Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2000) (part 4 of 10)
Would any of you be surprised if I told you we leave the bar with yet another center wipe? Nah, didn’t think so.
The screen’s trousers are ripped down the middle to reveal an abandoned zoo, with some wobbly-looking Psychlos stationed out front. It turns out the Psychlos are keeping humans here. Because they’re just “man-animals”, get it?
Inside the zoo, a scruffy-looking Psychlo seems to be shooting green cookie dough out of a hose. I knew it! Those bastards are trying to win the Pillsbury Bake-Off!
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary, it’s revealed that the goopy stuff is actually a mixture of peas, potatoes and spring greens. Mmm… baby food. —Jet]
[Editor’s Note: Actually, it looks more like what would happen if someone decided to stuff a frog in a blender. Kermit puree, anyone? —Ed]
But before we get to see the delicious results of this, the camera swoops upward in a vain attempt to make any of this look cool. There are even random inserts of people in cages to sweeten the deal, and evidently, in the future, prisons will hold both men and women. I have absolutely no problem with that.
Finally, the camera settles on a close-up of Jonnie, trying to look angry. Meanwhile, another guy is muscling through the chow line, trying to get more than his fair share of Kermit Puree. Naturally, this leads to a big fight with Jonnie. You’ve seen prison movies before, right? So, of course there had to be a big brawl in the makeshift “prison”.
More senseless violence and music video-style editing follow. Suddenly, the Big Bully goes face first into the green cookie dough. Ha! I say. Let’s see those Psychlos beat my lemon swirl cake now!
Then the filmmakers get all Rocky IV on us as Jonnie makes an impassioned speech about how they “have enough problems without killing each other over food!” He says that from now on, they’ll each wait their turn to eat, and then, in an act of (yawn) compassion, he selflessly offers some food to other random people.
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary, we learn that the girl Jonnie gives food to first is actually Roger Christian’s daughter. Ah, nepotism. Also, Pepper apparently suggested he do this instead of giving food to one of the guys he just beat up, and Christian agreed it would make it “less clichéd”. Wow. This movie is, like, eight times better with the commentary on. —Jet]
Our old friend the center wipe takes us to a rock wall, with some kind of turkey thermometer spike in it. It pops out slightly. Does that mean we’re done? No? Damn.
Ker’s putting a thing inside another thing (Whatever Technology™ at its finest), and Terl sneaks up behind him. I’m guessing Ker was supposed to be doing this secretly, but there’s absolutely nothing about the blocking that suggests this. Terl snatches up the Whatever Device, and I gotta tell ya, it’s like they’re basing most of their technology on The Flintstones, because the thing looks like a piece of slate with a yellow scar on it. Ker grins sheepishly.
So, what, Ker is Terl’s secretary? If so, he’s not a very good one, if it took him a week to put a memo in Terl’s inbox.
Terl says Ker is not doing a very “credible job” at lying, and babbles on about how Ker wouldn’t last a day at “the academy”. Terl says he saw everything. Which would seem to be an obvious statement, because he was standing right behind him, but it turns out that the turkey thermometer is actually a hidden camera.
Ker gives him crap about using the “picto-cameras” to spy on his own office. And I have to give it up to Forest Whitaker. He really does try to put some emotion into what he says, but between the stupid yellow contact lenses and the voice he’s using, he never had a chance. I just hope that Oscar he won for Last King of Scotland has balanced out his karma.
Terl says self-espionage was obviously justified here, and demands an explanation for that ugly slab that Ker just tried to turn in. Well, upon first look, I would say it’s Mr. Slate’s annual gravel returns, but actually it’s a picture taken by one of the Psychlos’ robots. Wow, so by the year 3000, robots will have tiny little birds inside their heads that carve pictures with their beaks.
Since the robot’s picture details a recently discovered vein of gold, which Terl was not aware of, he accuses Ker of trying to muscle in on his territory. He asks Ker to at least “pretend [he’s] not a complete imbecile, and check the compo-gradients!” Ah, just what this film needed, more hyphenated techno-babble that doesn’t mean anything. My life is now complete.
Ker slides the huge chunk of rock into a hole in his desk, bringing up a display of black-silhouetted symbols. This exciting breakthrough in Whatever Technology tells Ker the exact location of the mountain with the gold vein.
And then it turns out the gold has uranium in it, so the Psychlos can’t get near it, for reasons that will be explained in more detail later. This is a tough break for Ker, because Terl then picks up a lead pipe [?] and starts bashing Ker around.
