the side. Someone shouting “RUUUUUN” in slowed-down speech would have been the icing on the cake, but Mr. Christian doesn’t go for the Overdirection Trifecta.
Jonnie slips on the wet ground and slides right into our main villain, Terl, played by John Travolta. Wow, what are the odds, huh? The camera pans slowly up his body, allowing us to take in the sight of a costumed Travolta on stilts, with a lot of attention spent on his ridiculously large codpiece. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Travolta. Terl smacks Jonnie around, just for the hell of it.
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary, Christian mentions comics for the third time so far, by saying that since Jonnie is a “comic strip hero”, he needs to go up against a “comic strip villain”. And speaking of comic book villains, there’s an incredibly lame Daredevil villain known as “Stilt-Man”, and Terl is nowhere near as intimidating as Stilt-Man. —Jet]
Standing next to Terl is our odious comic relief, Terl’s assistant Ker, played by Forest Whitaker. No folks, that’s not a typo. One of our generation’s preeminent actors (Ghost Dog, The Crying Game, Platoon) has strapped on stilts to take on a major “paycheck” role as John Travolta’s sidekick. Okay, Forest, did you make some bad investments? Was there a nasty divorce? A gambling problem you managed to keep out of the tabloids? I can’t think of any other reason why he would humiliate himself to this degree just to make a buck.
Meanwhile, outside, Carlo’s back in the cage. He and the other captives, each shot at their own angle of tilt, watch as Terl carries Jonnie outside with one hand. Then the movie abruptly switches into “translation mode” where the Psychlos start speaking English. Terl demands to know why this “man-animal” was running around, and “man-animal” kind of reminds me of George Carlin’s old joke about the word “eggplant”. I mean, which one is it? But then again, we are in “translation mode”, so perhaps the phrase makes sense in Psychlo-ese. Though it does make me wonder if they also sit on “chair-furniture”, and drive in “car-vehicles”.
This conversation between Terl and Ker and the guards is a series of quick cuts, and each cut is tilted at a different angle. The result is like trying to watch a movie with someone constantly punching you in the back of the head. I’d call this “jarring”, but I’d worry about offending jars.
[Editor’s Note: I’d like to add that in this movie, Travolta uses a really weird, high-pitched voice with a “refined” accent. It’s as if he thinks he’s in a period movie, playing a member of the British establishment—albeit, an extremely hammy one. He reminds me uncannily of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the batshit crazy President of the Galaxy in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, what with the goatee and comical overacting. Except, in Hitchhiker, the overacting was meant to be comical. And now, back to Bear. —Jet]
Terl is informed that Jonnie shot the dead Psychlo currently lying on the ground. Terl initially thinks it’s a joke, and insists on a demonstration of Jonnie’s ability to use a Psychlo gun. He then hands the gun right back to Jonnie. As we’ll learn later, Terl’s position in the Psychlo hierarchy is “Chief of Security”. So this is a little like the night watchman at the warehouse handing the keys over to thieves and saying, Come on, let’s see how you steal the goods. I dare ya!
Terl orders a nameless Psychlo guard, who I’ll call “Dead Meat Psychlo”, to take the gun back from Jonnie. Dead Meat Psychlo worries that he might get shot, so Terl shouts, “And I might suddenly grow a third arm!” Well. I guess now we know what the codpiece is for.
To convince him to do it, Terl yells that he can’t report to his superiors that a guard was shot by a “man-animal”. In fact, he would have to be “out of [his] skull-bone” to do so. Wow. And I only meant that “car-vehicle” thing as a joke, too.
Watching this film almost makes me wonder how Travolta got nominated for an Oscar. Twice. For acting. Because his entire performance consists of over-emphasizing every word, and forming his face into a perma-scowl that looks like a reaction to some unseen stench. I wonder if the key to his performance was having a stage hand hold a dirty cat box just outside of camera range. At one point, Travolta emphasizes one line of dialogue to such a degree that he actually runs out of breath by the end of the line. And if these are the takes that Roger Christian put in the movie, I can only cower in fear at what was left out.
[Editor’s Note: Christian remarks on Travolta’s acting in the commentary track, too, making the claim that his performance was modeled on, like, those old English Kings from, like, Shakespeare. Sadly, he doesn’t mention cat boxes.
