Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2000) (part 5 of 10)
In our last episode of Battlefield Earth Dinner Theatre, the villainous Terl had fiendishly stranded our hero, young Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler, in the pitiless mountains to perish! Our Brave Hero finds himself growing weaker, and forced to eat mangy rats to survive! Meanwhile, the diabolical Psychlo master lurks in his Citadel of Evil, plotting dangerous designs for the human race! Will noble Jonnie escape his cruel fate? Will the evil Terl receive his just desserts? Will Mankind breathe the sweet air of freedom once again? All these questions, and more, to be answered in this installment of Battlefield Earth Dinner Theatre!
Actually, my segment, much like the ones before it, will not answer any of these questions. Still, there’s something about this movie that inspires ‘40s-style serial radio drama narration.
It seems Jonnie has found the “hidden” camera in his button. He yanks it off, and quickly finds the “picto-cameras” hidden on the clothes of his two companions. Apparently, these picto-cameras run on polyester-cotton blends, because once he removes them, Terl’s monitors show nothing but formless static (not unlike this screenplay).
Terl goes into Hissy Fit No. 334, and heads out to go round up Jonnie and his friends. But as he’s walking out, Terl smacks his forehead on one of the low-hanging support beams in his office. Komedy! Clutching his head, he delivers a classic piece of Psychlo dialogue:
Ah, this is truly the stuff of great literature. Fourth-grader insults, and pointlessly hyphenated compound words. Truly, L. Ron Hubbard is the Oscar Wilde of our times.
Ker looks on in amusement, the film slows down, and we’re treated to, yes, yes, you guessed it, another wipe! This wipe takes us to a Psychlo ship, which is hovering over a matte painting of a snowy derelict city. (I think this same painting was used on a first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, then stored behind a cabinet for the next fifteen years.)
Cut to Jonnie and his Boyz as they scamper up a hill through lush green springtime fronds, past a rusty sign that declares “Welcome to Aspen”. Curiously, while the previous shot had the Boyz rooting around in the snow, there’s not a single solitary flake on the ground now. Must be one of those “microclimates” I’ve heard so much about.
Jonnie and his Boyz soon make it to the top of a cliff overlooking a raging river. Meanwhile, a Psychlo chopper lands just by the Aspen sign, knocking it over in the backwash. Still, that was an awfully sturdy piece of steel to survive 1000 winters in one piece, and not at all an obvious plywood prop.
Back at the cliff, Jonnie backs up to take a running leap off the cliff. His Boy to the right of him, Carlo, let’s say, instantly clues into Jonnie’s plan, and whines “You wouldn’t make the jump, Jonnie. You wouldn’t make the jump. You wouldn’t make the jump!” Because there is no way out of here! It’ll be dark soon! There is no way out of here!
[Editor’s Note: And this mention of Jonnie’s name is where the movie finally gives our main character a name. Only took 45 minutes, too. —Jet]
Jonnie spits out a Rebellious Hero Spiel and takes off running and yelling. The director, in another “artiste” move, gives a quick slow-mo shot of Carlo shouting “NOOOO!” Wow, that never gets old.
All is for naught, as a Psychlo ship hovers up right in front of him. Since we never heard it enter the canyon, I’ll assume it’s one of those “stealth” hovering ships the CIA uses to fly around at night and replace my family members with sinister robot clones. Yes, I’m on to you!
With this, Jonnie and the Boyz fall back to Plan Scamper, and take off into the woods. There’s a whole lot of running and ships flying, which is supposed to be dramatic or something. Finally, Jonnie is all tuckered out, and he falls to his knees near where the first ship landed. A second ship lands there not long after.
Cut to the blue-tinted ranch, where Jonnie and the Boyz are being thrown into Terl’s office. While the other cavemen grab tools to try to break out, Jonnie Smartboy wanders around and pokes at the consoles. Just then, Terl the King Of Smiles enters. Wasting no time with pleasantries, he grabs Jonnie by the throat and drags him into the next room. I’m starting to wonder if Terl thinks of Jonnie as his little dollie. I wonder when he’s going to dress him up in a frilly taffeta dress and a sun hat, and have tea with Ker and Mr. Snuffleupagus.
He takes Jonnie to a place that vaguely resembles a Star Trek transporter room, only covered in aquamarine hot-tub paneling. Jonnie is strapped into what looks like a dentist’s chair, while Terl jams a DVD made out of cartilage into the little spit-sink. A faded hologram of a bulbous-headed alien appears. He informs Jonnie, in a voice not unlike that of the Huge Flying Brain from Futurama, that he’s a “Clinko language slave”, here to teach Jonnie the Psychlo language.
The funny thing about this alien is that in the book Battlefield Earth, the species was originally called the “Chinko” race. With the fancy robes and the constant bowing and scraping, the Chinkos were essentially how L. Ron saw Chinese people. For obvious reasons, the name was changed for the movie.