Ker manages to get the pipe away from Terl, saying that what he did isn’t technically betrayal, because the information turned out to be worthless. But Terl retaliates by pulling out a gun that’s shaped like the Atari symbol.
Ladies and gentleman, I would now like to announce that I have the ability to predict the future! Let’s see… I’m getting a vision here… I predict that Ker will… slowly put down the lead pipe, and make some statement to the effect of “You can’t shoot me when I’m unarmed, it’s against regulations!” What do you know, I was right! Don’t you just love sloppy, predictable scripts that let you figure things out way in advance? Now you, too, can predict future events that will happen to you in the future!
Terl lets out a Villainous Laugh™, followed by an immediate Singing Of A Different Tune™. John Travolta, folks, the Ron Popeil of over-acting. He decides not to shoot Ker, which is pretty good news for Ker, but also pretty bad news for Forest Whitaker.
Terl says that they have work to do, and that Ker must warn “his Planetship” of an “impending mutiny”, which you can tell he just now made up.
And then comes another scene transition, and another parting of the cinematic tide. I wonder if Moses edited this? Maybe Wikipedia can tell me. Hold on, I’ll check.
Huh. They didn’t stick around for the end credits, either. Imagine that.
Terl and Planetship are sitting around in a parlor, getting manicures [?]. Terl informs his superior that if this “worker’s revolt” happens, the first thing the workers will do is “separate Planetship from his head!” Planetship cocks said head sideways, making him look even more like a peanut. Meanwhile, his hot female assistant strokes his eyebrow [?].
[Editor’s Note: It could have been worse. On the commentary, they mention that the script originally had them jumping into vats of oil. No, really. I actually said “what the hell?” out loud when I heard that. —Jet]
Planetship authorizes Terl to use “any means necessary” to put down the rebellion. Hmm… Terl X? Planetship adds, “Production… equals… pay!” He tells Terl to bring in more workers, but Ker notes that all these new workers would have to get… paid! The horror!
Planetship’s assistant (where the hell did he come from?) says Ker “must have been absent the day they taught economics at the academy.” Didn’t Terl just say that Ker wouldn’t have lasted a day at the academy?
Mysterious Assistant, who actually looks a bit like Weevil from The Hard Goodbye, offers yet another shocking fact: no one works for free. Well, I do, but I work at Wendy’s, so maybe that wouldn’t apply here. Just then, Terl gets an epiphany.
But at… what… cost?
Planetship balks at the idea of “man-animals… operating machinery”. He lets loose with, you guessed it, a Villainous Laugh™, and asks Terl if he’s “blown a head gasket”. Seriously, I wonder if the screenwriters were actually told to come up with a script, or just cool names for punk albums so they could get people to say them aloud.
Planetship wonders if Terl is trying to make him the “laughing stock of the Universe,” assuming, of course, that he isn’t already. Terl reassures him, saying he should be allowed to at least attempt to train the man-animals.
Planetship mentions that using man-animals is against the law. Didn’t he just say Terl was to use “any means necessary”? Of course, these are the same people who thought dogs ruled the planet, so maybe I shouldn’t expect much sense from them.
Ker declares, “A Planetship, faced with a profit-threatening situation, is relieved of all other ordinances, to pursue, to protect, and to acquire said profits.” Whitaker does a good job delivering this line, but there’s no way it makes any sense. You can’t “protect” profits you haven’t acquired, and you can’t “pursue” profits that are already being threatened. So, no, Ker wouldn’t have lasted a day at the academy.
Planetship gets all up in Ker’s grill, saying that they’ll stick to the original plan of bringing in scab labor. Whew, for a moment, I thought that idiotic scheme of theirs was going to work. I’m sure that now they’ll forget all about it for the rest of the movie.
Well, I guess not. Because yet another Star Wars wipe takes us into a gorge, where a few of the choice man-animals are carrying rocks on a trundle.
[Editor’s Note: And the rocks look exactly like crumpled-up balls of aluminum foil. Honestly, they’re some of the worst props I’ve ever seen. — Jet]
More Psychlos who look like rejects from a Korn cover band are leading more manacled man-animals on a death march to nowhere. Hmm, “death march to nowhere”. That wouldn’t be a bad album name, either.
And hey, look who’s among the man-animals. Our old pal Jonnie. He stares up at the sky as one of the alien spaceships flies a little low and clips one of the stone columns that tower over them. After a little too much attention is paid to the falling debris, the column itself collapses. Jonnie heroically ducks for cover, then uses a piece of the column to hack his ankle chain off. Now, would you call this a deus ex machina, or just bad scripting?