Then he goes off on another rant about how you have to interpret the movie by looking at it in comic books terms. Hmm, could those be feelings of deep, but not-deep-enough-to-be-buried embarrassment that I’m detecting? —Jet]
So the Dead Meat Psychlo finally reaches for Jonnie, who promptly blows him away. Another nameless guard wrestles the gun away from Jonnie, and Terl reacts with, “Well, I’ll be damned.” That profound bit of screenwriting is followed by a raucous laugh from Terl. So within two minutes of his introduction, the character has already been reduced to the level of “Cackling Cartoon Villain”. I half-expected him to twirl his moustache and demand the rent money from Jonnie. And a second later, Ker starts cackling, too. Yup, it’s going to be that kind of movie.
And here it comes, the first screen wipe of my section! Thanks, Mr. Christian, I was beginning to feel left out. Now I have a wipe of my very own! Just for the record, it’s a center wipe, opening up from the center of the screen like the curtains at an old style movie theater. I kind of miss those. The curtains, that is, not the wipe.
The screen parts to reveal Jonnie in the hose room, getting blasted by the hose along with other humans. And this part is also in slow motion, and also tilted off to the left. Jonnie continues his rebellious streak by wrestling the hose away from the Psychlo guard, and giving the guy a taste of his own medicine. This lasts all of a few seconds, until the Psychlos regain control, and deliver several beatdowns on Jonnie. They even “cruelly” take away the necklace his girlfriend gave him, and throw it into a (conveniently placed) fire. There’s a close-up of the necklace burning as Jonnie glares at his captors. Ah, the subtlety.
And once he starts wiping, Mr. Christian just can’t stop. Barely a minute has passed since the last wipe, so here comes another one. Unfortunately, he can’t even be original with the wipes, because this one is also a center wipe. What, the editing crew was too lazy to do a diagonal, or a “radar” wipe?
We’re back outside the dome now, which we know because everything’s now shot through yellow filters. The Psychlos are all putting on protective gear, and alarms are sounding. Of course, they have to go the idiot route and tell us exactly what’s about to happen, as a mechanical voice announces, “Teleportation sequence activated.” Twice, even. I guess this is in case we didn’t get it the first time, and the Psychlo appearing out of thin air in just a second won’t be enough of a clue. So, on top of the phasers set on stun, they have a transporter. Anything else you guys would like to steal from Gene Roddenberry’s grave?
And just to emphasize that this Psychlo is “important”, this shot employs not one, but two tilts. Not only is the scene tilted to the right, but the camera is tilted up, shooting the guy from below. Has anyone mentioned that subtlety is not one of this film’s strong points?
A grinning Terl greets the arriving dignitary, addressing him as “your Excellency.” Wait, you mean, this is someone of importance? The dignitary introduces himself as “Zete”. That’s such a ridiculous name that no nickname is necessary. I’ll just call him that. Zete!
[Editor’s Note: The source novel is even worse. There, the guy’s name is “Zzt”. No, really. I don’t know the reason for the change, but they definitely changed it; Even the closed captions call him “Zete”. —Jet]
Unlike John Travolta, the actor playing Zete actually seems to be in on the joke, and knows what a terrible movie this is, because he has some fun with the atrocious dialogue he’s given. Zete and Terl banter about how horrible the conditions on Earth are, what with the blue sky and low gravity and, of course, the man-animals. Curiously, Zete refers to them as the “human-animals”. He must speak a different dialect of Psychlo-ese.
Ker, who’s been at Terl’s side the whole time, pipes up and says the humans “don’t make for very good eating,” grinning the whole time. Forest, for every bad line of dialogue like that, you owe us five good movies.
In opposing tilted scenes, Terl touts his sidekick’s credentials. Eventually, it comes up that Ker will soon be taking over, because—plot point!—Terl is expecting to be reassigned off of Earth.
Zete replies that once all the “mining” is done, they should “do the Universe a favor and exterminate” all the man-animals. This followed by a villainous cackle from Zete, and naturally, both Terl and Ker join in on the laughter.
They head back inside the dome now, and hey! I can’t see! Oh, it looks the purple filters are back in place. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust.
Zete is being shown surveillance videos of when the Psychlos took over Earth. Terl explains that they initially thought dogs were the dominant species on Earth, because the humans seemed to cater to their every need. These are the jokes, people. And in yet another continuity gaffe, Zete is now referring to humans as “man-animals”. And this shot is tilted to the left this time, with Terl’s arm reaching out to the right, making it look like he’s hanging on for dear life.