While Jonnie sits enraptured, watching the Clinko’s speech, a giant CGI jellyfish begins unfolding behind Jonnie’s head. And I only wish I was making this up. Regrettably, the giant jellyfish doesn’t do anything interesting, like eat Jonnie’s face clean off his skull, but instead leaves behind something that looks like a glorified planter.
Jonnie’s chair spins around, and the planter shoots a beam of light directly into his eyes. This beam shall henceforth be known as the Glitter Ray of Knowledge, because tiny white print is projected on Jonnie’s face, and the foley artists start randomly tuning a radio up and down the dial.
Meanwhile, the humans are still trying to hack their way out their cell. And… back to Jonnie! Well, after that quick cutaway to the other prisoners, now the whole movie makes perfect sense! Thank you, kind editor!
By now, Jonnie appears to have smoked about six joints, because his eyes have glazed over, and he’s just letting the Ray of Knowledge have its way with him. Terl wanders back in and shuts off the machine, then starts shouting alien gibberish at Jonnie. Thanks to Movie Magic, the babble fades into English, indicating that now Jonnie can read.
However, since he’s still a crafty Smartboy, he pretends not to understand, so Terl flips the machine back on. The beam burrows into Jonnie’s head some more, while Terl and Ker leave the office to, I assume, go grab a coffee and some donut holes.
Cut to Carlo. He stops whacking things with a hammer, and runs into the Learning Resource Center to yank Jonnie away from the beam. Jonnie, his voice full of awe, informs Carlo that he’s learned how to speak Psychlo. Jonnie refuses to leave, saying that he needs to stay to learn more about the Psychlos. With that, he leaps back in the chair and the Glitter Ray of Knowledge continues to work its magic.
Then we… What? A fade? What happened to the wipes? Wipes are all I’ve ever known! My world is empty now.
So it’s back to the holding pens in the abandoned zoo, where Jonnie is amazing his Boyz with his new mad skillz, which seem to consist mainly of scratching rational equations on the floor with a hunk of charcoal. Jonnie is going a mile a minute, babbling his way through the whole spectrum of human knowledge.
In a Ritalin-deprived monologue, Jonnie explains the basic properties of an equilateral triangle, then moves on to explain what a water molecule is, then whips into total stream-of-consciousness mode, throwing out words like “engineering”, “line”, “form”, and “artistic composition”. Overall, a rather odd curriculum for someone who was only supposed to be learning the Psychlo language.
One other problem. When Jonnie writes out equations, he’s using Arabic numbers. Shouldn’t he be using Psychlo symbols for numbers, or something? And why is he referring to geometry as “Euclidian”?
One of the Boyz sensibly asks how geometry is going to help them escape. Jonnie, obviously having no clue, says that it just will. Because knowledge is power! Stay in school!
With that, our dear, dear friend the wipe makes a reappearance, and life has meaning again. This wipe takes us back to the giant greenhouse building, which apparently was built over the ruins of downtown Denver. We hop inside for a look at the rubble in all its blue-tinted glory.
Back in Terl’s office, the Boyz are there again, just hanging out and screwing around with Terl’s stuff. Jonnie, meanwhile, finds instructions on how to enter Terl’s vault. Hooray for blind luck!
According to the file Jonnie is reading, the combination to the vault is eight digits long. Carlo, who’s been tuning the movie out for the past five minutes, asks, “Eight?” Jonnie confirms, “Eight.”
“Eight,” Carlo says to himself. Ah, Ctrl+C. How would screenwriters get by without it? Why, I’m using it right now! this movie bites this movie bites this movie bites this movie bites this movie bites this movie bites.
They zip over to the vault, where Jonnie enters a number on a keypad. He tries Terl’s employee ID number, but gets nowhere. But on the advice of his Boyz, he enters the number in reverse, and that gets him in. Holy crap. I have a tighter password on my Facebook account.
As luck would have it, Terl’s vault does not contain more funky banana hammocks, but racks of Psychlo pistols. Jonnie stumbles across a silver Skoal container, and quickly deduces that it contains Terl’s security recordings. I have no idea how he knows this.
You know what I’m really jonesing for right now? A wipe! Hot damn, I got my wish! What’s more, it throws us into a Sears photo backdrop of a peaceful sunset. Here we find Determined Gal from the first page of recap, Jonnie’s girlfriend Chrissy, sitting on a slope while some guy blows the horn of Gondor. However, rather than summoning hordes of riders and archers, all that appears is a vaguely familiar gray horse. It’s Jonnnnieeeee’s horrrrrse!
Chrissy takes off on her own brown horsey, and makes for the wooden gate. She’s accosted by Old Bearded Dude (the village elder from the beginning), who tells her not to go, and that “hope is an admirable quality, but causes aren’t! [?]” Neither is grammar, from what I can tell.
Chrissy tells Old Dude that she’s not a child. She throws a small axe at the gate, causing it one way or another to fly open. She gallops through it.
