Hall of Fame Speech #5: Battlefield Earth

Brief note before we start: last July we got together and worked out a first class to be inducted into the Smaddies Baddies BMT Hall of Fame. It has been nearly six years since we started BMT and the films we had seen more than five years ago, in some cases, deserved a rewatch and reassessment. This is the last in the series of Hall of Fame speeches we made leading up to the fourth (sixth?) Smaddies Baddies. You can find all of the previews in our archive and Hall of Fame Speeches for the five films in the Smaddies Baddies section of the website. The final speech is for John Travolta’s ultimate adaptation of the L. Ron Hubbard classic Sci Fi epic, Battlefield Earth. The intention is to reminisce a bit about what we remember about the film, what we think of it now, and why it deserved a special place in BMT history. Enjoy!

Hall of Fame Induction Speech for Battlefield Earth

Battlefield Earth? More like General Appeal Dearth (c’mon now!). I rewatched what many consider the worst movie ever made in Battlefield Earth. Last week I claimed it to be, probably, the most famous and rewarding bad movie we’ve seen. This movie isn’t nominated because it is the most BMT film, or the worst film, it is because it was made by the Church of Scientology and was hewn from a one-thousand page book that was called unfilmable. It has something that lurks deep within BMT and comes out only on rare occasions (and almost never with big budgets): A mad man wants a movie to be made, and he is going to make it no matter what! And that is what makes Battlefield Earth so special, it is to big budgets as The Room is to independent films.

First, let’s get into what I remembered from oh so long ago:

  • I remembered that the most striking thing about the movie was the directing. This was prior to the previews and recaps and the website, so I was compelled to look up the director after watching the film and, upon learning that he was a second unit director on some Star Wars films, everything kind of clicked. He does the same weird fades and wipe transitions. Perhaps that is the legacy of Battlefield Earth for BMT: it is probably the first real example where learning about the film prior to watching enhanced the viewing. And I think that is a solid reason for it to be in the Hall of Fame. Prior to the second viewing I was still learning stuff about the craziness that was this production!
  • I also remembered that the director constantly used Dutch angles. Dutch angles are used in a few bad movies, but this one was insane. And I remember thinking “I can’t wait until I see more movies with this kind of insane direction”. And with the wealth of bad movie information I now have at my disposal … it really isn’t as common as I had thought and hoped at the time. Again, a solid legacy for the film, for years I would call out Dutch angles whenever I saw them, which it turned out was rather rarely.
  • As far as the acting was concerned: I remember being very enamored with Barry Pepper and somewhat obsessed with how this guy ended up as the lead in this film. Travolta’s performance slaps you in the face. Given Wicker Man we were hitting some classic performances and this one stands tall among the best of the bunch. And for some reason I thought Whitaker could not care less about this film (during the second viewing that is false though, the guy kills it! He’s hilarious).
  • And finally I would always remember it as a precursor to the settings obsession of BMT because it was blowing my mind that the movie/book was set in Denver for unknowable reasons. I figured it was from the book, but wouldn’t know until I (gulp) read the book … or at least most of it.

At the time I distinctly remember thinking “oh yeah, so this is what a truly and profoundly terrible movie is like”. Over the years that attitude wouldn’t really change, and the movie will enter the Hall of Fame at the top of the class for incompetent directing, the pinnacle of Dutch angles, and the beginning of the BMT film previews (although not in real written form just yet).

To recap the second viewing I will, once again, go with my classic Good/Bad/BMT:

  • The Good – The effects aren’t nearly as bad as I remember. They aren’t great, but considering probably 60% of the film is false backgrounds and a crazy dilapidated Denver it still comes across as fairly impressive. Pepper and a few of the other actors are a lot better than I remember as well. And, having read the book, the story is actually a rather faithful adaptation of a book that many people do love, so you have to give it credit there.
  • The Bad – The direction. Dutch angles, slo mo, echoing voices, weird colors, wipes, the choice of mixing English and Psychlo. Some could have been interesting in isolation. All of them make the movie look and sound crazy. Travolta’s performance is even crazier than I remember, like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans levels crazy. The story line is just incomprehensible and the changes from the book make all of it nonsensical … I mean like cavemen learn how to fly Harrier jets in a week, fine, they have a super smart learning machine. But … where did they get the fuel? All of it would have been spoiled. I wouldn’t normally harp on it, but the book is literally an exercise in writing tight scientifically accurate sci-fi, so to throw that all out is kind of insulting.
  • The BMT – Of course, probably one of the best. Easily 70+ and getting to the high 80’s. It is a little long so re-watchability is a little tough with the last half hour being less fun and crazy than the first hour for example. But it would come very highly recommended by me for any bad movie marathon.

I need to include a short review of the book which I’m still in the process of reading (I started it in November … so you get the idea at how much I eventually disliked it). The first 30% of the book is what the movie is actually based on, and honestly I thought that 30% was quite good and I got through it at quite a good clip. From about 30%-50% might be the worst and most worthless book I’ve ever read. It might as well have been about nothing. I’m up to around 65% and it is getting okay again. Weird review, but never read this book. It is an exercise in writing totally-accurate Sci Fi and just isn’t very fun. All that being said: this movie is an okay adaptation of that first 30%, and it is probably the reason the script was able to be written and filmed at all. It is also shocking to realize that when Travolta says things like “crap-brain” that all comes from the book. I have a theory guys: Hubbard was kind of a crazy weirdo.

I’ll leave you with this: In the first six months of BMT we watched some very terrible films because we had basically all of the bad movie filmography to choose from. This always stuck out as the most wide appeal bad movie we ever watched bar none. It is a classic for a reason, and there is a reason it is one of the very rare big budget films on the IMDb bottom 100. Sometimes you just have to admit when greatness is great. And Battlefield Earth is a great bad movie.

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