[Editor’s Note: On the commentary, Christian explains that this happened because the Psychlos “just don’t care”. Earlier on, he said they’re drunk most of the time. Both of these would explain a great deal of their behavior. However, if that’s the case, how did they become advanced enough to conquer Earth in the first place?
It’s also pretty hard not to notice all the humans, including Jonnie, are now wearing khaki jumpsuits and lace-up shoes. What the fuck? Why would the Psychlos give “man-animals” new clothes and shoes? —Jet]
Call me crazy, but I think there’s about to be a chase scene. Sure enough, Jonnie bolts, only to run right into a spaceship that looks like it was stolen from G-Police. Well, he doesn’t actually run into it. That would have just made me too happy. Instead, his incredible reflexes allow him to just barely avoid being crushed.
This G-Police bit turns out to be another waste of time, because Jonnie just runs in the other direction and gets shot by one of the Psychlos. Jonnie sails through the air, looking a great deal like David Lee Roth in the “Jump” video. He lands in front of another Psychlo, who deems Jonnie “untrainable” and orders two other Psychlos to “terminate it.”
They take him to a place where, apparently, there’s only the special purple Psychlo air to breathe. One Psychlo gives the order to take Jonnie’s breath mask away, which he didn’t have a second ago. Then the other Psychlo pulls out what looks like a stopwatch.
Look, guys, I’m all for showing how vicious the bad guys are, but surely you can do better than this.
Jonnie sprints to his feet and struggles to get his mask back from the guards, which amounts to nothing more than a high-concept version of keep-away. Psychlos, the big brothers of the universe.
Jonnie gives up and tries to escape, while the one with the watch gives him four minutes. And when it originally came out, I gave this movie six weeks before it completely vanished from theaters and prompted an FBI investigation of Franchise Pictures.
Jonnie runs into a factory that looks like part of (okay, now they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel) the motorcycle racing scene from Batman & Robin. Words fail me. Jonnie’s starting to feel his lungs burn. Amazingly, instead of screaming My lungs are on fire! he runs from person to person, trying to steal their air tanks.
Finally, a friendly young person with dreadlocks (seriously, what is it with this movie and dreadlocks?) “willingly” shares his oxygen with him, for no other reason than Jonnie’s the hero, and needs to live so the movie can continue.
The Psychlos who were chasing him finally enter. Huh. It’s almost like they can’t run very well on those things. And by “things” I mean their legs.
And all they can say is “Wager’s off, the damn thing cheated.” You know, I’m slowly getting the impression that the Psychlos only care about money. Call it a hunch, if you will.
The Psychlo fires his phaser (hey, I call it like I see it) and the beam passes about ten feet over Jonnie’s head. But at least it hits some random object that explodes very nicely. Listen to me. I’m actually praising an explosion.
This scene cuts, and… Wait? What was that? A nice, normal cut? Not a center-fade, not a jump cut, but an actual cut one sees in a real movie? I’m stunned speechless.
Terl and Ker are walking through that old familiar hallway. Terl exposits that Planetship must be “hiding something”, and once they find it, they can use it as “leverage”. In short, they’re going to blackmail him.
Terl: What do you mean we? It’s my plan! [Yeah, you big old bed-wetting doody-head.] I’m sending the gold to Psychlo, then I’m getting off of this stinking planet!
Ker: Ah, come on, sir! You gotta let me in on it. I barely make any lousy credits on this job, and I’ve got five wives to support!
Barely make any lousy credits? I think my English teacher just exploded.
Right around here, possibly to preserve my sanity, I finally broke down and did some research. I couldn’t take not knowing what was going through Whitaker’s mind throughout all of this. Strangely enough, the only insight I could find was an audio interview he did with Popcorn UK, in which he had this to say:
Evil? Ker’s supposed to be evil? Well, I guess he could be called that, in a Sgt. Schultz kind of way. But there’s more:
Wow. He just nailed it. Although, I think he meant the above comment as a compliment. Especially because he goes on to add this:
Okay, where were we? Jonnie was running, Terl’s greedy, Ker has five wives, Brigham Young had twenty-seven, but still didn’t have half the trouble Ker does… Ah, here we are.
Terl uses some pretense to get Ker to repeat the whole plan back to him, while clandestinely turning the recording device back on. The Turkey Timer Camera pops back out, and even though it makes an audible noise, Ker proceeds to lay out the gory details. Meanwhile, Terl goes all Devil’s Advocate on the plan, pointing out how they would be stealing from the “Home Planet”, and so forth.
Why yes, it would be the perfect crime, assuming all copies of The Mask of Zorro have been wiped out by the year 3000.