Another dignitary arrives, whom Zete identifies as “Planetship”. Yep, that’s the guy’s name. Planetship is meant to be an old character, and it looks like they “aged” the actor by applying the normal Psychlo makeup, and then letting him sit out in the hot sun until the makeup melted into a drooping, soggy mess.
They talk about Terl getting transferred off Earth, but since Travolta’s the main villain, we know where this is going. But they try to fake us out anyway, with Zete talking about what a “first rate job” Terl has done as Chief of Security on Earth. The predictable reversal comes when Zete says Terl’s done such a good job, that he’s being retained for another tour of service.
Terl reacts with the cat-box-under-the-nose expression. Only, you know, more intense. However, Zete assures him that he won’t be kept on “for another five cycles,” so Terl is relieved, and starts laughing. Wait for it… wait for it…
Zete says, “We’ve decided to keep you here for another fifty cycles!” And in the middle of that line, there’s a zooming close-up tilted shot on Terl, and as if that’s not obvious enough, Zete says, “With endless options for renewal!” And it echoes in the air—not once, not twice, but three times.
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary track, Christian tells us how this scene explores “darkness of the mind”, and mentions how they were “brave enough” to dip into it. No, he really says that. He also adds that this is one of Travolta’s favorite scenes. Gack! —Jet]
Now it’s Zete’s turn to do the villain’s cackle in slow motion, while Terl glares and pouts. This goes on for half a minute, until Zete explains, “The senator has a lot of friends!” And that last phrase also gets echoed twice.
Assault on the ears, meet assault on the eyes. We’re back outside with the harsh, yellow glare, and I need another few seconds for my pupils to properly constrict. Terl escorts Zete back to the transporter pad—er, I mean, teleportation area. He’s trying to weasel his way out of the situation, saying he didn’t know the girl was the senator’s daughter. Wow, scoring with a senator’s daughter. I guess that codpiece isn’t just for decoration, after all.
Zete says the senator authorized him to vaporize Terl “on the spot” if he tried to talk his way out of it. And with that, it’s back to cat-box mode for Travolta. With one final villain’s laugh, Zete is transported back to Planet Psychlo.
And that’s exactly how they refer to it: “Planet Psychlo”. There’s even a caption that proudly proclaims this on an establishing shot of the planet, which is also an obvious matte painting. As it turns out, Planet Psychlo (the hilarity of that never gets old) is an entirely purple planet. Now, wait a minute, did these guys just receive all the television waves carrying Prince music videos?
So, I’m assuming something important must be about to happen, right? I mean, why take the audience across the galaxy to show us the Psychlos’ homeworld, unless there was a very significant event about to take place, right?
Ready? Here it comes!
After more bad miniatures and obvious matte paintings of a city, complete with fiery eruptions in random places (because that happens all the time in most major metropolitan areas), we center in on the teleportation area. Zete rematerializes, in full tilt of course, and removes his nasal breathing apparatus.
That’s it. That’s all we get of Planet Psychlo. Now, wasn’t that worth the trip?
Cut to a bar, where Terl and Ker are drinking glowing liquid from those overly long cups you get at amusement parks. When the bartender notes that Terl hasn’t left for Planet Psychlo (snicker), Terl retorts that the bartender’s “powers of observation are simply startling.” Way to put that guy in his place, Terl. You must be very proud of that rapier wit of yours. Terl asks for three “pans” to go. I assume the amusement park cup is what the Psychlos call a “pan”. I guess that’s something else that got lost in translation.
[Editor’s Note: Actually, in the novel, the stuff Terl was getting smashed on was called “Kerbango”, and it wasn’t a drink. It was some sort of chewy thing which came in, that’s right, pans. But even though the filmmakers changed it to be a drink instead, they kept the name of the container, in order to make themselves look even stupider. —Jet]
Ker pipes up, saying that Chief of Security is a “pretty cushy job.” This simple observation leads to Terl delivering the most hilarious line in the whole movie.
Terl: While you were still learning to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!
Not only is Travolta’s delivery of this truly wretched line totally over the top, but his wild gesticulations threaten to knock the teeth out of anyone within ten feet of him. Terl scoops up his three amusement park cups and with a final wipe, my segment comes to a merciful end.
Excuse me for just one second.
Okay, so who’s next?