And then we’re jerked violently back to the Land of Blue Tint. Jonnie is slumped over in the Learning Center, drained after a hard evening of crammin’ his noodle with facts. Terl enters, apparently back from his four-day coffee break, ready for some more Ineffectual Threatening!
He grabs a mouse, having determined that rats are Jonnie’s favorite food earlier, and begins shoving it into Jonnie’s mouth. He screams, “Do you want lunch??!!” Terl then gives up, and reverts to smacking Jonnie around, and eventually they end up back in Terl’s office with Ker.
Terl starts bitching about how the “man-animal” has learned nothing from the Glitter Ray of Knowledge. He sees the experiment as a failure, and notes they can’t hide news of the giant gold deposit for much longer.
Ker suggests that Jonnie actually is learning Psychlo-ese, and his merely keeping this secret for “leverage.” And with that sentence, Battlefield Earth breaks the world record for Most Uses Of The Word “Leverage” In a Film or TV Show. Sorry, Bill Nye The Science Guy and Beakman’s World!
While all this is going on, there’s a medley of shots of the various Boyz pulling guns out of hiding places around the office. Finally, Terl decides to cover his ass by killing Jonnie and the Boyz. But before he can get a shot off, Jonnie opens his yap, and starts speaking in Psychlo.
He declares that the two Psychlos are now his prisoners, and they must do as he says. Terl and Ker naturally have a good chuckle over this. Jonnie starts hooting like a mandrill in heat, and all the Boyz open fire. Unfortunately, this accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Terl informs them that he doesn’t store loaded weapons. He starts making himself a bitch-slap sandwich on the Boys’ collective hineys. Jonnie stops the beatdown by pointing out that Terl still needs someone to dig that gold.
Terl relents, but first, for absolutely no reason, he grabs Jonnie by the neck, and says that he “needs to show [him] a thing or two.” We wipe! to a ruined building in the Non-Blue Tinted Zone. It looks vaguely like the Capitol Building, but before you can scream Logan’s Run rip-off!, another Etern-O-Sign informs us that this is the “Denver Library”. Apparently, Denver has just the one.
Terl leads Jonnie inside, and now he’s got Jonnie on a leash [!] connected to a metal collar around his neck. Terl discusses how humanity was only able to put up a nine-minute fight against the Psychlos, “which is why man is an endangered species!” You know, I heard that if you say “Man is an endangered species” into a mirror five times in a row, the ghost of L. Ron Hubbard will manifest itself in the room and give you a copy of Dianetics.
But Jonnie will not be deterred, because the Soaring Score of Patriotism has kicked in, and the Marble Statues of the Founding Fathers watch on beatifically.
Terl tells him that the sum total of human knowledge is contained within this library, and that Jonnie is free to look at anything he wants, “because none of it will help you.” Well, hey, this makes perfect sense. Why not allow your adversary to do something totally pointless that may or may not lead to your own downfall?
Jonnie grabs a random book, and of course, it’s a copy of the Constitution. As opposed to the triplicate copy of The Bailey School Kids #34 he’d likely find at the library where I work.
And now Jonnie is flipping through The Federalist Papers, but Terl yanks it away, promising one more demonstration for Jonnie and “his little friends”.
Cut to Terl’s hovership landing in a cow pasture. The Boys file out, and Terl explains that he’s a trained marksman. To prove it, he whips out his disruptor and blows the leg off a cow. But he’s not done yet. Not by a long shot. In fact, Terl becomes a total ass with his raygun, firing it behind his back, and so forth.
Suddenly, who should arrive but the cast of Quest for Fire! Or reasonable facsimiles thereof. One of them—let’s call him “Blug” for convenience’s sake—leaps on Terl’s back, and the two start rasslin’. Jonnie, taking a page from the Book of the Blessed Shatner, does a head roll to grab Terl’s disruptor and fires a warning shot to break up the party.
He turns the gun on Terl, who seems more amused than worried. Goddammit! Your life is in peril, you greasy twit! Stop smiling!
The tribe yells, “Shoot him!” even though, as far as we know, they’ve never laid eyes on a gun before. Jonnie screams, “Then what?” He says they have no plan, and the others will still be locked up in the zoo.
Carlo says the gods will take care of the others, sending Jonnie into Nietzsche mode. He destroys the Boyz’s worldview by declaring the gods in the sky to be just “planets”. Planets? Um, sure. Big, glowing planets that are billions of degrees centigrade, and are made up of 60-90% hydrogen gas. He goes on to explain that the “great villages” were built by men and women who were willing to die for what they believed in, loved freedom, and small children, and puppies, yadda yadda yadda.
A random old guy, eager to show off his Ctrl+C talent, asks, “You think no one has tried? You can’t defeat them! You can’t defeat them! You can’t defeat them!” It’s not really clear who he’s referring to. Maybe the gods, or the planets in the sky, or, heck, maybe even the cows.
And at that exact moment, something beautiful happens. The timer on my DVD player clicks over to 1:00:00, and with that, I am freed from this Blue-Tinted Purgatory. Fare thee well, Sillstaw, fare thee well.