Terl explodes, yelling that it’s his duty to report Ker, have him vaporized, and hire a new assistant. And then he turns off his recording device. You see, his backup plan, in case his first plan gets found out, is to record his sidekick spouting out the details of that plan while he pretends to object. You know what? Travolta’s right. This is “Pulp Fiction for the year 3000.” By which I mean actual pulp fiction, and not the film by Quentin Tarantino.
For some reason, Terl feels compelled to tell Ker what he’s done. He says he should “think of it as part of [his] education.” The lesson being (and really, the lessons here are even more obvious than the ones on a Veggie Tales episode) that when you commit a crime, you should make sure you have someone else to take the fall. Except, the way Terl explains it involves a lot more slang from the ‘40s than you’d expect from a movie taking place 1000 years from now. Then again, you wouldn’t expect a movie about the future to remind you of The Flintstones either, so why split hairs?
Terl leads Ker into a secret room where he keeps all his video tapes, which look just like Skoal containers. Terl says that if anything happens to him, he’s arranged for a certain Skoal container to be shipped to the Home Office. How could he have done that if he only just now made the tape?
Ker twitches his cheeks, and then we abruptly cut to Jonnie climbing down into a sewer. He hits the floor and continues running. A shot of the manhole he climbed down into shows his pursuers right behind him. The movie shifts wildly back to Terl who, for no reason, walks over to a video screen and flips it to the exact security camera Jonnie happens to run past. Hey, even in the year 3000, they have to follow the Hey! Turn On The TV! Rule.
[Editor’s Note: Outrageously, the video screen shows him running—are you ready for this?—at a 45-degree angle. I think I can feel my brain melting. —Jet]
The cameras zoom through the image to the actual Jonnie, running down a hallway (in a sewer?). Mysteriously, his breathing issues have gone away, just in time for one of his pursuers to pop up out of nowhere and shoot at him. Jonnie uses those superhuman reflexes once more, then escapes through a drain. He emerges out of the other end and gasps heroically. Honestly, Barry Pepper is lucky that no one saw this film, or else he never would have worked again. I mean, come on. At least Forest Whitaker is trying to be convincing. Well, a convincing cartoon character, but still.
Jonnie runs down yet another hallway, only to be stopped by, oh, look, mysterious prison bars that have no real reason to be there. He shakes them vehemently, in a vain attempt to break free.
Once more, his pursuers materialize out of nowhere. They start laying bets with each other again, but their wagering is cut short when Terl and Ker appear, and Terl shoots both men in the back. It turns out Terl did this because he’s very interested in Jonnie, who seems “unusually intelligent.” Well, he was smart enough to let you get top billing, so, yeah.
Terl further comments that Mowgli seems “defiant”, and that they’ll need “leverage” over him. He ponders using food.
And would he eat it in a box? Would he eat it with a fox?
Terl further proves his insanity by suggesting they get a group of man-animals, and set them free for a few days; Supposedly, they would locate their favorite food in order to celebrate. I’m pretty sure this is where the screenwriters found out where to buy some really good weed.
Center wipe, again, to two days later, on a beautiful mountainside, which is bizarrely accompanied by music that sounds like it was left out of Beverly Hills Ninja. Jonnie and some of his fellow humans are trudging up the mountain, when they discover the ruins of another city off in the distance.
Terl and Ker are somehow spying on them. Ker notes that they haven’t eaten yet, which is no surprise, given that this mountain couldn’t be more barren. But Terl says they’re just waiting until they’re a safe distance from where they were dropped off.
Jonnie and the gang amble into an abandoned building, where Jonnie spies a few rats. He makes a dramatic dive for the rodents, and hacks one up nicely with his glass-shard knife.
[Editor’s Note: And, surprise, surprise, the movie invokes Jet’s Rule of Rodents here by dubbing in loud squeaks. Also, the rats are out in the open, and are huddled neck-deep in snow. Man, if the snow weren’t so patently bogus, I’d be worried about them freezing to death. —Jet]
As Jonnie’s eating the rat, a Psychlo camera, in keeping with tradition, appears out of nowhere and zooms in on the group.
Terl: Of course it is. They could have selected anything they wanted!
Ker: But it’s not even cooked!
Terl: If man-animal [sic] prefers its rat uncooked, then our job is that much easier!
Sometimes, the dialogue truly speaks for itself. Jonnie starts pawing at his shirt for no reason, revealing that the hidden camera is actually embedded in one of the buttons on his shirt. And yet, the image on Terl’s screen clearly shows Jonnie from the back.
Okay, that does it, I’m done. I’ve had it. Ivan, I hope you have better luck than I do.